A Community of Heart Profile: Robbie Dunton



Robbie Dunton was an integral part in the development of EMDR. She brought to EMDR a set of understandings about the workings of the human heart that grew out of her early experience with her large, nurturing family and human development and how children and adults learn.

Robbie was born outside of Chicago in Colonial Village, Illinois where she lived until she was 5 years of age. Her father worked for Cherry Burrell – a dairy equipment company- and was the Regional Manager in the Mid-West, and, subsequently, in the Southeast and then California. Her mother was a homemaker who took care of their five children. Robbie was in the middle of the group with an older sister and brother and younger sister and brother.

It was in this large family that she learned the importance of respect, sharing and support for all who are members of the community. Robbie’s mother –like her mother before her and Robbie herself- was the type of person who invited everyone to the family home and did not turn away anyone. She would always take the side of the downtrodden and enlisted her whole family to be involved in the church and reaching out to their neighbors. If there was racism, her family fought it. If a neighbor fell on hard times, her family was there to give clothes and food. Even when her mother had moved to Phoenix and was much older, she would pick up people less fortunate than she was and take them shopping. Her mother’s philosophy was always that you help those with less and, if you have anything, others should have a part of it. This continues to be at the core of who Robbie Dunton is.

As children, Robbie and her brothers and sisters were well taken care of. Her parents were frugal and believed in modeling for their children what was important to them in life. Each child had the requisite 2 pairs of shoes for the year, an allowance that they worked for that paid for their expenses and, from that, they were asked to donate half of their allowances to their bank accounts. The message was, “You don’t waste. You don’t use more than you need.”

Her maternal grandmother was Robbie’s “dearest person.” She was a musician from Ireland who came to the United States by ship. She played the zither and violin and met her future husband, an English musician from Lancastershire who played the guitar and the banjo and was a Master Plasterer, specializing in intaglio. They fell in love and despite a 15-year age difference and different nationalities married. In the summers, Robbie and her siblings would go to Chicago to spend them with their grandparents. Some of her fondest memories were of her grandmother taking her siblings, 2 other grandsons and many neighborhood children to the Riverview Amusement Park for the day. Her grandmother would save money for this annual event all year and it was with great joy that all of these children went off to the Park. Robbie noted that it was from her grandmother that she learned the importance of joy in life and how to set limits.

When Robbie was 14 years old, she moved to North Carolina. She enjoyed her life there so it was a huge shock when her family moved to San Mateo, California when she was seventeen. She dealt with it by returning to Winston Salem College, a small women’s college in North Carolina, when she was ready for college. However, there was something about this new land and she decided to return to California and attended San Jose State University. She grew to love the freedom of California and the fact that you could be and do what you wanted.

Robbie graduated San Jose State University with a BS in Recreation and Leisure Sciences and with a BA, one year later, in Social Science and Elementary Education. Around the same time that she was finishing her degrees, she was married and a bit later had her first of three biological children and one non- biological child.

After her degrees, Robbie continued her interest in Child Development by becoming a Private Consultant in the Santa Clara Valley. She traveled to 2 nursery schools a day, 5 days a week and taught the children how to pay attention to and use their bodies. Robbie was a pioneer in developing this type of curriculum.

During the 1970’s, interest in children with special needs was emerging and Robbie was involved in this development. Her oldest son was diagnosed with learning disabilities, and despite a high IQ, he was struggling in school. Strongly motivated to help her son, Robbie approached this situation by learning all that she could about his problem. She began to work with right and left-brain issues in learning and was invited to speak at conferences to discuss what she had learned. Eventually, through nurturing at home and correct instruction, her son became a top student. She even wrote a chapter in a book about him and her method.

As her interest grew about children with learning difficulties, she took courses on identifying and working with children and their different learning styles. She was interested in what was getting in the way of learning and how to change these patterns.

