Francine Shapiro was a contemporary psychologist and the creator of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. 

Professional Life

Francine Shapiro earned her PhD in clinical psychology from the Professional School of Psychological Studies in San Diego, California. She was a senior research fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California and best known for the development of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a method of psychotherapy that alleviates symptoms in people who have experienced a traumatic event.

Shapiro was also the executive director of the EMDR Institute in Watsonville, California, as well as the founder and president of the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program, a program that offers aid for disaster relief and provides EMDR training at no charge to professionals throughout the world. Shapiro went on to work in Northern California as a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and advocate for EMDR.

She received several awards, including the distinguished International Sigmund Freud Award, the California Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology Award and the American Psychological Association Division 56 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Practice in Trauma Psychology.

Contribution to Psychology

Francine Shapiro found that when people experience trauma and the experience isn’t fully processed, or digested, by the person, those unprocessed feelings linger in the nervous system. People who have experienced trauma may have intrusive flashbacks, frightening nightmares, and ongoing anxiety. They may also avoid locations, people, and other stimuli associated with the trauma.

Shapiro developed EMDR to help people effectively and safely address and process traumatic memories, reducing emotional overwhelm and allowing a person to properly manage the memories and behaviors that result from them.

EMDR uses a stage-based treatment protocol to reduce the symptoms of trauma. There are eight stages:

  1. History taking: the therapist conducts an evaluation of the client's current symptoms and history. 
  2. Preparation: the therapist explains the process and helps the client to establish stress reduction skills to be used throughout the process as necessary. 
  3. Assessment: the therapist asks the client to identify some aspect of the trauma to serve as a target for change. The client rates the target for how disturbing it is, on a scale of 0–10. The client will also select a positive cognition and rate this for how true it feels on a scale of 1–7.
  4. Desensitization: a client is encouraged to focus on the target during brief sessions of bilateral stimulation, consisting of rapid tones, taps, or eye movements. The client will again rate the level of disturbance with each session until the level is rated at zero.
  5. Installation: the therapist asks the client to rate the positive cognition identified in phase three to see if it has changed. Bilateral stimulation continues until the positive cognition is rated at seven, completely true. 
  6. Body scan: the client checks in with his or her body to reveal whether any tension associated with the traumatic event may linger. Bilateral stimulation continues as needed to reduce the distress. 
  7. Closure: the therapist conducts a final check-in. If anything is left unprocessed, the therapist and client discuss ways to contain and manage the distress between sessions. 
  8. Re-evaluation: the next session begins here. The therapist reviews the previous session(s) and the client assesses the level of disturbance and evaluates the positive cognition. If anything was left incomplete, the desensitization process begins again. 

EMDR is a relatively new treatment, but a highly popular one. It has been controversial from its inception, but empirical studies have found that EMDR is highly effective with posttraumatic stress (PTSD). The research on the role of the eye movements is conflicting; some studies equate the eye movements to the REM stage of sleep. The results of EMDR as a treatment for other mental health conditions are mixed, and some insurance plans will only cover EMDR for trauma and posttraumatic stress.

Books by Francine Shapiro

  • EMDR: The Breakthrough "Eye Movement" Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma (1998)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, Basic Principles Protocols & Procedures, 2nd edition (2001)
  • EMDR As an Integrative Psychotherapy Approach: Experts of Diverse Orientations Explore the Paradigm Prism (editor, 2002)
  • EMDR and New Notes on Adaptive Information Procession: Case Formulation Principles, Scripts, and Worksheets (2006)
  • Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (2012)


  1. EMDR for Trauma: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. (2007). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  2. The evidence on E.M.D.R. (2012, March 2). The New York Times. Retrieved from