Francine Shapiro on the Evolution of EMDR Therapy

Francine Shapiro on the Evolution of EMDR Therapy

by Ruth Wetherford
EMDR therapy originator Francine Shapiro describes the components of the psychotherapy and the latest research supporting its efficacy for a wide range of mental health issues.


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Ruth Wetherford: Francine Shapiro, you are the originator of EMDR therapy, the founder and executive director of the EMDR Institute, and author of numerous books, articles, and other interviews about this process. I want to begin by asking you a basic question: What is EMDR therapy?
Francine Shapiro: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a form of therapy that focuses on memory and the brain. Every different form of therapy has a different model, a different way of conceptualizing cases and different procedures. For instance, in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), pathology is based on inappropriate beliefs and behaviors. In psychodynamic therapy, it’s intra-psychic conflicts. In EMDR therapy, pathology is based on unprocessed memories that are stored intact—so if someone has some irrational beliefs or negative behavior, that’s not the cause but rather the symptom.

For example, let’s say we’re humiliated or bullied in grade school, and instead of the brain digesting it and making sense of it and letting it go, it actually gets stored in the brain with the emotions and the physical sensations and the beliefs that were there at the time. One of the functions of the information processing system of the brain is to make sense of the world, so if something happens 30 years later as an adult that is similar in any way, it has to link up with the memory networks to be made of sense of. In other words, if I’ve never seen a cup before, I don’t know what it is or what to do with it. The perceptions that we have about something in the present link up with the memory networks, and if it connects with that unprocessed memory, it gets triggered, and the emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs—“I’m terrible, I’m not good enough, I can’t succeed”—get triggered as well.

People may have no idea why they continually feel anxiety in social situations or when they talk to somebody at work, because the situation is linking them to an unprocessed memory, and those feelings are coming up automatically.
People may have no idea why they continually feel anxiety in social situations or when they talk to somebody at work, because the situation is linking them to an unprocessed memory, and those feelings are coming up automatically. We really are at the mercy of our memory networks, and if an experience hasn’t been processed, we’re just buffeted hither and yon by all of these negative emotions and feelings. With EMDR therapy, we identify what those earlier experiences are and we process them. We bring that information processing system back online. And what happens during an EMDR therapy session is that very rapid associations and connections or insights are made, and the emotions, physical sensations, beliefs—all of those shift to a level of learning and resilience, so we simply aren’t triggered that way any longer.
RW: You’re making the point that the mind and body connection cannot be separated. The cognitions, feelings, and other thought activities of our minds are so integrated with our bodies. This is not new, of course, but it does seem to be getting a lot more attention lately. In a recent interview with Bessel van der Kolk on, he describes having done the only NIMH funded study on EMDR, and as of 2014, the results were more positive than any published study of those who developed PTSD in reaction to a traumatic event as adults. He goes on to talk about the impact of trauma on the somatosensory self, that it changes the insula, the self-awareness systems—which is exactly what you’re saying.

But EMDR therapy is also very easily integrated into other kinds of therapies. In fact, I saw that you won the Sigmund Freud award from the City of Vienna.
FS: People who have been trained as psychodynamic therapists say that EMDR lets them use what they know. They use EMDR therapy to help identify the earlier memories that cause maladaptive defenses and intra-psychic conflicts, and it helps people process those memories and experiences. It’s the same with those who practice cognitive behavioral therapy. EMDR therapy is used to process the memories that are causing dysfunctional behavior and irrational cognitions.

It’s a remarkably efficient treatment. There are three studies that have indicated that for single trauma victims there’s an 84 to 100% remission of PTSD within about five hours of treatment.
RW: That’s great.
FS: A study with EMDR therapy in combat veterans found that after only 12 sessions, 78% no longer had PTSD. Of course, the amount of treatment time it takes depends upon the number of memories that have to be processed, but you don’t have to process each and every event because memory is connected. Instead, you choose one that represents a whole group, and then you have a generalization effect. It rapidly shifts.
RW: This is the phase that has so much in common with all approaches to trauma. Learning self-soothing skills is consistent with all mindfulness meditation and stress reduction methods. It gives people a sense of confidence that they’re not going to be lost when they leave the session. It’s remarkable how fast the dysfunctional beliefs can shift from “it was my fault that I was abused” to “I didn’t deserve that.” It doesn’t happen all in one session, but—
FS: Well, it can.

