Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a first-line treatment for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some clinicians argue that with refugees, directly targeting traumatic memories through EMDR may be harmful or ineffective.

To determine the safety and efficacy of EMDR in adult refugees with PTSD (trial registration: ISRCTN20310201).

In total, 72 refugees referred for specialised treatment were randomly assigned to 12 h of EMDR (3×60 min planning/preparation followed by 6×90 min desensitisation/reprocessing) or 12 h (12×60 min) of stabilisation. The Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) were primary outcome measures.

Intention-to-treat analyses found no differences in safety (one severe adverse event in the stabilisation condition only) or efficacy (effect sizes: CAPS −0.04 and HTQ 0.20) between the two conditions.

Directly targeting traumatic memories through 12 h of EMDR in refugee patients needing specialised treatment is safe, but is only of limited efficacy.

Ter Heide, F.J.J., Mooren, T.M., Van de Schoot, R., De Jongh, A., & Kleber, R.J. (2016). Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy v. stabilisation as usual for refugees: randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry, 209(4), 311-318.