For those of us in recovery that includes EMDR for our childhood trauma, this is a great article/interview to read from the originator of EMDR.

Getting Past Your Past: Q&A with Therapist  Francine Shapiro

In a new self-help book, Shapiro offers instruction for  dealing with negative emotions by using a tried-and-true therapy for PTSD.
By Maia Szalavitz | @maiasz | April 18,  2012 |


Psychologist Francine Shapiro was a Ph.D. student when she first discovered  in 1987 that moving her eyes in a certain way could take the emotional sting out  of disturbing thoughts. Pressing her friends and acquaintances into service, she  tried the technique on them and soon after conducted the first randomized  controlled trial of the therapy in people with post-traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD).

Today, Shapiro’s treatment — known as eye movement desensitization and  reprocessing (EMDR) — is one of the most effective known therapies for PTSD. It  looks strange because it involves therapists directing clients’ eye movements by  waving their hands or tapping, but dozens of randomized controlled trials have  demonstrated that it works.

Healthland spoke with Shapiro about her new book, Getting Past Your  Past, which offers self-help methods based on EMDR.

Why did you decide to write this book?

It’s so important for people to realize that there’s help and [not] think  that therapy has to be about years and years of talk.

People are walking around wounded and not understanding why they’re  responding the way they are to the world. They are not understanding why they’re  having negative feelings like ‘I’m not loveable, I’m not good enough,’ because  of these unprocessed memories that they might not even remember. What happens is  that when you get triggered, you get the emotions, but not the images, and then  you buy into it.

When you’re feeling stuck, when you have negative beliefs about yourself — that’s not the cause of the problem, it’s the symptom. All those negative  thoughts that push you into acting in ways that don’t serve you or prevent you  from doing the things that you want — the basis is these unprocessed  memories.

How did you first come up with EMDR?

I was using my mind and body as a laboratory to see what things worked.  Around the time that I needed to do a dissertation, I was walking along one day  and I noticed that some disturbing thoughts I was having were suddenly  disappearing. When I thought to bring them back, they didn’t have the same  charge any more.

What thoughts were you having?

I can’t remember! But what caught my attention was that they were the kind of  thoughts that you generally had to do something about [in order to make them go  away]. I started paying close attention and I noticed that when that thought  came to mind, my eyes started moving in a certain way and the thoughts shifted  from consciousness and when I brought them back, it wasn’t that intense.

What eye movements were you making?

It was rapid diagonal movements, very rapid, what they call saccadic  movements. So, I wanted to see if it could work deliberately. I brought up  something that bothered me and moved my eyes in the same way and I found the  same thing. I reached out to all my friends, basically every warm body I could  find, and asked them if they had something they wanted to work on. Everyone  did.

I started having them follow my hand in order to make the same eye movements  and that’s how I developed the process. Then I did a controlled study, which was  published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989.

(MORE: Scientists Identify Genetic Changes that May Increase Risk of  PTSD)

There was an enormous amount of resistance to EMDR and for a long  time many researchers simply didn’t believe that it worked. There’s still  controversy about it. Why do you think that’s so?

Because whole field of PTSD was new. The diagnosis of PTSD was only made  official in 1980. And what you had were all these Vietnam vets who were still  struggling and suffering 20 years after the war. The view of field was that PTSD  was pretty impossible to treat and here I published an article on a randomized  controlled study showing positive effects after one session and with eye  movements, which didn’t make any sense.

For me, I felt I stumbled on the brain’s natural processing. I started  thinking about REM sleep [when dreaming typically takes place] where you also  get those kinds of eye movements. At this point, the research [suggests] that  the REM state is when the brain is processing survival-related information. Back  in 1989, the view was that the eye movement was the dreamer scanning the dream  environment. They had no idea what it was actually doing.

Right now, there are 20 randomized controlled trials on just the eye  movements alone and all of them show a positive effect. About half of the  studies have been done by memory researchers who believe that the eye movements  disrupt working memory [one theory about how it works]. Harvard researcher  Robert Stickgold has written [about how EMDR] links into the same process that  occurs during REM sleep.

These ideas aren’t mutually exclusive?