By 1973, she had joined the Developmental Learning Center in San Jose in the capacity of its Associate Director and Vice President. Here, she was responsible for general management and program development for diagnostic evaluation, therapy and classroom and individual instruction. She conducted seminars and was responsible for the Center’s Public Relations where she hired, trained and supervised staff. She edited brochures and wrote program descriptions. Also, she served as a liaison between THE clients and the community. She was part of the team that focused on improving self-esteem and academic skills of clients from 4 years of age to adults.

In 1980, understanding the importance of Nutrition to human development, Robbie received her MS in Nutritional Counseling from Donsbach University in Los Angeles.

In 1987, Robbie attended a course on Communication at San Jose University given by Francine Shapiro. She was so impressed with her professor that she asked her to give a talk at the Developmental Learning Center to parents about how to communicate with their kids. As Robbie said, “…and it launched everything!” Francine and Robbie became good friends and talked to her about the work that she had been doing and taught her the standard protocol of EMD that later developed into EMDR.

Francine taught Robbie how to do EMD and Robbie began to use it right away with her clients. Robbie remembers that she could not believe how powerful it was with behavior issues at school for children. From that time on, they would get together and talk about what they both were doing. Robbie was working on her MA in Educational Counseling at the time.

Robbie’s work with EMDR was eye opening. She used it in her consultancy practice. As she did her educational testing, it became clear to her that, often, her students had histories of early trauma. In fact, she began to diagnose through using the presenting learning difficulty as a clue to look for the trauma or issue that precipitated the learning problem. For instance, a child would come in not knowing fractions. As fractions were taught in 4 th grade, Robbie would ask, “What happened in fourth grade”? When her student replied that this was the year that his parents were divorced, Robbie would use the trauma as the target with excellent results concerning the decrease or disappearance of the learning problem!

The EMDR Institute was born out of this collaboration between Robbie and Francine. AJ Popky, Jennifer Lendl and Pat Riley were other members of this early team. Robbie recalled that Pat helped them get things together and encouraged them to get EMDR “out in the world.” At the time, Pat was fired up about EMD and was a stay at home mom. This was the kindling that they needed to get the Institute up and running. Robbie called her “The Queen MOTHER of EMDR.”

There was no start up money for this new phenomenon and all the work that was done for many years was voluntary. People felt that it was so important that they were willing to dedicate their time, energy and money to getting EMDR out into the world.

Robbie reflected on how well Francine and she were able to work together. They respected each other and were able to have a good time during the trials and tribulations of beginning a new start-up organization. They would decide where they wanted to go and Robbie would take care of the administrative end of the business while Francine would do the teaching. Also, Robbie taught the first specialty on “EMDR with Children and Adolescents.” She would often travel with Francine visiting agencies and universities to teach EMDR.

For Robbie, the essence of EMDR has always been Francine. On the subject of Francine she said the following:

“I have heard her speak so many times and each time I am inspired by her and her work. You work with kids and you feel you need something else to help them. I became a workshop junkie and went once a month. I wanted anything I could get to help me. I learned EMDR and learned to apply it with kids and with learning and WOW. It was so important. Francine was inspirational.”

In her relationship with Francine, there is trust. Robbie feels that she can always trust Francine’s integrity to do what is in the best interest of EMDR. As keeper of the evaluations of EMDR Institute trainings, Robbie would review them and then pass onto Francine whatever concerns seemed to arise. From needing to find a safe place to knowing how to close down a complete or incomplete session, Francine was always interested in developing EMDR to make it better.

What Robbie has loved over the years is the fluidity of EMDR and the fact that it is ever changing. No two years have been the same as Francine has looked to make the training better and give the participants what they need. In the beginning, trainings were 1 to 2 days, then, people felt they needed a more advanced training and Part 2 was born. Now, a new format is evolving that looks like it will implement even more positive change in teaching EMDR.

After Francine’s EMDR text came out in 1995, Robbie and Francine were concerned that people would start to work with EMDR without training. It was at that time that the seed for EMDRIA grew through a Task Force that later evolved into the EMDR International Association, as we know it. EMDRIA ‘s mission was to uphold a standard of excellence for the practice of EMDR.

