Book Review: Dr. Francine Shapiro’s “Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy”

Dr. Francine Shapiro’s  new book, “Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy,” is written in an easy to read format that brings life to many people’s stories of suffering and pain and how they relieved the pain with the use of EMDR. The book covers how to take care of yourself on a daily basis, some self-soothing tools, discusses how today’s problems may be linked to your past, and when you might want to reach out and get some EMDR therapy with a trained EMDR therapist.

Some of the stories covered in the book included people experiencing relief from:

  • Attachment issues
  • Phobias
  • Panic Disorder
  • Childhood Asthma
  • Phantom Limb
  • Body Image
  • ADHD
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Substance Abuse
  • War
  • Child Sexual abuse
  • Trauma in prison

Through these stories, she shares how an earlier childhood traumatic event set up a template in the brain for suffering and impacts your present day life. Dr. Shapiro teaches people how to find this earlier memory so that understanding of the origins can begin to bring the person some relief.

Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy By Francine ShapiroI think what she is emphasizing in this book is that EMDR can help people with many issues, and not just the big traumas that we are all familiar with; events that can happen in our childhood that don’t seem like big traumas, but are actually held in the brain/body as a trauma. It’s about learning that when something happens to us that we can’t process or digest, it will get stuck in the brain and keep us blocked and not feeling at peace.

Throughout the book, Dr. Shapiro explains the concept of the Adaptive Information Processing System (AIP), which is hardwired in our brain. It is a mechanism in the brain that takes something disturbing and processes it to become useful information to learn from. Through this process it also lets go of what isn’t useful to you. This learning process is what helps guide you in the future to make good decisions.

When we can’t process something it gets stuck in the brain as an unprocessed memory, which is held as a trauma in the brain. It gets stored with the images, emotions, beliefs, and body sensations that were occurring at the time. EMDR is used to help unlock the trauma so that it can be processed. EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation (BLS) to help the brain do what it already knows how to do for healing. The Adaptive Information Processing System gets activated and healing can occur.

The brain is very efficient and will link similar stimuli together, creating a web of memories. The stimuli that can get linked are emotions, behaviors, beliefs and body sensations, events, similar people, etc. In EMDR therapy, this web of memories is explored so that true healing may occur.

In this book she takes people through the steps to find what she calls “Touchstone” memories: the blueprint for what is causing a disturbance today. What is important in this process, she states, is not to blame everyone for our pain, but to discover what couldn’t be processed then that can be processed now. Understanding is the beginning of figuring out what makes a person “tick” as she says.

Once you understand how to find the Touchstone memory you can make a log to keep track of the memories and events through a chart she calls TICES log.

You will note any current triggers with the disturbing images, beliefs, emotions, and rate it with how disturbing it is. Once you have this understanding you must then use one of the self-care techniques she describes to let go of that memory. Release it using tools that she describes in the book. It would be helpful to take this information in to an EMDR trained therapist to help you work on reprocessing this trauma. Awareness is great, but really working through it helps alleviate the suffering.

In terms of this being a self-help book, Dr. Shapiro includes exercises that are meant to calm the nervous system, relieve depression and anxiety. Examples of how these exercises were used are included. She also includes a way of tracking your self care plan. She recommends keeping a journal to make sure you are staying on track. She emphasizes what is important to do on a daily basis:

  • meditate
  • exercise
  • use your Safe Place
  • keep a log of triggers
  • do something positive, fun and relaxing
  • sleep
  • eat with awareness

Dr. Shapiro’s new book has some wonderful ideas on self-care as well as instructing people how to discover where their current suffering began. Through many stories of EMDR successes, people can get a sense of the power of EMDR therapy. It is important to note that reprocessing trauma is done with a trained and qualified therapist in EMDR.

If you find after reading this book that you think EMDR would help you, go to “Find a Therapist” in this website for a referral.

If you are wondering if you might be suffering from trauma, and whether EMDR is right for you, we recommend taking our self-assessment test on our our EMDR Therapy Resources page.

If you read the book, we would love to hear your comments about the book on our blog.