Book Reviews

EMDR®: Hypnosis By Another Name

by

TRANSFORMING TRAUMA: EMDR®
The Revolutionary New Therapy for
Freeing the Mind, Clearing the
Body, and Opening the Heart
Author:  Laurel Parnell.
A useful introduction to EMDR® (Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-processing) therapy.

The essence of EMDR® is that swivelling your eyes from side to side while recalling a traumatic incident permanently relieves severe symptoms. The client's eyes follow the moving fingers of the therapist.

Both consumers and professionals will relish Parnell's enthusiasm, vivid case histories, and personal revelations. Readers will be impressed with Parnell's courage in facing her own traumas and in going public with them.

Such subjective experience is clinically convincing, especially when so well-written. You will also be astonished at the amazing changes EMDR® brings about so speedily.

Therapists from other schools of thought might take issue with Parnell's claim of what distinguishes EMDR® from other therapies: "EMDR® therapy takes us 'beyond' recovery from trauma to a sense of joy, openness, and deep connection with ourselves and our lives."

Perhaps her dismay with other therapies came about because she spent four years in Jungian analysis and two years in psychodynamic psychotherapy without experiencing the epiphany that EMDR® produced in minutes.

Clinical reports by EMDR® practitioners suggest the therapy is most useful in the eradication of single traumas. Often in only one session. Although for adults sexually abused as children, Parnell cautions that "weeks, months or years may [first] elapse" before the client trusts the therapist enough for EMDR® to work.

EMDR® is touted as highly effective for the treatment of phobias and other emotional disturbances, especially post-traumatic disorders. Theories abound as to why the technique is therapeutic. Parnell lists some of them. An early speculation was that there is some physiological process akin to the benefits derived from rapid eye movement during sleep. However, this concept would seem to be discounted by Parnell's own accounts of "knee-tapping" as a substitute for eye movements for those clients who are crying too much to follow the therapist's fingers.

This sounds similar to the Callaghan Techniques (now known as Thought Field Technology) which also advocates tapping the client on various prescribed parts of the body. (A simplified version, Emotional Freedom Technique is now available at low cost. EMDR® training costs around $400 for a day. New "advanced" levels, including "trainers" and "facilitators" are available for additional fees).

Parnell's emphasis on authorized training, and personal experience of EMDR®, by therapists wishing to practise this powerful modality, is almost cult-like. Her guidelines echo the early psychoanalytical movement with its undertones of faith in the theory and loyalty to the founder.

The author stresses that "The therapist's beliefs and attitudes play an important role in the success of EMDR®." Of course they do because, along with the importance of the therapeutic relationship (also emphasized by Parnell), belief is a key ingredient of any successful therapy.

Such unquestioning devotion (Parnell would probably say, personal and clinical experience) leads to statements like this: "When EMDR® clears blockages to the body-mind's natural healing, wholeness and balance are restored, which are experienced as peace, equanimity, joy, understanding, wisdom, love and compassion. EMDR® clears impediments to wholeness, yet never removes what is adaptive and functional."

Some scientific evaluations of EMDR® are cited. One is of a client of John Wople. This "severely traumatized rape victim" -- unhelped by traditional psychotherapy -- experienced dramatic improvement after ten sessions of EMDR® .

However, as the Skeptical Inquirer (January-February 1996) points out, the scientific validity of EMDR® remains a controversial issue.

Parnell's claim that EMDR® can be dangerous in the hands of untrained, or ill-trained, therapists, is belied by the initial practice of the technique. In 1987 a doctoral psychology student fortuitously discovered the process while strolling in a park and contemplating some personal troubles. She noticed that she felt relief from her worries when her eyes swivelled from side to side. The innocuousness of this discovery led her to test the procedure on friends and relatives. But now that therapy founder, Francine Shapiro, and her disciple, Parnell, say the process can be dangerous.

Where have we heard such claims before? In the field of hypnotherapy. Some physicians make the untenable claim that hypnotherapy can be dangerous except in the hands of physicians and PhD psychologists.

And that is no accident. The parallels between EMDR® and hypnosis are casually dismissed by Parnell (and by Shapiro in her own book). They make unsubstantiated claims that EMDR® is faster than hypnosis. More ludicrously, Parnell writes that EMDR® offers "much more client control". This says more about Parnell's misconception about hypnosis than it does about the differences between the modalities.