The 8 Stages of EMDR

RW: Perhaps you could tell us a bit more about the stages of EMDR therapy?
FS: EMDR therapy is an eight-phase approach. During the first phase, the clinician takes an appropriate history of the client, finding out what the current problems and symptoms are, how long they’ve been going on, what the systems issues and the relationship issues are, etc. Then we begin to identify what earlier memories are causing many of these problems.

If you’re coming in with relationship issues like, “I always overreact to criticism,” we try to see what’s causing the overreaction. What earlier memories might there be that are pushing it? Does the sound of your husband’s voice remind you of your father’s voice before he hit you? We have specific techniques to identify these problematic memories.

The second phase involves preparation. We teach a variety of self-control techniques so that people learn to shift from negative feelings to positive ones.
You don’t have to process each and every event because memory is connected. Instead, you choose one that represents a whole group, and then you have a generalization effect.
These techniques can be very useful for everyone, but ultimately we’re trying to lessen the need for them. That is, if I’m always buffeted by these unprocessed memories, and I’m constantly needing to shift out of negative feelings into positive feelings, what I really want to do is process these memories so I’m not getting triggered by them any longer. A preparation technique will allow the person to feel in control so that when we start the processing, if a disturbance comes up, and they feel like they want to stop, we just stop. We use the technique to shift back into feeling good, and then when they’re ready, we go back and continue the processing.

The amount of preparation depends on how debilitated the client is to be begin with. Some people have never had good experiences—they had a terrible childhood, were beaten, ignored, neglected; they didn’t have anyone in their life that they could turn to or count on. These folks can be extremely debilitated emotionally, so we may need to spend more time preparing them. For most people it doesn’t take very long at all, maybe a session or so.
RW: That’s true, it can.
FS: For an individual trauma, it might take two or three sessions. And you simply want the client to be in the best possible state, not only during the processing but also in between sessions.
RW: So they can shift into and out of the self-paced imagery?
FS: Exactly. It’s not homework, as you would get with cognitive behavioral therapies for trauma. But let’s say it’s going to take three sessions to finish an individual trauma—you can do that morning and afternoon, or you can do it three consecutive days. In other words, the treatment can be done in days or weeks, rather than months or years.
The treatment can be done in days or weeks, rather than months or years.
And because all of the therapy is done with the clinician, they don’t have to go out and confront negative feelings and experiences on their own in order to try to make things change.
RW: So the history, identifying the memories, and preparation are the first phases. What happens next?
FS: Then we move into processing. We identify a memory that has been causing the symptoms and then we identify different aspects of it—the image, the negative thoughts associated with it, where they’re feeling it in their body, what the emotion is, etc. And once we access the memory in a certain way, we start the processing, which involves stimulating the brain’s own information processing system that allows the different connections to be made.

One of the procedures in the processing involves a form of dual attention stimulation—meaning the client follows the clinician’s fingers with their eyes as they move rapidly back or forth, or it can be tones or taps. It seems to stimulate the brain’s information processing system, and the client then has different, rapidly moving associations. They may have new thoughts about the memory, or other memories may emerge, or new insights can come up. It allows the brain to do the digesting by making all of the appropriate links that it hadn’t been able to make before.

Eye Movement

RW: After the preparation phase, I usually introduce the eye movement component. First I do the protocol, the target image. Many people don’t want it to be a memory—they’re coming in with some anxiety that they’re dealing with right now, and they don’t necessarily make the connection to memories. So I might start with a target image like, “when my husband’s face gets angry and frowny, I go into a panic.” Then I write down the negative self-beliefs after and rate their anxiety on a scale of intensity from zero to ten. I see where that anxiety is felt in the body. While they’re doing this protocol, they’re identifying what they’re feeling, what their beliefs are—“I’m a bad person. I’ll be a failure. I’ll be humiliated. I’ll be punished.”

And then I draw a line across the tablet and say, “What beliefs would you like to have?” This is straight out of your protocol. It’s often surprising to people, but once they get it, they can really elaborate. “I’d like to feel confident that I can handle this moment.” “I’d like to feel certain that I can stay calm and reasonable”—that sort of thing.