I think both are correct. What’s quite interesting at this point in the whole  field of PTSD is that in order to have the official diagnosis, you need to have  a major trauma like rape or combat experience, but the latest research indicates  that general life experience can [produce traumatic memories].

Do you mean things like child abuse?

Not even. Children can hear parents fighting. They had a study showing that  children can get PTSD from falling off a bicycle.

Is this because people who are very sensitive to experience can  be traumatized by things that wouldn’t affect other people?

There’s a genetic [piece] and there’s also what kind of foundation has been  laid. A lot of research lately indicates that childhood adversity can set the  groundwork for vulnerability to a lot of later problems.

What we’re really looking at in general is that you have an information  processing system in the brain that’s supposed to be geared to digest  experience, to make sense of it [so that] what’s useful is incorporated [into  memory] and what’s useless is let go. When something is too disturbing, it  overwhelms that processing system and the memory gets stored along with the  emotions and physical sensations and beliefs that occurred at the time, and  that’s what gets triggered [in PTSD].

Robert Stickgold says that [the experience] is inappropriately stored in  episodic memory — the memory of emotions, physical sensations and beliefs — and  through EMDR, it gets shifted to semantic memory [narrative or verbal memory].  It is stimulating the information processing systems of the brain so that the  appropriate links are made. So a rape victim may start out saying that she feels  shameful, ‘I should have done something’ and has all those emotions; at end, she  is saying, The shame is his not mine, and I’m a resilient woman. That’s the  digested version: what needs to be learned is incorporated and what’s useless is  let go.

(MORE: Child  Abuse Pediatricians Recommend Basic Parenting Classes)

Some people claim that EMDR is most helpful for single traumatic  memories, but less so for people who have experienced ongoing trauma over a long  period of time.

It’s not that it works better, it takes longer when you have multiple  traumatic experiences because there are more memories that need to be processed.  And if it was childhood onset, because of the traumatic experience, they didn’t  necessarily [learn the] socialization and skills and that are needed at the  time.

Within EMDR, we have a three-pronged approach. First, identify and process  the earlier memories that set the groundwork [for the problem], then process  current stimuli that trigger distress, and third, incorporate whatever skills  and education are necessary to overcome developmental deficits and provide what  the person needs for the future.

It’s often really hard to find evidence-based therapies, but you  seem to have very successfully disseminated EMDR. What’s the  secret?

It really has been word of mouth. When I first developed it, I gave a lot of  presentations throughout the country. People would give me their cards and say,  When you are ready to teach it, I want to learn it. I made sure I had people who  were able to give and receive it under supervision so they actually learned it.  It was not just me as a talking head. I did small group practice and had one  trainer for nine people. At end of that, they wanted other clinicians to learn  it because they went back and used it, saw results and were getting results that  they hadn’t gotten with anything else and wanted their colleagues to learn it.  They often volunteered to train others because they wanted more people to be  helped and that’s really the way it went.

I write a lot about addiction and many, many addicted people have  suffered traumatic experiences, which unfortunately are often not dealt with  appropriately in treatment.

I think the literature is very clear that there’s a large connection with  trauma and the person trying to self-medicate. We tried to do an randomized  controlled trial with EMDR in Washington state’s drug court and we had to drop  the randomized part because the people treated with EMDR started talking about  how much it helped so the others were really upset that they couldn’t get. We  ended up being able to do the evaluation: graduation from these courts is  supposed to be a major indicator of recidivism, and 91% of those who got EMDR  graduated, compared to 60% of those who didn’t.

(MORE: Siblings  Brain Study Sheds Light on the Roots of Addiction)

So why do we always think that every emotion we experience is  real and connected to what’s happening now, not the past?

Because we’re feeling it and, therefore, seeing world in that way. That’s  what’s so funny about it. We don’t even get that. When we’re going into a social  situation and start feeling insecure, we’re feeling and acting on it. What the  book is trying to do is give people an understanding of where this is coming  from, so they can step back and use techniques to [cope better]. For a lot of  people, that’s all they need, not therapy. But for other people, if you are  always needing to use this, O.K., you’ve done most of the work to prepare and  you go get helping processing it. These are the techniques clinicians would be  teaching a client.

