EMDR Therapy and Getting Past Your Past

A pile of old photographsOn Friday, March 2nd, 2012, GoodTherapy.org is thrilled to welcome Dr. Francine Shapiro, creator of EMDR Therapy. Dr. Shapiro will present The Past is Present: Understanding the Effects of Unprocessed Memories and Using EMDR Therapy In Treatment, a FREE CE teleconference for GoodTherapy.org members available with 1.5 CE Credits. We encourage you to join us for this exciting event, so if you have not already, register today!

I appreciate the opportunity to write about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and my new book, Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy. As a little background, EMDR therapy is supported by more than 20 randomized studies and has been declared an effective treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in international guidelines worldwide. In the United States, that includes organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and the Department of Defense. Another 20 randomized studies have evaluated the eye-movement component used in the therapy and demonstrated effects that include an immediate decline in negative imagery vividness, a decrease in negative emotions, and an increase in the recognition of true information. In short, anyone who considers EMDR therapy “controversial” has not kept up with the research literature.

For more than 20 years, thousands of clinicians have used EMDR therapy and treated millions of people worldwide. National EMDR associations exist throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. They support humanitarian assistance programs that bring trauma treatment and clinical trainings to underserved populations suffering the aftereffects of war and disasters, both natural and manmade. Unlike other forms of research-supported trauma treatment, it is not necessary for the client to describe the memory in detail or to perform daily homework. This means that EMDR therapy can be used on consecutive days, making it perfectly suited for field teams providing disaster relief. In addition, this feature is currently being used to accelerate the healing process for those suffering war trauma and other forms of complex PTSD. Three studies have been performed demonstrating that in the equivalent of three 90-minute sessions, 84% to 100% of single trauma victims no longer have PTSD (Marcus et al., 1997, 2004; Rothbaum, 1997; Wilson et al., 1995, 1997). A study with multiply traumatized combat veterans found that after 12 sessions, 78% no longer had PTSD. Similar results (77%) were reported after up to 12 sessions with multiply traumatized civilians (Marcus et al., 1997, 2004). While childhood abuse victims may need additional treatment, happily each disturbing memory does not have to be processed separately because processing one representational memory can generalize to other similar events.

Obviously, this is excellent news for those suffering from the effects of major trauma. However, EMDR therapy is not limited to this population. Research (Mol et al., 2005; Obradovic´ et al., 2010) has clearly demonstrated that a variety of general “life experiences” can cause even more symptoms of PTSD than major trauma. EMDR therapy has revealed that unprocessed memories of these events have been stored in the brain and become the foundation for a wide range of clinical complaints. These unprocessed memories contain the emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations that the person experienced at the time of the original incident. Current situations trigger these memories and shape the person’s responses to the present. Whether these memories consist of childhood humiliations and rejections or outright abuse, it is the unprocessed memories that are running the show.

The purpose of Getting Past Your Past is to help liberate readers by giving them a comprehensive understanding of why they respond to the world in ways that don’t serve them and what they can do about it. The book provides self-help procedures derived from EMDR therapy to identify the earlier memories that are the basis of the problem and other techniques to help change their reactions. Through stories, detailed descriptions, and step-by-step instructions, readers will be able to take self-exploration and healing into their own hands. Guidelines are also provided to help them decide if additional professional assistance is needed. The book is written in an easy conversational style so that it is accessible to both the general public and therapists interested in exploring a different paradigm. A wide range of luminaries in the field of psychology have highly recommended the book for both clinicians and laypeople.

EMDR has been recognized as a system of psychotherapy (Prochaska & Norcross, 2010) with a distinct theoretical foundation and set of procedures. It is an integrative approach that is compatible with a wide variety of orientations (Shapiro, 2001, 2002). For instance, it is often used to address therapeutic impasses in family therapy (Shapiro, Kaslow & Maxfield, 2007). However, EMDR is distinctly different from other forms of therapy and can inform the clinical work of any therapist interested in comprehensive treatment of the clinical picture. Getting Past Your Past provides an overview of what EMDR therapy can offer to clinicians and their clients, as well as to those simply interested in fulfilling their potential. Among the self-help techniques are those taught to Olympic athletes, executives, and performers. The book royalties will fund the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs, which provides trauma services worldwide. Therefore, readers will be helping others as well as themselves.

1. American Psychiatric Association (2004). Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines.
2. Carlson, J., Chemtob, C.M., Rusnak, K., Hedlund, N.L, & Muraoka, M.Y. (1998). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Treatment for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 3-24.
3. Department of Veterans Affairs & Department of Defense (2010). VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Post-Traumatic Stress. Washington, DC: Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and Health Affairs, Department of Defense.
4. Marcus, S., Marquis, P. & Sakai, C. (1997). Controlled study of treatment of PTSD using EMDR in an HMO setting. Psychotherapy, 34, 307-315.
5. Marcus, S., Marquis, P. & Sakai, C. (2004). Three- and 6-month follow-up of EMDR treatment of PTSD in an HMO setting. International Journal of Stress Management, 11, 195-208.
6. Mol, S. S. L., Arntz, A., Metsemakers, J. F. M., Dinant, G., Vilters-Van Montfort, P. A. P., & Knottnerus, A. (2005). Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after non-traumatic events: Evidence from an open population study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 186, 494–499.
7. Obradovic´, J., Bush, N.R., Stamperdahl, J., Adler, N.E. & Boyce, W.T. (2010). Biological sensitivity to context: The interactive effects of stress reactivity and family adversity on socioemotional behavior and school readiness. Child Development, 1, 270–289.
8. Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2010). Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
9. Rothbaum, B. O. (1997). A controlled study of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disordered sexual assault victims. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61, 317-334.
10. Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
11. Shapiro, F. (2002). (Ed.). EMDR as an Integrative Psychotherapy Approach: Experts of Diverse Orientations Explore the Paradigm Prism. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.
12. Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life With Self-Help Techniques From EMDR Therapy. New York: Rodale.
13. Shapiro, F., Kaslow, F., & Maxfield, L. (Eds.) (2007). Handbook of EMDR and Family Therapy Processes. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
14. Wilson, S., Becker, L.A., & Tinker, R.H. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Treatment for psychologically traumatized individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 928-937.
15. Wilson, S., Becker, L.A., & Tinker, R.H. (1997). Fifteen-month follow-up of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological trauma. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 1047-1056.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mena

    February 27th, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    This sounds fascinating but do you have to be a licensed therapist to tune in or will there be enough info for the layperson to process too?

  • Admin

    February 29th, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    @Mena This event is designed to build upon advanced education and training in psychology and mental health and is currently open to GoodTherapy.org therapist members only; our apologies. If you are interested in events for the general public, please visit our free Public Web Conference offerings, listed here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/public-web-conferences.html. Thank you for reading!

    Kind Regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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