It’s a powerful moment when I move my ottoman over in front of the person and hold my hand up after customizing it for them. The rapidity of the motion back and forth, how wide the sweep is—these are custom tailored for each person, and then they go into that image—they’re seeing the husband’s face, angry and escalating, and they can actually feel their beliefs: “I’m getting ready to be demolished.” It is phenomenal. It’s very different.
It’s been demonstrated in about 16 randomized controlled trials now that the eye movement also rapidly causes the vividness to shift and emotion to decrease.
It’s been demonstrated in about 16 randomized controlled trials now that the eye movement also rapidly causes the vividness to shift and emotion to decrease. So they may start out with a disturbance, but it very rapidly decreases and shifts to that new understanding—from “that’s how my father used to look at me” to “that was wrong of him” to “It wasn’t my fault” to “it was his fault.” It’s getting liberated from how they felt as a child so that they can see the present more clearly.
RW: It’s so true.
FS: Of course there might be a need for couples counseling, but in many instances, these overreactions are caused by early childhood events stored as unprocessed memories.
RW: We all know that when our sympathetic nervous system gets aroused, clear thinking goes out the window.
FS: Right, exactly.
RW: The point here is that when you’re doing the eye movement part of it, after having prepared the self-soothing and the cognitive component of the beliefs and the desired beliefs, the shift is so remarkable.

The person may have four or five associations: “I see my parents fighting. I see myself hiding behind the door. I feel terrified. I feel like I should stop their fighting. It’s my fault.” The therapist picks out one of those, which I think is an area of the art of the therapist, knowing which one to pick that will lead to the next set of associations. But when it’s very, very accepting, no judgment, no anxiety on the part of the therapist, that calmness is often rewarded. After the next set of repetitions, the person says, “I do not have to rescue. It’s not my fault.” They’ll say it. You never have to say it. They get to it themselves.
FS: Very often the therapist can stay completely out of the way and foster and support the client nonverbally. We’re conveying acceptance because we do accept it. We are conveying unconditional regard because that’s part of the therapy process, so the clients don’t have to be afraid of their own emotions. They don’t have to be afraid, and they can reveal as much as they want.

With other forms of therapy, you have to describe the memories in detail. With EMDR therapy, that’s not necessary. The client says as much or as little as they want to.
With other forms of therapy, you have to describe the memories in detail. With EMDR therapy, that’s not necessary. The client says as much or as little as they want to. As a matter of fact, in many instances, you can do it content free, and the client just gives you enough information to know that it’s changed. So rape victims, molestation victims, who may feel so much shame and guilt that they don’t want to talk about it initially—they don’t have to. You don’t have to force the client to do or say anything that they don’t want to.
RW: Your point about the calm, accepting, unconditional regard is a component you’ve emphasized in the trainings, but I don’t know that it comes across to some people who think EMDR is technique-y.
FS: There are specific procedures about when you continue the associations and when you return to the target, but the beauty of it is to allow that internal, intrinsic healing mechanism to take over and to make the appropriate associations and not take a clinical stance that you know more than the client, that you are the one that has to give the answers. In most instances, the connections are all there for the client and when they’re not, we have specific EMDR therapy procedures to kick start it again. It’s not about clinicians imposing themselves on the client, but rather allowing the appropriate healing to take place.
RW: So what is the next stage?
FS: Assessment is the third phase, where you’re identifying the memory and the different components of it, and then you move into a phase that we call Desensitization, which is allowing the insights and connections to be made until they’re a zero on the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale (SUDS). It could start off at an eight or nine, but it’s down to a zero.

Then we move to a phase we call Installation, which has to do with concentrating on that desired positive belief the client wants and seeing if we can strengthen it so that it feels completely true to the client.

Then we move to the Body Scan phase, where we have the person think of that memory, think of the positive belief, and scan to see if there’s any disturbance in the body; and if there is, we process it.
We process the memory, evaluate, reevaluate, reassess, and see what else needs to be done until we've basically addressed all of the issues, and the client is feeling empowered.
For instance, a molestation victim who is feeling good and powerful scans her body and notices that there is a strange sensation in her back, and we focus on that. It turns out that’s where she was held down when she was raped. So we process that.

At the end of the session, the Closure phase brings the clients back to the full state of equilibrium. We remind them of their self-control techniques and the in-between-session processing they can continue to do. We also suggest that if a disturbance comes up, to just write down what happened very briefly—“I walked into X situation and I got triggered”—so that they can be targets for next time.

