EMDR UK’s Research Strategy: How the Association plans to increase the evidence to support the use of EMDR in the NHS and IAPT

Ben Wright leads the UK Association’s Scientific and Research Committee. They have over 15 years’ experience leading IAPT services and working with NHS bodies. In this article they set out the Association’s Scientific and Research strategy that aims to develop evidence to support the wider use of EMDR in the NHS and to support Association members using EMDR with NHS patients.

Our challenge is to redress the lack of support for EMDR from statutory bodies like the NHS and major service delivery organisations such as IAPT, despite  our clinical experience of its profound effectiveness in alleviating suffering.

Although each individual person we treat forms a case series that is a form of evidence of effectiveness, we can persuade statutory bodies to grant the necessary investment and support offered to other modalities only by achieving the highest quality of evidence – that resulting from a high-quality randomised control trial (RCT).

Scientific research is a discrete discipline that requires rigour, training, and experience. All of us have busy lives and it is a challenge for us maintain both high-quality clinical practise and a healthy personal life let alone develop a parallel expertise in research. For this reason, the EMDR community has relied upon the occasional flash of excellence. However, to move forward the Association has a key role in bringing together its members and our research friends, both locally and internationally, to work together to create the evidence we need.

Since you elected me to the EMDR UK Association Board I have moved this agenda forward. I set up a Scientific and Research Committee (SRC) which reports to our Board, gained the Board’s approval for our strategy and have begun its implementation. I would like to take this opportunity to share these plans with you and update you on our progress. Please consider how you might like to contribute, either as an individual or as a regional group: increasing the contribution from the wider membership will help move our agenda forward.

Scientific and Research Committee

This is a committee of the EMDR UK Association Board that meets virtually every three weeks. The committee is chaired by a trustee (currently myself), and membership includes: interested members of the Board (the current president Michael O’Connor, future president Matthew Wesson, trustee Justin Havens) and members of the Association (Emily Wood, Arthur O’Malley, Colleen Swinden, and Zoe Marsden). The committee meetings enable us  to co-ordinate, facilitate and support our work streams, and to prepare advice for the Association Board on how best to direct our resources to support our plans.

Do you have experience in research? If so, we would very much like to hear from you. Your connection with the committee can range from an occasional check-in to support your work, through to full membership depending on your availability and commitment. To find out more please contact us as by email at SRC@emdrassociation.org.uk.

Scientific and Research Strategy

Our Scientific and Research Strategy focusses on supporting the creation of evidence on the effectiveness of EMDR in depression and psychosis. This will help EMDR to gain inclusion in National Guidelines. The Strategy also aims to continue to build the evidence for the effectiveness of EMDR in treating PTSD, especially in military trauma. To do this the Association is developing technical expertise and financial resources.  Our guiding policy is shown in the diagram below.

The Guiding Policy of the Association’s Research Strategy

Plans and Progress

The SRC is developing our links with research communities within the UK and internationally. Justin Haven’s work in the communication committee is supporting this by setting up a digital platform for networking. The SRC is still looking to expand its membership; we would welcome nominations both from EMDR practitioners and from pure researchers who want to support our objectives. We would also like to support regional groups which might want to take ownership of a specific area of research.

We plan to gather evidence supporting EMDR by commissioning a university to prepare an annotated database of all EMDR research within key domains, this will be made accessible to all Association members. The database will enable us to quickly create bibliography for our papers. We are close to selecting a university to provide this service. We are planning a webinar on how members can access and use this resource once it has been created. A new Association Research Officer will maintain the database to ensure it is kept up-to-date. The research officer will also help to prepare summaries of evidence on key areas (e.g. military PTSD, depression etc.) which we will circulate to the membership; this will also support people lobbying on our behalf. In the medium term we plan to have webinars on aspects of research to support us develop our knowledge.

Our major goal is to generate the highest quality evidence to support inclusion of EMDR in guidelines for treating depression. Treatment of depression has a low recovery (less than 50 percent) and a high risk of relapse (around one-third at one year and three-quarters by five years). There is a clear need for additional treatment modalities. There is now RCT evidence showing the effectiveness of EMDR (Sepehry et al., 2021) but further replication is needed to gain inclusion in National Guidelines. We are currently developing a protocol for a RCT comparing EMDR and CBT in treatment-resistant depression within IAPT. If you work in a service that might be interested in taking part, please contact us. Funding for research of this magnitude will be a challenge. If regional groups have a surplus from local events please consider designating these to the EMDR UK Association research fund.

Focussing on these objectives has required us to stop funding smaller initiatives like individual PhD and MSc proposals. However, if your proposal supports any element of our main initiative (RCT for depression, psychosis, and PTSD) do still contact us. In addition we will also consider funding submissions to open access journals of publication-ready articles that support EMDR.

We encourage and support regional groups taking a lead on areas of research that are of interest to them. Please remember, however, that under Association rules (and the laws governing charities), it is unlawful for regional groups to sign research contracts (because regional groups are part of the Association and do not have the authority to sign any contact on behalf of the Association). Any research proposal to be funded by the Association (including those from regional groups) and associated contact, must be submitted to the SRC who will consider a recommendation to the Board for approval and sign off by the president and treasurer. In general, we want to maintain your enthusiasm for research and will do what we can to support this.

Next Steps

I believe we have set ourselves very challenging and worthwhile objectives.  Achieving these will take sustained work over years. Success will mean institutional endorsement and support in delivering EMDR to greater numbers of people. There are several ways you can support the EMDR UK Association’s research programme:

  • We are now recruiting a part-time Research Assistant to the EMDR UK Association (two days per week). Please consider applying if you have relevant qualifications (MSc or PhD). The advert is in this journal, and the job description and person specification are available on request.
  • If you are planning or undertaking research in EMDR, would you like to link with the SRC?
  • If you have experience in research, would you like to become a member of the SRC?
  • Does your regional group want to take ownership of a specific area of research?
  • Does your regional group have surplus funds that you would like to allocate to our research fund or raise funds specifically for our research programme?

If so, please contact us: SRC@emdrassociation.org.uk Thank you for your support and enthusiasm we look forward to hearing from you.

Dr Ben Wright has worked as a consultant Psychiatrist in Medical Psychotherapy in the NHS since 2004 and is an accredited EMDR practitioner and member of the EMDR Association Board.


Sepehry, A. A., Lam, K., Sheppard, M., Guirguis-Younger, M., & Maglio, A.-S. (2021). EMDR for Depression: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 15 (1), 2–17. ht