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In Celebration of EMDR:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy has had an interesting and intriguing history. It started this way...

Ten years prior to its birth, a woman by the name of Francine Shapiro began an extraordinary journey.  At the time, she was an English Literature major destined for an academic career and working towards her doctorate at New York University.  During this period, she was diagnosed with cancer. As a scholar and a scientist, she began to learn everything that she could about the nature, progression and effect that cancer was having on those who were diagnosed with this disease. When her physicians treated her and pronounced her "cured", they also added the important caveat that a certain percentage of survivors get it back but THEY did not know what to do about THAT.

Ms. Shapiro was not the type to “let that go by” without some serious thought. When she was 17, she had lost a beloved sister, Debra, probably from a psycho-immunological illness, and so, Ms. Shapiro decided to take matters into her own hands. Fascinated by the whole field of psycho-immunology, she decided that some radical changes were in order. She decided that she would devote her life to learning, understanding and teaching with the ultimate goal of generating a way to heal the split between the mind and body that had occurred in Western Medicine. She sold all she owned, brought a Volkswagon camper and, in the late seventies, began a journey that would lead her to all corners of the world. She attended the most current workshops and trainings in this area of her passion. She spent many weeks of introspection while in the desert and learned the importance of hospice and meditative techniques that were the early harbinger of what was to come.

Eventually, her travels brought her to California and this is where she settled. A natural educator, Ms. Shapiro decided it was time to teach others her integration of what she was learning from the Levines, Emmett Miller, Spencer Johnson and many others. She began to give interdisciplinary workshops, however, she also wanted to continue her learning in a more formalized way. She enrolled in a Clinical Psychology program at the Professional School for Psychological Studies in San Diego, California.

Ms. Shapiro’s vision was to create a non-profit organization that would integrate different areas of learning such as business, motivational psychology, creativity, psychonuroimmunology, and so forth in order to benefit mankind. The name of this organization was Meta Development and Research Institute and some of her early mentors such as Norman Cousins sat on the Board of Advisors for this Institute.

Already equipped with analytic tools that helped her explore the nature of human behavior in literature and a keen ability to observe both her self and others, she was uniquely poised to use her skills in the field of Psychology.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was born in the year 1987 during a walk in the park in San Francisco. Its progenitor, Francine Shapiro, made a unique observation that blossomed into the EMDR we know today. She noticed that disturbing thoughts that she had been experiencing disappeared and when she tried to remember them, they were no longer upsetting. Although usually you had to do something to change a negative valenced thought, this day was different. What the mother of EMDR noticed was that when disturbing thoughts arose, her eyes had started moving back and forth spontaneously in an upward diagonal and her distress was reduced. She was fascinated; so much so that over the next 6 months, she worked with about 70 people to create a protocol that could be replicated to decrease anxiety. She called this newborn gestalt Eye Movement and Desensitization (EMD). EMD focused on the incident itself and brought clients back to the incident if they moved away from it.

In 1988, she wrote about EMD and it was accepted and published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Studies in 1989 with the title “Efficacy of the Eye Movement Desensitization Procedure in the Treatment of Traumatic Memories.” In the meantime, in 1988 and 1989 she went to Israel to introduce EMD to the Israeli psychologists there who were dealing with the effects of war on their patients. One of her trainees suggested a new home for EMD at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) and it was a good fit. Dr. Shapiro joined and then became a Senior Research Fellow there.

Every newborn needs a nurturing environment in which to grow. Ms. Shapiro surrounded herself with people who supported the growth of this new entity. Robbie Dunton, Robert Welch, A.J. Popky, Pat Riley and Jennifer Lendl were members of this early team. By 1990, colleagues such as Charles Figley and Joseph Wolpe began to be interested in EMD and were asking to be trained. In fact, Joseph Wolpe went on to publish an article in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry concerning the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with EMDR and subsequently introduced it at an Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy meeting as a “breakthrough.” In March 1990, Dr. Shapiro gave her first 2-day workshop on EMD to colleagues who had heard her present and were clamoring to have more in-depth knowledge of how to work with EMD. EMD was beginning to have a following in the United States. The name EMD was changed to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) when -through the analysis of hundreds of correctly done EMD sessions- Dr. Shapiro recognized and wrote in her 1995 textbook Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures that there was “a simultaneous desensitization and cognitive restructuring of memories and personal attributions, all of which appeared to be byproducts of the adaptive processing of the disturbing memories.” This paradigm shift eventually would take EMDR beyond just a treatment for PTSD but towards it being a methodology and new approach to psychotherapy.

During EMDR’s childhood, it was the recipient of some bullying at the hands of other methodologies. By making sure that clinicians were licensed, the EMDR Institute wanted to make sure that these mental health professionals had the basic skills needed to work with their patients with this complex process. To ensure this, the EMDR Institute had a trained facilitator for each group of nine participants. This went against the tide at the time that believed that clinicians should be able to learn a procedure from reading a manual rather than taking a formal training. In fact, Dr. Shapiro took the responsibility for the implementation of EMDR so much to heart that she asked a group of senior trained EMDR clinicians to come together to monitor her to make sure that her teaching and trainings were effective. She also went on to support the learning of EMDR trained clinicians by creating an EMDR Network where they could share ideas and difficulties through meetings and a newsletter. In the early years, the EMDR Institute supplied trainees with all the articles published about EMDR both pro and con.

By 1992, there was such a demand to learn EMDR that Dr. Shapiro began to train others to follow in her footsteps. With this group of well-trained EMDR clinicians, Dr. Shapiro -through the EMDR Institute- took EMDR not only to all of the states in the United States but throughout the world. She began in Australia and Europe. While later, Gerry Puk, Roger Solomon, Steve Silver, Andrew Leeds, William Zangwill, and Barbara Parrett took the trainings throughout Europe. John Hartung pioneered the EMDR Institute Spanish-speaking team. Ultimately, the goal was to train trainers who could teach in the language of the country so that participants would have the benefit of learning EMDR in their own language.