Then the eighth phase at the next session is Reevaluation, where we bring back the memory and see how it feels. See if there’s anything else that needs to be addressed. For instance, I worked with a girl who had been molested by her grandfather, and by the end of the session she was saying, “He was really weak. I ran into the bathroom and he tried to get in, and I just kept telling him to go away, and he went away.”

At the next session when I saw her, she felt fine. She didn’t feel dirty. She didn’t feel shameful. She didn’t feel powerless. She had a good grip on it. But in asking her what else might be coming up, she said, “Well, I was thinking of my grandmother, that she didn’t believe me when I told her I was molested.” So that’s the new target. We identify what else needs to be processed, and that’s how the therapy continues.

We process the memory, evaluate, reevaluate, reassess, and see what else needs to be done until we've basically addressed all of the issues, and the client is feeling empowered. It’s not only that the major symptoms are gone, but they feel like a positive, healthy, resourceful human being and are now able to establish and maintain positive relationships in their life.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

RW: In my own practice, the vast majority of my clients don’t come in to do EMDR therapy. They are coming in with other problems in living—anxiety, depression, relationship problems, etc.—and then I introduce it to them. It’s looking at the current target image, the current source of the anxiety, that then leads to association with past memories of actual trauma. But another source of trauma is the reaction of the social environment to the trauma. Like in the example you just gave, the woman’s grandmother, in her disbelief, was another source of trauma in addition to the molestation.

This is a common consideration in most trauma therapies—that it’s not just the trauma, it’s everybody’s reaction to the trauma that makes it worse, so I think that’s such an important component. It’s all interconnected.
FS: PTSD has commonly been thought of as a response to major traumas—earthquakes, rape, molestation, combat, etc. But the research now is very clear that general life experiences can cause even more PTSD symptoms than major trauma. Childhood experiences, humiliations, divorce, conflicts in the home—these things can be a source of chronic PTSD.
RW: Death by a thousand cuts. All the micro traumas that get accumulated.
FS: It doesn’t even need to be accumulated. You can have individual childhood events, like an individual being pushed away, being left behind, being humiliated in grade school, having people laughing at them. Any of these things can get stored in the brain with terrible feelings and thoughts of, “I’m not good enough. I can’t succeed. I’m not powerful.”
PTSD has commonly been thought of as a response to major traumas—earthquakes, rape, molestation, combat, etc. But the research now is very clear that general life experiences can cause even more PTSD symptoms than major trauma.
They get locked in and run the person for the next 30 years. So it’s important for people to have some compassion for themselves and not just dismiss their anxiety or their depression or their insecurity just because they don’t know where it came from. Many of us simply don’t remember because it’s a long past childhood event, and we don’t recognize that the problems we’re having in relationships or at work are influenced by these earlier events.

Also there’s a lot of research now showing the negative impact parents can have on the lifelong health of their children. There was a study done at Kaiser Permanente that clearly showed that adverse childhood experiences were the leading causes not only of mental health problems in adults, but of physical health problems as well—cancer, lung problems, etc. So I think we need to be more aware of how these experiences are being stored in our brain and constantly pummeling us with negative feelings that impact not only our minds but our bodies. These problems are transferred easily to children because research has clearly shown that mothers who have posttraumatic stress disorder are more likely to mistreat their children—not purposely, but they simply react more harshly.

Research has also shown that highly disturbing experiences within two years before childbirth can prevent the mom from bonding with her child, which has extremely negative effects. Maternal depression is one of those factors that Kaiser Permanente identified as causing these lifelong negative effects for adults because depressed mothers may not be able to bond with their children. It’s not only major traumas that are the problem—all kinds of experiences can have long-lasting detrimental effect on individuals.
RW: That is certainly corroborated by all the new imagery and radiology advances that have been made in which various autonomic processes—not only the body but the brain—are shown to react during negative interactions with people. There is this whole cascade of activity—everything from cortisol to high blood pressure to galvanic skin response to a change of blood flow to the frontal cortex and the amygdala. We all have this sympathetic arousal over traumatic interactions.

