Francine Shapiro: Biography of the Creator of EMDR

Have you heard of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, commonly known as EMDR? If so, you might be interested to read about the life of its creator, Francine Shapiro.
Francine Shapiro: Biography of the Creator of EMDR

Last update: 24 January, 2022

When talking about the different kinds of therapy in psychology, we might think of psychoanalysis, humanism, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Indeed, there are many different kinds. For example, one such treatment is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This method was created by Francine Shapiro.

Francine Shapiro discovered that eye movements were able to decrease the intensity of the anguish of negative thoughts. As a matter of fact, in her research with war-traumatized subjects, she found that EMDR significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in these individuals.

Biography of Francine Shapiro

Francine Shapiro was born on February 18, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the creator of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, to treat and cure post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shapiro received a BA in English literature in 1968 and an MA in 1974 from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. In 1979, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The experiences that she had in suffering from this disease and the reading of different publications increased her interest in the literature on the depressant effects of stress on the immune system. As a matter of fact, she came to the conclusion that there were very few therapies designed to help people with these problems.

Therefore, she decided to investigate the existing procedures for these problems and disseminate them to the public. In the years that followed, she participated in numerous workshops and teaching and self-help programs to reduce stress. She also enrolled in the San Diego Professional School of Psychological Studies in order to learn what was being taught in psychology.

Francine Shapiro became executive director of the EMDR Institute in Watsonville, California. She was also the founder and president of the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program. This is a program that seeks to bring EMDR to communities that have suffered natural disasters yet whose mental health needs are not met with other psychotherapeutic approaches for psychological trauma.

She received several accolades, including the distinguished international Sigmund Freud Award. In addition, she was awarded the California Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award in Psychology, and the American Psychological Association Division 56 Award for outstanding contributions to the practice of trauma psychology.

Contributions to psychology

Francine Shapiro discovered that people experiencing trauma often don’t fully process it. In fact, the feelings and memories associated with the trauma often exist, but they’re separate. Therefore, the sufferer isn’t able to build an accurate story with them. Additionally, people who’ve experienced trauma may mentally revert to intrusive flashbacks and terrifying nightmares. In turn, these can lead to high anxiety.

EMDR was developed to help people who’d suffered from trauma. Its intervention was able to reduce the overwhelming feelings associated with the traumatic event. Furthermore, it allowed the patient to adequately control the memories and behaviors associated with the trauma.

Francine Shapiro and EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic approach that works on the information processing system. Sometimes, this system can become blocked or function improperly for various reasons. This can lead to the appearance of various different symptoms.

The main goal of EMDR is to rapidly facilitate the reduction of negative thoughts and feelings. In addition, it seeks to reduce the psychological stress associated with trauma. This improves the patient’s quality of life (Grant, 2000).

Its implementation includes eye movements, image creation and rejection, cognitive restructuring, reorganization of sensory stimuli related to the traumatic experience, sequential organization of information, and delineation of awareness of related physical sensations (Shapiro, 1999).

The phases of EMDR are as follows (Lemus, 2008):

  • Clinical history and treatment plan. Evaluation of symptoms and dysfunctional behaviors.
  • Preparation. Establish an adequate therapeutic relationship, set reasonable expectations, and carry out psychoeducation and training in self-control techniques.
  • Appraisal. Identify the most significant memory. In addition, identify negative cognitions and express positive ones.
  • Desensitization. Bring about changes in sensory experience related to the trauma. Also, increase feelings of self-efficacy and enhance insight. To do this, the patient is asked to focus on the significant memory during brief sessions of bilateral stimulation, consisting of rapid tones, taps, or eye movements.
  • Installation. Incorporate and extend the positive cognitions, replacing the negative ones.
  • Body Scan. Make sensations such as residual muscle tension go away.
  • Closure. Develop a sense of self-control and learn to handle upsetting situations.
  • Reassessment. Propose new objectives and strategies in which the results of the intervention can be appreciated.
Woman undertaking the therapy devised by Francine Shapiro.

Her last goodbye

In her later years, Francine Shapiro received a second cancer diagnosis. She died suddenly on June 16, 2019, at a medical facility north of San Francisco, not far from her home, after a long struggle with respiratory problems.

Although she’s no longer in this world, her legacy is still very much alive and of great help to those who’ve gone through traumatic situations. Indeed, without a doubt, her work and contributions to the field of trauma psychology won’t be forgotten.

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  • Grant, M. (2000). EMDR: a new treatment for trauma and chronic pain. Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery6(2), 91-94.
  • Lemus, L. M. G. (2008). Desensibilización y reprocesamiento con movimientos oculares. Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatría37(1), 206-215.
  • Sánchez Segura, Miriam, González García, René Marcos, Cos Padrón, Yanelkys, & Macías Abraham, Consuelo. (2007). Estrés y sistema inmune. Revista Cubana de Hematología, Inmunología y Hemoterapia23(2) Recuperado en 20 de enero de 2022, de http://scielo.sld.cu/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0864-02892007000200001&lng=es&tlng=es.
  • Shapiro, F. (1999). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and the anxiety disorders: Clinical and research implications of an integrated psychotherapy treatment. Journal of Anxiety disorders13(1-2), 35-67.