Because of the powerful effect of using EMDR, there was a call for guidelines when working with patients with dissociative disorders. To guide the safe use of her progeny, Dr. Shapiro called together an EMDR Dissociative Disorders Task Force and they created “A General Guide to the Use of EMDR in the Dissociative Disorders” that later appeared in her 1995 and 2001 texts.

The year 1995 was a turning point in the coming of age of EMDR. One of the important milestones was when the first randomized study was completed by Sandra Wilson, Robert Tinker and Lee Becker, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Treatment for Psychologically Traumatized Individuals: in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (JCCP), demonstrating the positive and long-term effects of EMDR with patients. Later, these same researchers implemented a 15-month follow-up study, with an 84% participant response, and the results were published again in JCCP. These two studies inspired more research on EMDR. Including their own research on “The Phantom Limb Pain Research funded by the Spencer Curtis Foundation with EMDR” and “The EMDR with Police Officers as a Stress Reduction and PTSD Program for the city of Colorado Springs Police Department under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice Program and the Spencer Curtis Foundation.

During this same year, the first edition of Dr. Shapiro’s text on EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Principles, Protocols and Procedures, was published by Guilford. This marked EMDR’s maturity as Dr. Shapiro felt that there were enough published studies to show support for EMDR as a valid treatment for PTSD. She also called for an independent group other than the EMDR Institute to monitor and uphold the standard of EMDR; this group became the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). Further to the north in Canada, David Hart along with 28 other clinicians founded the EMDR Association of Canada.

On April 19, 1995, the same week of the publishing of Dr. Shapiro’s first text on EMDR, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. An initiative begun by Judy Albert, an EMDR Institute Facilitator and Red Cross Volunteer reached out the EMDR therapeutic community for support. The Oklahoma City Bombing Relief Project sponsored by a new nonprofit arm of the EMDR Institute that eventually became the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program and the Spencer Curtis Foundation was implemented. Three hundred clinicians from Oklahoma were trained in EMDR on site so that they could use EMDR with trauma survivors and an EMDR Free Clinic was set staffed by 186 EMDR facilitators who volunteered their services to treat 240 victims.

Possibly the first use of EMD in Japan was because Masaya Ichii had heard about EMD and started to use it after he read Dr. Shapiro’s first article. He was convinced after his clients who presented with panic had cleared their recent and first time trauma after using EMD! He even worked with 5 patients after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe with great success. Later, he met Dr. Shapiro in 1995 and came to the United States to be trained and then had Australian trainers come in 1996 to begin EMDR trainings in Japan followed by American teams led by Andrew Leeds. Dr. Ichii went on to translate the EMDR Manual into Japanese and has been the case for many sponsors of EMDR trainings outside of the United States went on to conduct research, publish articles, become an EMDR Facilitator then Trainer. Currently, there is a new EMDR Journal in Japanese and an EMDR Japanese EMDR Association.

The work of EMDR’s volunteers worldwide continued and, in 1997, after Hurricane Pauline ravaged the western coast of Mexico, the members of AMAMECRISIS, spearheaded by Lucina Artigas and Ignacio Nacho with Nicte Alcala and Teresa Lopez Cano, developed the EMDR Integrative Group Treatment Protocol (IGTP). It was also during this catastrophe that Ms. Artigas pioneered “The Butterfly Hug” as a way to quickly gain the interest of children -who had survived a natural disaster- to engage in bilateral stimulation. IGTP and the Butterfly Hug have become a standard of practice for child and adult survivors of natural and man-made disasters all over the world. Worldwide citizens touched by HAP volunteers come from countries and areas such as Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Brazil, Burma, China, Croatia, Gaza, Germany, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Ramallah, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.

By 1999, members of the European EMDR community joined together to create the EMDR European Association. The mandate of this association is a “professional association that establishes, maintains and promotes the highest
standards of excellence and integrity in EMDR practice, research and education throughout Europe.” Currently, there are 14 member countries with others in the process of joining the group.

During the new millennium, EMDR has grown into a therapeutic methodology recognized by associations such as APA and ISTSS and governmental organizations from countries in Australia, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, and United States for the treatment of trauma. However, the idea of using EMDR for inappropriately stored life experiences intrinsic to patients with issues concerning abuse, addictions, anger, anxiety, body dysmorphia, dissociative disorders, pain, specific fears and phobias or with populations such as children and adolescents, couples, families, multiply traumatized combat vets, previously abused child molesters, and victims of natural and manmade disasters has been the basis of clinical case studies and ongoing research.

In 2007, the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research was launched; it is a quarterly, peer-reviewed publication dedicated to stimulating and communicating research and theory about EMDR and the application to clinical practice. In fact, the quantity of information about EMDR has grown so large that Barbara Hensley –in conjunction with the Northern Kentucky University- created the Francine Shapiro Library. In August 2009, EMDR received further acknowledgment in the form of Francine’s recognition by APA Division 56 with an award for “Outstanding Contribution and Practice in Trauma Psychology.”

In a short twenty years, EMDR has accomplished so much. We look forward to the unfolding of EMDR’s life journey in the year’s to come.

About the Book: A Community of Heart
This book is a compilation of the articles called "In the Spotlight" that Marilyn Luber, wrote for the EMDR International Association's (EMDRIA) newsletter. She began writing these articles while a Founding Board Member of this same association.  She combined these articles in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of EMDR and called it A Community of Heart.