What is the latest research on how neurological reprocessing of trauma actually works?
EMDR processing seems to link in to the same processes that occur during rapid eye movement sleep.
EMDR processing seems to link in to the same processes that occur during rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep processes the events of the day in order to make sense of them, and it moves them from episodic memory to semantic memory, where you can remember what happened, but you no longer have those emotions and physical sensations locked into memory. Until that happens it’s stored in episodic memory, which seems to get triggered with PTSD.

People who have posttraumatic stress disorder often wake up in the middle of a nightmare. That’s the brain attempting to process the event, but it’s too disturbing, so they wake up in the middle of it. What EMDR therapy appears to do is to take the brain further than it’s able to go in its natural state. The eye movements tax working memory and stimulate REM processes, which allows the rapid shift in imagery, emotion, cognition and sensation.
RW: A possible physiological analogy would be how insulin produced by carbohydrates causes the pores of fat cells to open and take in fat, and it’s only when we have proteins that the cells open and the fat comes back out so that we can lose weight. Similarly, there’s some unlocking of synapses where the memories of the trauma are stored. The anxiety has to go down, but there’s something about the bilateral movement that not only allows the memory to be stored, but also then connect with current, more rational, more safe feelings that give people a sense of identity and agency. It connects together and desensitizes the memory, which loses its power, while the current situation gains power. The current sense of self gains power.
FS: What we say is that it arrives at an adaptive resolution. What’s useful from the event is incorporated and the learning takes place. What’s useless is let go, so the negative emotions and physical sensations and beliefs are basically all gone. But it’s different than the concept of “extinction” employed in cognitive behavioral therapies, where the person is asked to describe the memory in detail as if they’re reliving it, making sure they don’t think of anything else but just stay there with that memory. It allows desensitization to occur, but the original memory that’s being targeted doesn’t change; rather a new one is created. The theory is that the person has been disturbed because of avoidance behavior—they haven’t allowed themselves to stay with it because they believe they’ll go crazy, they’ll die. And as their therapist causes them to tell the story over and over again, they realize they won’t die, and that creates a new memory that competes with the old one—but the old one is still there.

With EMDR therapy, there’s a short exposure where you ask the person to think about it, have the eye movement for about 30 seconds or so, and then you specifically elicit associations. They often move right to another memory.
It appears that the original memory is transformed as these connections are made, and the new learning and the new insight is made, and then it’s stored in this changed form.
It appears that the original memory is transformed as these connections are made, and the new learning and the new insight is made, and then it’s stored in this changed form. They no longer feel terrible about themselves. The transformed memory is stored and the original form it began with no longer exists. We call that “reconsolidation,” not extinction. So with exposure therapy, the original memory is still there, but in EMDR therapy the original memory is no longer there in its old form. This may be responsible for certain differences that we’ve seen in treatment.

For instance, there was a study comparing exposure therapy and EMDR therapy for those who had complicated mourning—intense grief that wasn’t changing. When somebody dies suddenly, very often the person who is bereaved continues to have negative imagery, negative thoughts of the person dying, seeing them in pain, guilt about what they should’ve done, could’ve done, etc. When individuals were treated with EMDR therapy and with exposure therapy, the EMDR was more rapid with better outcomes. Interestingly, there was twice the positive recall of the deceased than after treatment with exposure therapy. The fact that the original memory was still intact might be the reason for that.

Another example is the EMDR therapy treatment of phantom limb pain, where accident victims and combat veterans, who lost limbs in a traumatic experience continue to feel pain in a limb that’s no longer there. What we’ve found from the articles that have been published so far is that by identifying the trauma in which the leg was damaged, for instance, and processing it with EMDR, at the end of the treatment, 80% of people either no longer had any pain or it was substantially reduced.
No other form of therapy has reported elimination of chronic phantom limb pain.
No other form of therapy has reported elimination of chronic phantom limb pain.

One last example. In a treatment of psychotic people who had suffered trauma, when treated with EMDR therapy that targeted the trauma, not only were the PTSD symptoms eliminated, but a majority of those who had started out with auditory hallucinations reported that they were completely gone at the end of treatment, which was only about six sessions. That had never been reported with CBT. So there’s a lot more to explore over the next decade or so.

Neurons That Fire Together...

