Francine Shapiro is a legend in the mental health community. She made the groundbreaking discovery that launched the EMDR therapy movement in 1987. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy.
Shapiro didn’t set out to create a new therapeutic technique; in fact, she was on the path to becoming a poet until a diagnosis of cancer changed the trajectory of her life. During that time, she began to ponder the nature of human suffering and wanted to find a way to transform suffering so that it wasn’t as debilitating.
“Our clinical work with EMDR therapy shows us that suffering can be transformed— not only into art but into life” (Shapiro, 2018).
So what is EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy targets early life experiences and traumas. EMDR approaches help people to “metabolize the dysfunctional residue from the past and transform it into something useful” (Shapiro, 2018). In other words, EMDR helps people to reprocess painful experiences in a way that allows them to grow and to get unstuck.
“The purpose of the eight-phase EMDR therapy is to help liberate a client from the past into a healthy and productive present” (Shapiro, 2018).
This is done by helping the client to gain awareness of the negative experiences of the past, reducing the triggers from those negative experiences that are causing current distress, and to find new ways to take the insights gained to excel in the present and future despite the past traumas.
The “eye movement” component of the name is based on the techniques EMDR therapists use; for example, having clients follow a moving object as the traumas are discussed and processed. My therapist does this with tapping instead of eye movement, so there are a number of ways to do EMDR therapy. Side note: My therapist trained with Francine Shapiro when EMDR launched in the 80s! How cool is that!?
EMDR is so effective because it engages both hemispheres of the brain in a process called bilateral dual attention. It’s easier for your brain to get unstuck when you are focusing on the eye movement tasks or tapping as you reprocess the distressing memory. Explaining how it works is complex. I just say it’s magic!
“The World Health Organization and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has established EMDR therapy as a standard, empirically supported, and effective treatment of psychological trauma” (Shapiro, 2018). EMDR can be used for a variety of mental health conditions including PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, grief, bullying, and so much more!
I am thrilled to begin the intensive EMDR training process this winter and will begin offering EMDR at my therapy practice in early 2020.
Thanks for reading! And thanks, Ashley for inviting me to guest post for Mental Health @ Home!
Johnzelle Anderson is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Richmond, Virginia, USA. He is the owner of a private practice for psychotherapy called Panoramic Counseling. To learn more about Johnzelle, go to PanoramicCounseling.com.
Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Publications.