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EMDR an Overview

What is EMDR and how can it help me?

PTSD, depression, and anxiety are not “all in the mind”, they are all in the brain, and EMDR is thought to activate particular areas of the brain that have been overwhelmed by years of childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment, or a single event trauma such as a car accident or natural disaster.

I find EMDR to be an irreplaceable tool in my work with clients, but not to the exclusion of the therapy relationship and other very helpful modalities which I embrace and practice.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a method originally develeped to treat Trauma, which has now been studied and validated as an effective treatment for Anxiety and Depression, addiction, eating disorders and other mental illnesses and conditions.  It used by the Veterans Association and the Department of Defense therapists to treat combat stress and PTSD.  It is also used by police departments and fire departments to help employees cope with work related distress and trauma.

But really, at first glance EMDR just seems weird and little too good to be true, so I was very skeptical until I started reading about it myself and saw what others had to say about it.  I found many blogs and forums that called it everything from a miracle cure to outright  quackery.  But I wasn’t content to read blogs and opinions.  I wanted to see the research studies and hear what other respected psychiatrist’s, psychologists and therapist’s had to say.  That’s when I discovered that EMDR is endorsed by many people who are the highly respected and up to date in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and neurobiology.   Below I have quoted bits of an interview with Bessel van der Kolk,  ( http://www.traumacenter.org/about/about_bessel.php ) one of the most highly respected researchers in the field of traumatic stress.   At the end of this page I have also put a link to a YouTube video of a similar interview with Dr. van der Kolk.  I have also posted a list of quotes from other respected researchers who endorse EMDR.

I believe you will find this information very helpful and if you have further questions or would like to have a consultation with me to learn more about EMDR, please call or email me today.

This quote is taken mid-conversation when Dr. van der Kolk is referring to the study of a very specific type of anti-depressant and this does not apply to other types of medication treatment.

There is no evidence that serotonergic drugs are helpful acutely [in the acute phase of a traumatic reaction]. There is a lot of evidence that the serotonergic drugs are useful once people have developed PTSD. It is useful to remember that I was the first person to show how the serotonergic drugs are helpful, but that if you look at the overall treatment outcomes, a good psychological intervention like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has an effect size of 2.2 compared with an SSRI having an effect size of 0.48. It is about 5 times as powerful.

How do you do EMDR? Could you be more specific?

Like many people who start doing EMDR and most therapists who begin to use it are put off by how odd it seems. A lot of people who do it, get very attached to it as treatment. I would feel actually quite helpless in treating traumatized people, not having the tool available anymore. They really might prefer a simple psychological intervention. Proponents believe very strongly that EMDR is a very effective treatment both for acute or chronic trauma, but particularly acute trauma.

Can you talk about the technique itself?

What is so nice about it is that you can dose the exposure when people come up with something that seems to overwhelm them. As I see from MRI imaging, the frontal lobes are shut down and the limbic system takes over and people start sobbing and cannot talk anymore. They reach a state where the emotions overtake them. When you see that beginning to happen, you say “stay there, feel that in your body,” and you see bilateral eye movements and when you do it, something takes place in many people that after a while the intensity of the emotion has decreased.

How do you understand that neurobiologically?

It is like a natural mechanism of treatment, but that is just a speculation. But what I like about it particularly, is that you don’t rely on what I call the purity of language. So you don’t force people to speak more than they can speak about the unspeakable. When people are in the state of distress they don’t have to explain to you why they feel so upset, but you allow them to feel and you have a technique that is going to decrease the stress to that particular trigger. I love the relatively nonverbal part of the EMDR.


Dr. van der Kolk is past President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, and Clinical Director of the Trauma Center at HRI Hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has taught at universities and hospitals across the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, Israel, and China. His latest book, co-edited with Alexander McFarlane and Lars Weisaeth, explores what we have learned in the past 20 years of the re-discovery of the role of trauma in psychiatric illness. Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society was published by Guilford Press in May 1996.

For a more in depth look and a description of the 8 phases of EMDR follow this link:  EMDR in Depth

Endorsements for Francine Shapiro’s book:  Getting Past Your Past: Take control of your life with self-help techninques from EMDR therapy. 

Real People, real life stories, and real emotional healing of past hurts and traumas!  In this book, Dr. Shapiro offers a collection of self-help techniques facilitating emotional healing based on EMDR therapy, used by thousands of clinicians and proven successful. Her true stories depict how stressful, painful or traumatic experiences influence our lives and block our potential – and how they can be changed and even resolved. An eye-opener to the layperson!

Ruth Colvin
Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Co-Founder of ProLiteracy

Francine Shapiro has given a life-transforming gift to the world by her rigorous development of a science-validated approach to soothing the suffering of our small and large life traumas.  Our experiences are remembered in networks of interconnected neural patterns that can later create maladaptive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that may form prisons of the mind, forcing us to live in automatic ways we may believe we cannot change. Yet how we focus the mind can actually change the very structure of the brain itself. The key is to know how to use our awareness to create this important healing.   Through case examples and clearly articulated instructions within “Getting Past Your Past” our skillful guide takes us through the powerful and practical steps, derived from the treatment of literally millions of people, that can transform trauma into triumph. Explore this book with someone you love…beginning with yourself!