RW: Particularly as we learn more about specifics of the neurophysiological underpinnings of each mind function, like the functions you were talking about just now—extinction and consolidation. This reminds me of the work of Norman Doidge, the Columbia psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who wrote the book about neuroplasticity, The Brain That Changes Itself. He believes that EMDR therapy is one of the greatest breakthroughs in psychology in his lifetime. He would say that there’s probably a neuroplastic underpinning to each one of these very dramatic changes. He talks about how when we are really listening to something, the auditory cortex will make acetylcholine. And when we have a sensation of pleasure or decreased anxiety, there’s a little bit of dopamine secreted, and it’s that combination of acetylcholine and dopamine that creates the brain’s dendritic growth factor, which causes the dendrites to grow a few microns per hour.

Over time these dendrites find each other, which is why a dog will salivate at the sound of a bell once he learns that he’ll be fed after the bell rings. The auditory cortex has absolutely nothing to do with saliva, but the bell creates salivation because those dendrites have found each other. In other words, neurons that fire together, wire together. During EMDR therapy, there must be a lot of firing going on—self-soothing and the reduction of anxiety is getting wired together with the old memories and the new sensations of agency and safety and new cognitions. They somehow get wired together, and that really does replace the old wiring. I believe at some point we’ll be able to confirm this on the molecular level.
FS: I think ultimately that’s where the field is going, but the field of neurophysiology is still in its infancy, so as of yet no one has ever seen a memory network. But there are more than a dozen studies showing how the brain functions both before and after EMDR therapy, and you can see many differences including growth of the hippocampus as well as changes in cortical and limbic activation after EMDR therapy. Why and how that happens will probably take another decade or so to discover, since imaging will need to become much more sensitive.
RW: I just read, I think in Wired magazine, that the new MRI machines can measure 10,000 times greater detail than the current ones, so they can actually see the electrochemical impulse go down the neurons. Isn’t that wild?
FS: Yes. We have a very exciting decade to look forward to.
RW: What about critics who believe that the research is weak because the dependent variables are all self-report? It makes me think about how innovations are accepted in any field, but particularly scientific fields. There are the early adopters, who are just a few, then the middle adopters as more people hear about it, and then there’s a tipping point where everybody jumps on and incorporates the new learning or the new innovation. It seems to me like you’ve been working on this now for 25-plus years. Where do you think we are in that curve of adoption?
FS: I think we’re in the latter stage now. Those critics you’re talking about were responding to research from 15 years ago. At this point, there are more than 25 randomized controlled trials that have demonstrated the positive effects of eye movements, and a recent meta-analysis has shown there’s a significant effect. In fact, one of EMDR’s original vehement critics has completely turned around and stated that it’s clear that the eye movements have been demonstrated to be effective. Critics who make derogatory statements are very much out of date.

The same is true about the research on EMDR’s effectiveness. There are now more than two dozen randomized controlled trials that have demonstrated the positive effects of EMDR therapy with all of the bells and whistles of good research, including standardized measures, interviews, etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even stated that trauma focused cognitive behavior therapy and EMDR therapy are the only psychotherapies recommended for the treatment of PTSD across the lifespan. That is for children, adolescents, and adults.

The Trauma of Everyday Life

RW: I want to return to this idea that is so prevalent in our society that if you didn’t have any major traumas, then you should be all right. In fact, that’s not the case at all, as you pointed out. There are so many life events that become traumatic based on cultural influences. There are so many traumatic and worsening aspects of our culture—the increase in poverty and unemployment as wealth is sequestered in smaller and smaller groups; the emphasis on extroversion and positive feelings over fear, anger and grief; the pathologizing of normal problems in living. All of these things are enormously traumatizing, but we don’t think of it as something that our culture needs to look at.
FS: That’s one of the reasons I wrote the self-help book, Getting Past Your Past—to bring attention to the many things that can be causing our negative reactions and symptoms in the present and explain what to do about it. There are so many events in life and so many things about our relationships that can cause anxiety, depression, insecurity and PTSD. It is explainable and it’s treatable.

