A psychologist, Shapiro was out for a walk when she noticed something odd. She was recalling some problems in her life, and as she looked around as she was walking, the negative feelings toward those past issues diminished. Thinking she was onto something, she started researching whether a therapist guiding a patient to think about distressing memories might help resolve those feelings — including PTSD. Research has shown that the methodology she developed, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, works. “Many people feel that something is holding them back in life, causing them to think, feel and behave in ways that don’t serve them,” she said. “EMDR therapy is used to identify and process the encoded memories of life experiences that underlie people’s clinical complaints.”
It sounds odd, but the theory is that it mimics REM, or the Rapid Eye Movement that’s part of the sleep cycle and helps process memories. By doing REM-like movements that are focused on specific memories, those memories can be processed. It is so effective compared to “talk therapy” that the American Psychiatric Association (in 2004), the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (in 2009), and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense (in 2010) include it in their medical practice guidelines. A study conducted at a Veterans Affairs facility found that 12 treatment sessions resulted in a 78 percent reduction in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the civilian world, a study of sexual assault victims reported a 90 percent remission in PTSD after just three 90-minute sessions, all without the patient having to go through the memories in detail, and it can help even if the trauma being processed is decades old. Dr. Shapiro received numerous awards for her work in EMDR, including the International Sigmund Freud Award for distinguished contribution to psychotherapy, and the American Psychological Association Trauma Psychology Division Award for Outstanding Contributions to Practice in Trauma Psychology. She died June 19, at 72.