What should someone look for in an EMDR  therapist?

Make sure they’ve been trained by a program approved by the EMDR  International Association. We also have a nonprofit called the EMDR Humanitarian  Assistance Programs — they’re getting the royalties from the book. We provide  pro bono treatment for underserved populations worldwide, after every natural  and man-made disaster.

People can take control of their lives, they don’t have to be buffeted by  these unprocessed memories.

See more of  Healthland’s ‘Mind Reading’ series.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer for Find her on  Twitter at @maiasz. You can also  continue the discussion on TIME Healthland‘s Facebook  page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

Read more:

  1. applyingmybeliefs says:

    Good information. Is there a list of EMDR trained counselors in our area?

  2. Chad says:

    Isn’t it interesting that we have an abundance of therapies, treatments, self-help books and programs and yet have more problems than ever? I wonder if our dependence on programs and gimmicks like these rather than on God and His word alone isn’t our primary problem. What will the next trick to cure us be?

    • Castimonia says:

      The same can be said for the treatments and therapy for cancer or heart disease. Both existed well before they were clearly diagnosed and treated. Just because we have diagnosed “more problems” does not mean they did not exist beforehand. They did, but they were undiagnosed. God gives us the knowledge of how to diagnose these “new problems” so we can treat them with therapy and programs designed by Him and given to us through the Holy Spirit.

      • Chad says:

        Why would God lead us to something other than Himself for healing of PTSD? And why would He do so through a person who claims they discovered this by “using my mind and body as a laboratory to see what things worked”

        The only lasting and real transformation comes from God changing the heart. I believe God is rolling his eyes at all our attempts to find peace that have nothing to do with Him. We lack faith that God can truly save and deliver.

      • Castimonia says:

        Why did God use the Babylonians to accomplish his task with Israel/Judah? We cannot understand God and how He works. I do know that God uses even unbelievers to accomplish His task, he even uses Satan as well! – or do you ignore the book of Job? Stop putting God in the “Bible Box” and wake up to His uncontainable power. What worked for you may not work for others; what worked for me, may not work for the next guy. God works the way He wants to work. I’ll continue to believe that He is powerful enough to use whomever and whatever He wants to accomplish healing in either me, you, or anyone else.

  3. Chad says:

    God used the Babylonians to bring judgment upon a disbelieving and idolatrous Israel. Perhaps God is using psychology in a similar way.

    I’m the one arguing for Gods power as sufficient to deliver us so I’m unsure why you say I’m limiting Him. I know He can save completely and He doesn’t need secular humanism to do it (or EMRD).

    Would you be willing to consider that psychology is not actually Gods gift to us but actually a tool used to draw our attention away from God? What do you find as remotely Christian within this interview? Did Shapiro seek God in this “discovery” or look within herself? How is God glorified in her work? If not how do you believe this is Gods doing? Just because it might work sometimes? Is that the litmus test for Christians?

    • Castimonia says:

      I know a few Christian counselors who incorporate this technique to allow for healing of trauma. My own Christian counselor uses this method. Richard Blankenship, a well known Christian counselor speaks about the healing properties of EMDR in his training. Just because God isn’t mentioned in the article doesn’t mean He did not put it in Francine’s heart and mind to use this technique. Just because she isn’t giving glory to God, does not mean He wasn’t the creator of EMDR. You seem so against psychology, are you also against modern medicine? Do you not believe in antibiotics, chemotherapy, blood pressure medicine, etc…? It’s the same thing, all healing comes from God, he gives the researchers the knowledge of what technique or medicine to create or administer that allows Him to heal us. Living in the “Bible Box” may work for you, but don’t make the general assumption that it is the ONLY way that God heals us.

      • Chad says:

        I think a lot of things can “work,” or at least deal with symptoms for a time. I know people who claim Buddhism or New Age has “healed” them, but that doesn’t mean they have been healed by God. The sun shines on the righteous and the wicked.

        There is a difference between organic deficiencies/maladies (cancer, etc), and soul care. Psychology has encroached upon that which rightly, I believe, belongs to the Church – the care of souls (such things as PTSD, addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, etc). Only God can truly transform a heart and life and I am very suspicious of psychology in part because it is birthed out of a very anti-God culture (and men) and seeks to find healing not in God but within ourselves. Thus, it is anti-Christian in many respects.

