EMDR for trauma: Eye movement desenitization and reprocessing with Francine Shapiro


EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a complex treatment approach that combines salient elements of the major therapeutic schools (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, physiological, and interactional). Although the eye movement stimulation (and other forms of dual stimulation used in the approach) have garnered the most attention professionally and publicly, EMDR actually involves a much broader spectrum of interventions, which are organized into eight phases of therapy. Currently, 13 completed controlled studies of EMDR make it one of the most researched methods of psychotherapy used in the treatment of trauma. Its efficacy has been supported by these studies: the four most recent studies of victims who have suffered single traumas have demonstrated that after the equivalent of three 90-minute sessions, 84% to 90% of patients no longer have symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Rothbaum, 1997; Wilson, Becker, & Tinker, 1995).

EMDR is based on the assumption that specific experiences from the past continue to guide the client`s responses in the present. These experiences can be the "big T" traumas that result in PTSD or the "small t" traumas that are the ubiquitous experiences known to have a less dramatic but still negative impact on personality and behavior.

To influence such experiences from the past, EMDR draws on an information processing model of behavior. Conceptually, disturbing trauma-related information is believed to be held in the patient`s nervous system in state-dependent form (e.g., the perceptions and sensations experienced at the time of the trauma are encoded in the nervous system). EMDR allows the processing of this information in an adaptive fashion so that what is useful from the experience can be learned; stored appropriately, cognitively, and affectively; and made available for behavioral guidance in the future. What is useless to adaptation, such as excess negative emotions, irrational self-assessments, and disturbing physical sensations, can be discarded.

Assessment is focused not on global diagnoses but rather on specific delineations of problematic behaviors, attitudes, and affects that need to be transmuted to allow for adaptive resolution of trauma or conflict. Specifically, the EMDR clinician asks, what is the patient being influenced by past experiences to do in the present that is dysfunctional and what is he or she prevented from doing that would be adaptive?

Although originally applied to PTSD, EMDR shows promise in a variety of clinical complaints that are based on earlier life experiences that underlie the pathology and current experiences and that restimulate the disturbance. EMDR allows clients to access and reprocess these experiences as well as to learn new skills and behaviors for managing future life events. In all cases, the goal of EMDR is to produce the most comprehensive and profound treatment effects in the shortest period of time, while helping the client to remain reasonably stable.

EMDR as an eight-phase intervention approach can be considered a complete treatment in some clinical cases, or it may be part of a more complex treatment plan that includes other more traditional approaches to treating a specific pathology (e.g., borderline personality disorder). Within this latter integrative context, EMDR appears to be useful for a broad range of clinical complaints and seems to provide more rapid achievement of positive treatment effects than do these more traditional approaches alone.

Dr. Shapiro identifies her approach as "eye movement desensitization and reprocessing." What does this imply to you? More specifically, what do you expect of her? Will Dr. Shapiro be active or passive? Will the session be structured or unstructured? Directive or nondirective? Will it focus on the past or on the present? Will the session focus on behaviors, on thoughts, or on feelings? What do you expect to be the relative balance between attention to technique versus the interpersonal interaction?






Francine Shapiro

Original Work Citation

Shapiro, F. (2007). EMDR for trauma: Eye movement desenitization and reprocessing with Francine Shapiro. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/e505092006-001



“EMDR for trauma: Eye movement desenitization and reprocessing with Francine Shapiro,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed March 4, 2021, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/17879.

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