Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): The making of a psychotherapy


Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has burst upon the psychotherapeutic scene as a time-limited, cost-contained, and efficacious treatment for anxiety, stress, and psychological trauma. Although this therapy has been pronounced as revolutionary by its inventor, Francine Shapiro, it has distinct historical precedents. The explanatory models of pathogenic memory and dissociation theory, and the reliance on mechanical inference for objectivity make EMDR therapy familiar and salient. Notions of suggestion and hypnosis, and the eye-movement component of therapy are presented as discontinuous with clinical and theoretical practice, in order to free them from the tainting associations of pseudo-science and quackery. By connecting the current EMDR movement with the conceptual and practical history of traumatic memory, dissociation, and suggestion, I argue that EMDR is not revolutionary. It is a powerful technology of the self, normalizing and valourizing certain ways of behaving and thinking. Shapiro's implicit assumptions that psychological suffering is pathological, and that early traumatic events are indelibly encoded, stored and dissociated in the brain are problematized. A brief commentary on the moral, political, and psychotherapeutic implications of EMDR therapy is provided.






Steven Cohen

Original Work Citation

Cohen, S. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): The making of a psychotherapy



“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): The making of a psychotherapy,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed August 6, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/25835.

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