We have a nonprofit organization that came into being after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. We got a call from a FBI agent, who said, “Can you please do something because the mental health professionals are dropping like flies.” There were no empirically validated treatments for trauma back then. We sent out clinicians to do free treatment for the frontline providers and victims, and the program evaluation showed that it had the same positive effects—about an 85% success rate within three sessions—as a randomized controlled study that was published that year. Since that time our Trauma Recovery/EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs, has been providing free treatment for victims of natural and manmade disasters throughout the world and low cost programs for inner city areas in the U.S.
RW: How many people do you have volunteering or doing low cost treatment?
FS: There are hundreds. We have responded to all the major disasters in the US such as Katrina, Sandy, the Boston Marathon Bombing and Newtown shootings. Trauma Recovery Networks have been established in about 30 cities throughout the country. And we’ve also sent teams out after the tsunamis and earthquakes around the world. EMDR Asia came into being a couple of years ago, so now they’re able to do the humanitarian work on the continent themselves.

But there are so many more that need help. People who have been hurt can hurt others. Child molesters, for instance, are often viewed as intractable. Many people don’t want to have anything to do with them. We basically keep them ostracized from society.
RW: Further traumatizing.
FS: But a director of a program incorporated six sessions of EMDR therapy for those molesters who seemed the most incorrigible. They themselves had been molested in childhood—which is often the case with those who molest children—and when their own molest was targeted and processed, they came in contact with how they felt at the time.
We can take people that seem intractable and transform them into positive human beings so they’re no longer hurting others.
They recognized that they hadn’t wanted it and empathy emerged for their own victims. They no longer felt sexually attracted to children. It was measured by something called a penile plethysmograph, which measured their arousal, and 90% no longer exhibited deviant arousal towards children. So we’re attempting to conduct more research in this area.

The bottom line is that we’re looking at the potential that no one needs to be left behind. We can take people that seem intractable and transform them into positive human beings so they’re no longer hurting others. We want to make sure that we’re able to get the treatment to all who need it, so that we stop the pain for future generations.
RW: For any clinicians who are reading this and are interested in getting EMDR training, what’s the best way for them to do so?
FS: It’s extremely important that clinicians who are interested in being trained go to a program certified by the EMDR International Association in the U.S or the EMDR Europe Association in Europe. There are people out there offering programs that are not up to snuff. Certified trainings are six days plus consultation. There are international standards that have been developed to make sure that clinicians know what they’re doing before they treat any clients. Non-profit agencies can arrange for low cost trainings from the Trauma Recovery/EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs.
RW: Any final comment you’d like to make before we sign off?
FS: I’m hoping that interviews such as this will really allow people to get a better understanding of EMDR therapy and its potential for healing. The unimaginable amount of suffering that’s going on out there does not have to continue. People can truly heal in a comparatively short period of time and move to a state of happiness, strength and resilience, with healthy relationships.
RW: Thank you so much, Francine, for a very good interview.
FS: Thank you.

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Francine Shapiro Francine Shapiro, PhD, is the originator and developer of EMDR, which has been so well researched that it is now recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association, and those of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Shapiro is a Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, Executive Director of the EMDR Institute in Watsonville, CA, and founder and President Emeritus of the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs, a non-profit organization that coordinates disaster response and low fee trainings worldwide.

She is a recipient of the International Sigmund Freud Award for distinguished contribution to psychotherapy presented by the City of Vienna in conjunction with the World Council, the American Psychological Association Trauma Division Award for Outstanding Contributions to Practice in Trauma Psychology, and the Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology Award presented by the California Psychological Association.

Shapiro was designated as one of the "Cadre of Experts" of the American Psychological Association & Canadian Psychological Association Joint Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare, and has served as advisor to a wide variety of trauma treatment and outreach organizations and journals. She has been an invited speaker at psychology conferences worldwide and has written and co-authored more than 60 articles, chapters, and books about EMDR, including Getting Past Your Past: Taking Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (Rodale), EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (Guilford Press), EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Trauma (Basic Books), EMDR as an Integrative Psychotherapy Approach: Experts of Diverse Orientations Explore the Paradigm Prism (American Psychological Association Books), and Handbook of EMDR and Family Therapy Processes (Wiley).
Ruth Wetherford Dr. Ruth Wetherford is a San Francisco–based psychologist who has been practicing psychotherapy and teaching for the past 30 years. She specializes in family of origin work with individuals, guided imagery and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Her website is

CE credits: 1.5

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the eight-stage protocol of EMDR therapy
  • Discuss the effectiveness of EMDR for a variety of mental health problems
  • Discuss how the underlying mechanisms of EMDR work to reprocess memories

Articles are not approved by Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for CE. See complete list of CE approvals here