        I didn’t always think that way. I was once an avid disciple of SAA and all 12 Step programs and counseling. I was a very liberal pastor and sex addict who felt that God used all sorts of things and people to help us along. My wife and I even flew to Houston for Milton Magness’ intensives. For years I put my trust in psychology and the “god who gave it to us.” And yes, I had spurts of “sobriety.” Some things helped me mask my symptoms. But the truth is, I was hiding behind all of that because I didn’t REALLY believe God and God’s Word could do what I preached it could do. It was easier to be in “recovery” than to walk the narrow road towards deliverance, which required humbling myself and letting go of all the crutches I thought could save me.

        God doesn’t just want to make us “better” people. He wants to make us “new.” Paul calls us “new creations” in Christ. The old has passed away, the new has come. This doesn’t occur because you blink your eyes in the right pattern or because you talk for an hour every week with a counselor who happens to be a Christian. It happens supernaturally, when God gets all of our heart.

        Living in the “Bible Box,” as you pejoratively put it. is what I would hope every Christian would long to do. It is God’s revelation to us and is sufficient for “life and godliness.” I wonder how God feels about His children depending so little on His word to us and so much on what the secular psychologies push down our throats – with new “steps” and “tricks” every year. Life in God is meant to be much more than that!

        grace and peace.

      • Castimonia says:

        I’m sorry you did not receive healing the way I am, that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Just because something doesn’t work for you, does not mean it won’t work for others. Keep in mind, it is all a process to bring us closer to God, somewhere we were not while in the addiction. A few clarifications are in order.

        First, I believe all healing comes by God through His son Jesus Christ. Buddha, Mohammed, New Age, etc… doesn’t work for me. The method in how He chooses to heal those who believe in Him is His choice, not mine. I simply point others in the right direction. The 12 steps are not the only way, there are other ways, to discount any method God uses to bring His followers to Him is a slap in God’s face. You won’t hear me saying that other methods do not work, I would hope you would have enough respect for God’s power to do the same.

        Second, you do realize that the 12-steps were originally based on a Christian program, right? They were taken by Wilson and expanded from 6 to 12 for his AA program. My belief is because Alcoholics were not wanted in the church of the time, so Wilson (through the Holy Spirit) founded another way to bring people to Him. It has become secularized since, but it still has Christian roots! Also, read the scripture associated with each step, I believe it is equally important than the actual step itself. Castimonia is a Christ-centered 12-step program. Without Christ, we are nothing. Scripture is attached to each step and in working the steps. The 12 steps is basically 12 Biblical points that helps addicts recover through Jesus Christ. The analogy is that if you are driving around in Houston, would you pull up a map of the US or go to a smaller, direct map of the Houston metro area? The Bible is the map of the US, the 12 steps and attached scripture is the map of Houston. I’m not discounting the rest of the Bible, but for those that need to start a program of recovery, I feel God has brought these 12 steps to us, clear as can be, to help us get started on our program of recovery that leads to Him!

        Thirdly, I go to, and recommend Christian counselors, not counselors that are Christians (Magness is an exception). These are counselors that are trained in allowing God to heal us through scriptural and Biblical means. However, they also use tools given to us by God; one cannot deny the brain scans of how EMDR helps heal the brain from PTSD. You may think it isn’t “Biblical” but I believe God heals through various methods which He ultimately created.

        I agree, God wants to renew out minds, not just bring us back to “normal.” Read the scripture for Step 11.

        You may be on the verge of “spiritual abuse” if you force others that come to you for help to only “pray” about it or “have enough faith” or to read the Bible and not help him understand why he is like he is. Perhaps your healing only came (by God) because you had already done the counseling and therapy, the 12 steps, etc…. previously. Had you not previously done the therapy work, 12 steps, intensive, etc, God may not have healed you. Did you ever think about that?

        Thank you,


        * Sent from my Android Phone

  4. Chad says:

    I agree with you that there are other methods that “work.” My point, however, is that this is not the litmus test (or shouldn’t be) for us as Christians. Getting healing from sexual sin should not be the goal. Bringing glory and honor to God ought to be. Attaching a scripture verse to a step does not make a method Christian anymore than attaching Scriptures to the practice of slavery makes slavery a Christian industry.