After an excellent description of the effects in adults of childhood sexual abuse, Parnell describes a therapeutic protocol almost identical to a common procedure of hypnotherapists.

What Shapiro stumbled upon, and what Parnell so eloquently describes, appears to this reviewer to be an effective hypnotic induction. The EMDR® process parallels what happens during hypnotherapy.

And surely not only hypnotherapists are familiar with body-mind concepts. Yet the discovery of a mind-body connection in her own life so amazed Parnell that she wrote: "I really understood that my child's experience was frozen in time with the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs as they had been thirty-three years earlier. I understood that it isn't what happened that is imprinted, but rather what one perceives to have happened."

This book is well-written propaganda for EMDR® in general, and Parnell's own practice in particular.

Transforming Trauma: EMDR®

(282p) Publisher: W.W. Norton.

Postscript

Several people have written to express their displeasure at my review. Here is an example:

"Dear Dr. Knight,

I respectfully counter your comments made about Parnell's book, Transforming Trauma and to the comments made about EMDR in general. It is quite obvious that beyond reading her book, you have read little research now available on the efficacy of EMDR.

You write,"Theories abound as to why the technique is therapeutic. Parnell lists some of them. An early speculation was that there is some physiological process akin to the benefits derived from rapid eye movement during sleep. However, this concept would seem to be discounted by Parnell's own accounts of "knee-tapping" as a substitute for eye movements for those clients who are crying too much to follow the therapist's fingers."

Had you known more facts about EMDR, you would know that it isn't the rapid eye movement per se, rather the bilateral stimulation of the brain hemispheres that can be activated through visual, audio, or tactile modalities. Bessel van der Kolk has published studies on differences in brain functioning shown on Pet scans specifically in the anterior cingulate after EMDR therapy.

You write, "This sounds similar to the Callaghan Techniques (now known as Thought Field Technology) which also advocates tapping the client on various prescribed parts of the body. (You can train in TFT for a mere $10,000 a weekend. EMDR training costs around $400 for a day. New "advanced" levels, including "trainers" and "facilitators" are available for additional fees)."

Again, TFT is not similar to EMDR and your price quotes on both types of training are not accurate, once again showing that you are making statements without knowing the facts.

You write, "Parnell's emphasis on authorized training, and personal experience of EMDR, by therapists wishing to practise this powerful modality, is almost cult-like. Her guidelines echo the early psychoanalytical movement with its undertones of faith in the theory and loyalty to the founder."

Authorized training is of utmost importance in keeping the integrity and professionalism in the practice of a therapy that if not done well, can cause harm. Experiencing EMDR therapy for oneself as a practitioner only drives the powerfulness of this point home. The undertones are ones of a practitioner, myself included, who strive to keep EMDR held up to the highest standards and critique of the scientific community. If we are to present EMDR for scrutiny, we need to uphold a strictly adhered to training and practice, and obviously carry out well done, validated studies that will speak for itself. Which by the way, has been done. The loyalty is to the standard of practice, not to the founder.

As you have shown, it is very easy for people to misunderstand or twist what EMDR is, and what it does when one does not know the facts, or take the time to find out what it really is about. Perhaps the weakness in Parnell's book would be the lack of resources where one could read objective studies on EMDR.

You write, "Parnell's misconception about hypnosis than it does about the differences between the modalities." I believe you also present a misconception about EMDR. EMDR dovetails beautifully with most theories. Many practitioners use hypnotherapy and EMDR together, not to mention the myriad of other theories it fits so well with.

You write, "This book is well-written propaganda for EMDR in general, and Parnell's own practice in particular." Such mud slinging does little for professionalism. I implore you to further your readings on the EMDR research that is currently out. I have attached a bibliography of published studies now available. [URL="http://www.trauma-pages.com/emdr-98.htm"]

Whether it is EMDR or some other type of tool, or therapy, it would serve all of us well if we remain open minded, or at least silent, until we obtain the knowledge to back up our words. I hope you will find the readings helpful in forming an educated opinion on the efficacy of EMDR.

Thank you for your time."

Respectfully,
Linda Richards
ishin@wirural.net