Cultural adaptations of the standard EMDR protocol in five African countries


Since 2007, mental health workers in sub-Saharan Africa have been trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This qualitative study used an Afrocentric design with thematic analysis to investigate adaptations to the EMDR standard protocol that make it culturally relevant for African clients. Participants were 25 EMDR therapists (three male, age range 32–60 years, x̄ = 44) from five African countries, who practiced EMDR for 1–11 years (x̄ = 7). All answered a survey questionnaire, eight participated in a focus group discussion, and two provided a supervision notes analysis. Participants found EMDR a useful and beneficial therapy and preferred it over other therapies because of its nonnarrative nature and quick results. We identified four areas in which African therapists consistently made adaptations to the standard protocol: wording of the protocol text, cultural expression of thoughts and emotions, stimulation choice, and simplification of quantitative scales. Based on the study results, we make numerous recommendations for cultural adaptions to the EMDR protocol. These include language changes to take into account the clients’ “we oriented” communication; cultural interpretations of positive and negative thoughts and events; adding cultural activities such as dance, music, and religious practices as resourcing exercises; using hand gestures or the pictorial faces scale instead of ordinal scales; and using tapping for bilateral stimulation instead of eye movements, which were sometimes seen as “witchcraft.” The relevance of the findings for EMDR practice and training are discussed. We recommend that African researchers further study the acceptability, use, and effectiveness of EMDR in their countries.






Femke Bannink Mbazzi
Anne Dewailly
Kalkidan Admasu
Yvonne Duagani
Kizito Wamala
Aquila Vera
Dismas Bwesigye
Gisela Roth

Original Work Citation

Mbazzi, F. B., Dewailly, A., Admasu, K., Duagani, Y., Wamala, K., Vera, A., Bwessigye, D., & Roth G. (2021). Cultural adaptations of the standard EMDR protocol in five African countries. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 15(1), 29-43. doi:10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00028



“Cultural adaptations of the standard EMDR protocol in five African countries,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 21, 2021,

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