    I do believe God used all of my past to bring me to where I am now, but perhaps differently than you. I think God allowed me to go through all of that to bring me to the end of myself and the “ways of man” so that I would learn that only He can transform us and heal us. His Word is powerful enough to do that. God hasn’t been wringing His hands for the past 2000 years just waiting for EMDR to be “invented” so that people can finally get over past trauma.

    It’s an over-simplification to say “just pray harder” or “have more faith.” That is not what biblical counselors do. Prayer is valuable, so is faith. I think we lack both in Christian circles the more we refer hurting people to psychology moreso than we do Scripture.

    Sorry this is brief and blunt – I’m rushing to get out the door for work! thanks!

    • Castimonia says:

      I suppose, by your standards, the same could be said for electricity, MRI’s, Brain Scans, Penicillin, etc… and that God has been waiting for these things either.

      I feel the biggest issue is your attacks against 12-step groups, counseling/therapy, etc… Who are you to say what works and doesn’t work? Are you God? Do you not see the aforementioned clearly written in scripture?

      Just because others choose to find healing through Jesus Christ through another method, does not mean that it is the “wrong” way or that they are “gimmicks.” I will say this, when the time comes that I relapse into porn, masturbation, affairs, etc…, the 12-step community and therapists will be there waiting for me, without judgment or condemnation. God uses Christian men (and there are many in 12-step groups) to help us in our journey, to deny all of this and live in your “Bible Box” may end up being a dangerous place for you. Hopefully not!

      May God grant you serenity.

  5. Chad says:

    “when the time comes that you relapse into porn, masturbation, affairs, etc…, the 12-step community and therapists will be there waiting for you…

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you don’t really mean how this sounds. Even the non-Christian counselors and groups I have been around in the past would never say such a thing (they may think it, but never say it). Not only is it pessimistic, it’s rather cruel to anticipate the ruin of someone, former addict or not.

    But I’m glad you said it. For you capture, in a nutshell, the reason I no longer put my hope and trust in programs. Though it would never be said, there is a sense of hopelessness always pervading any program where God is not honored and glorified in truth (which means we cannot just come to “know God as we understand God” but only as God has chosen to reveal God’s self) and where sobriety, rather than holiness, is the goal. God is willing and able to give complete victory to those who will stop chasing the idols of man-made wisdom.

    Jesus told the woman in adultery “go and sin no more.” He obviously felt her able to follow through with his command or he would not have given it. Notice Jesus did NOT say to her, “WHEN you fall back into your affairs, I’ll be here to give you a hug.”

    There really isn’t much more for me to say. I’m sorry you think that fellow Christians who put their faith in God and God’s word are somehow putting God in a “Bible box.” Perhaps it’s a “box” you’d do well to investigate and surrender to.

    When you come to realize that programs and psychology are empty trails (the path is broad that leads to destruction and many are on it) I hope you’ll remember that there are people out there who have found healing and victory through nothing more and nothing less than the powerful, living, active, sharp word of God. He alone is our refuge and strength.

    • Castimonia says:

      Thanks for pointing that out! I forgot the #1 rule in recovery meetings, use I or me statements, not you or we! I have edited my original comment.

      Ask yourself this, do you worship and praise the God that set you free or a book? It sounds a lot like you have moved into worshiping a book rather than the all-powerful God who inspired it!

      God is bigger than a book, open your mind and see just how powerful He really can be in your life! I am curious, however, how you help any man that comes to you stating he has a problem with pornography, adultery, sexual sin, etc…? Do you have some sort of system in place or do you just tell him to go read a book?

      • Chad says:

        For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

        “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

        Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:18-21)

        For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. (1 Cor. 3:19-21)

      • Castimonia says:

        Awesome message! And this is exactly why I use my program to bring men trapped in their sexual addiction to the healer, Jesus Christ!

        The program doesn’t heal, only Jesus Christ heals!

  6. Santo says:

    Why users still make use of to read news papers when
    in this technological globe the whole thing is available on net?

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