The goal always foremost in Robbie and Francine’s minds was to get EMDR out into the world so that more people could benefit from its effects. They traveled to Europe and Australia early on to reach out to therapists from other countries. In the early nineties, in Sunnyvale, the first conference took place. It was exciting that people came from all over the world. She said it was like “a love-in” as people were hugging and excited about the possibilities of EMDR. At that time, Robbie was in charge of the conference and presented as well. During the first conference, participants spoke about what they had learned and how they were applying it with their patients. During the second conference, people were more concerned about the cautions and they recounted their experience and what to look out for. By the third conference, the experience was more professional. The presentations were more integrative and included research. It was the biggest conference sponsored by the EMDR Institute with 800 people.

As the ripple effect of EMDR grew, Robbie felt that they needed to institute training for the new EMDR facilitators so that everyone was teaching to the same standard. Francine’s response – as those of you who know Francine will be familiar with- was “OK, you can do it!” Robbie gathered a group of seasoned facilitators that included Linda Cohn, Harriet Sage, and Jocelyne Shiromoto, then pooled their collective knowledge and THE COMMITTEE came up with a model for teaching facilitators.

Robbie feels that “the life blood” of EMDR is the pool of talent epitomized in the EMDR Institute’s facilitators. She feels that the Institute was fortunate that the people who wanted to be facilitators were topnotch people and that the Institute has been able to build such an outstanding team. Many of the earlier people who were the pioneers in California have moved on or retired and new facilitators are being trained, especially for HAP projects.

Francine and Robbie’s purpose always had been to reach out and work with those traumatized all over the world. It was through these early discussions that the seed for the Humanitarian Assistance Program was born. Francine started it after the EMDR teaching and volunteer therapy teams returned from their work in Oklahoma City. Robbie got the teams to Oklahoma City while Sandra Wilson was the person on-site. Both worked tirelessly, along with many other trainers and facilitators- to help out during this disaster. It was clear that the EMDR community had a huge resource in their volunteers. Most of this was done through the EMDR Network that was started early on and was similar to the Regional Groups of EMDRIA today. In California, meetings would attract upward of 150 practitioners of EMDR.

What was needed was someone to coordinate it and a budget to make it happen. At first, Francine and her assistant coordinated the operations while Robbie would enlist the facilitators. Barbara Korzun saved the day by coming in and keeping the network running. She took on the responsibilities and turned HAP into a viable organization. Robbie noted “I feel forever indebted to her for getting it off the ground. She did a great job.” As EMDR-Hap grew, Barb brought in Robert Gelbach who became the current Executive Director of EMDR-Hap. She is honored to serve on the HAP Board and is appreciative of the dedication the other Board Members.

When asked what she would like to say to the EMDR Community, Robbie simply stated the following:

“We are a community and we all have the common goal of bringing healing to the world with EMDR. I appreciate all of the support I have received.. The evolution of EMDR…I could not have done it without that help. Every day, I think of that. One of the main parts of EMDR is the evolution. Being involved is something that gives me a feeling of worth. It is something that is meaningful in the world. I felt that way about working with children, too. What I was doing was giving back and not just bringing home a check. It was never important to me. This is not about making money. This is why we do the service business and work with people. I love that the most.”

Robbie is an avid water sport enthusiast who enjoys scuba diving, swimming and anything near the water. Also, she enjoys anything outdoors such as gardening, walking, biking, and taking hikes with her kids. She likes cooking, especially inventing nutritious recipes. She finds time to read and do artwork. Now, she is more apt to be with her children and 6 grandchildren and her friends. She is active in her community and has helped set up an Early Childhood Education programs, and raised funds for the Special Olympics and works for the Literacy Program.

To me, Robbie has always been one of the major forces behind EMDR. This creative, intelligent and generous woman has helped to create and keep the large EMDR community together. Without her, the EMDR world as we know it would not exist. Thank you, Robbie, for all that you have brought and bring on a daily basis to EMDR and the larger EMDR community.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Robbie Dunton,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 28, 2021, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/7649.

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