Daniel J. Siegel, MDClinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine
Author of The Developing Mind and Mindsight

Dr. Shapiro is a pioneer in the field of helping people overcome trauma and negative past experiences.  Getting Past Your Past is a powerful book that will help people understand their own behavior and more importantly give them a set of tools to immediately help them be happier and more effective. I highly recommend it.

Daniel G. Amen, MDAuthor of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

Francine Shapiro’s discovery of EMDR is one of the most important breakthroughs in the history of psychotherapy. Having used it as part of my practice for the past 15 years, I, and many of my patients, still marvel at the depth and speed with which it can help heal and change the minds and brains, and even bodily symptoms of people who have been locked in, and suffering from trauma, often for decades. Getting Past Your Past is a wonderful place to begin to understand how such mental healing can occur, filled with case histories of people that are so transformed that these accounts may seem exaggerated. They are not. This book has all the sobriety of a master clinician who has worked in the field of trauma for decades, and is clear, serious, helpful, as it shares with the reader a method of healing trauma that has already helped millions.

Norman Doidge, MD
Author of The Brain That Changes Itself

Dr. Francine Shapiro presents a panoply of practical and powerful methods for processing unresolved memories and thus overcoming the anxieties that hold us back. A treasure trove of research-supported and EMDR-inspired techniques for achieving self-change and moving forward in life. Read it, try it, and reap the rewards!

John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP
Distinguished University Fellow, University of Scranton
Editor, /Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session

I am forever indebted to Francine Shapiro and EMDR therapy, which helped me to heal from a terrifying panic disorder. People in pain will now be able to read this groundbreaking book and understand how disturbing memories can be reprocessed. Our lives can become joyful instead of fearful. We can live in the present instead of the past.

Priscilla Warner
Author of Learning to Breathe and co-Author of The Faith Club

It appears that Dr. Francine Shapiro has discovered a profound linkage between the mind and body so that each might be healed.  These stories of the rebalancing and revivifying of our dynamic nature reminds us that there are successful approaches to healing that are presently offering remarkable cures.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine
Authors of Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

In Getting Past Your Past, Dr. Francine Shapiro, the developer of EMDR and one of the leading clinical innovators in psychotherapy, translates her groundbreaking method into practical suggestions for those who have been stuck in past events from which they have been unable to free themselves. Eminently readable, Dr. Shapiro has written a volume that is a wonderful resource for those in psychotherapy, as well as those seeking to help themselves. This is a valuable companion for anyone who seeks an understanding of how the past can be carried in our memory networks influencing how we perceive the world, as well as offering practical strategies for growth. 

Jeffrey J. Magnavita, PhD, ABPP
Past President of the Division of Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association
Founder of the Unified Psychotherapy Project

I am grateful to Francine Shapiro for having written Getting Past Your Past, a lucid and practical book for transforming people’s lives and helping them to savor living in the moment. EMDR is a powerfully effective treatment for overcoming the traumatic imprints of the past.

Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Medical Director Trauma Center, Justice Resource Institute
Director, National Complex Trauma Treatment Network
Professor of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine

Getting Past Your Past provides readers with powerful new insights to understand how traumas and disturbances of all kinds disrupt human potential, and how they can deal with their own distress.  Through well-chosen case studies the reader shares the profound experiences of a wide range of individuals and learns the EMDR treatment strategies that have enabled clients to strip “visceral” feelings from memories as a turning point on their path to self-regulation and personal safety.

Stephen W. Porges, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation.  

In Getting Past Your Past, Francine Shapiro takes her innovative therapy, EMDR, to people everywhere, making the insights and strategies of EMDR treatment available to a broad audience. The transformation of EMDR treatment strategies into self-help techniques is yet another step in Shapiro’s journey to make healing from trauma available to all. This book will be a valuable resource for therapists and clients alike, as well as for the many individuals who struggle with the effects of painful life experiences but who do not seek formal treatment.

Laura S. Brown, PhD, ABPP
Past-President, APA Division of Trauma Psychology
Director, Fremont Community Therapy Project

Are you painfully enslaved by emotional roadblocks and/or poor relationship choices? Unprocessed memories could be the problem…and EMDR could be the answer. EMDR is a powerful, scientifically validated process that has helped millions of people reclaim their freedom. In Getting Past Your Past, Francine Shapiro makes her practical methods
available to the public for the first time.  This is self-help at its finest.

Jeffrey K. Zeig, PhD
Director, The Milton Erickson Foundation
Director, Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference

This self-help book is a cause for tremendous optimism. With EMDR the world finally has a therapy against the damaging effects of trauma, one that is scientifically proven to be effective and quick, low-cost, and widely applicable in a range of settings and cultural milieus. The future of the human potential—and the world– looks so much brighter for Francine Shapiro’s discovery of EMDR.

Rolf C. Carriere, former UN development professional and UNICEF Representative in five Asian countries

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