Review of “EMDR” Documentary

In 2011, Michael Burns directed a documentary entitled “EMDR: A Documentary Film.” This documentary tells the story of how EMDR was discovered, how it works, and who it helps, through interviews with the founder of EMDR, therapists, researchers, and clients.

We are introduced to the founder of EMDR and her unique story of how she discovered EMDR. In the late 70’s Francine Shapiro was diagnosed with cancer, which influenced her to change her major in school from English Literature to exploring the mind/body connection in psychology. As she states in the movie, she began observing herself of what was happening in her thoughts, feelings, and body. In 1987, Francine Shapiro was walking in a park and noticed that she had a disturbing thought. Then noticed that when her eyes moved back and forth rapidly that the disturbing thought would go away. She would consciously try to bring the thought back up but found that it didn’t bother her as much. So she decided to duplicate this with her friends. She discovered that people had trouble moving their eyes back and forth on their own, so she started using her fingers to guide people’s eyes with this movement. From this experiment, she created a protocol that could be duplicated over and over that could help people feel better from traumatic events. She explains that people learn what they need to learn and let go of what isn’t useful to them anymore through this process.

Burns also interviewed Bessel van der Kolk, MD, Professor of Boston University and Medical School, author of “Traumatic Stress“. When van der Kolk first heard of EMDR, he though it sounded “silly” and then didn’t even consider it a viable therapy. One of his patients, who happened to be a therapist learning EMDR, had a session of EMDR in her training. She worked on an issue that he had worked with her on for four years in therapy. She found that session so helpful that van der Kolk had to start considering the usefulness of EMDR. Since that time his work of performing SPECT scans before and after EMDR are a huge contribution to the field of research that change occurs in the brain from the process.

Uri Bergmann, PhD, the author of “Neurobiological Foundations for EMDR Practice” also didn’t give EMDR much credence when he first heard of it. A colleague had brought him a paper on EMDR and he thought it was “crazy”. He was a trained hypnotist and behavioral medicine therapist. One of his clients had experienced a horrific trauma of being robbed and beaten severely. He was using hypnosis on her and he instructed her to notice what the odds were of this happening again. Unfortunately, it did happen again and he felt horrible. So he decided that he had to change his therapy with her and decided to try EMDR with her. The EMDR helped her to become symptom free by the end of her session, which surprised him and made him a believer in the power of EMDR. He is now a very important figure in the world of EMDR, looking at what happens in the brain during bilateral movement.

The movie also shares two stories from clients about the healing power of EMDR. One man lost his best friend, who felt like a brother to him, in a horrible event in New York. He was stuck with blaming himself for his friend’s death and became severely depressed. Since experiencing EMDR sessions, he knows this was a horrible event in his life, but that he wasn’t responsible for his friend’s death and that he can move on with his life knowing this truth.

Another heart wrenching story tells of two little boys who experienced extreme neglect and abuse in their early childhood years. They were put with a new family who understood they needed help healing from the horrors that they experienced. They were taken to a therapist for EMDR. The boys displayed lots of trauma responses such as fear of being in a basement, fear of noises, easily scared and not able to trust. Through the EMDR, they now know that the horror was in their past and not in their present situation. They are functioning at a much higher level then their other siblings who haven’t received any treatment.

Another topic covered in the movie is looking at war veterans. In 2008 the RAND Corporation released a study that 20% of military returning to home report symptoms of PTSD. There are a quarter of a million soldiers. That is a staggering number of people needing treatment. Maxine Trent, Coordinator for the “Home Front Project,” states that the military do well at training the soldiers how to stay alive while in war, but what they aren’t doing well at his helping them stay alive when they return home. There is a high suicide rate, high divorce rate, domestic violence increases, substance abuse and more. EMDR is critical for the soldiers to receive when returning to help them recover from the horrors of war.

The movie also has explanations of what happens in the brain when trauma occurs, why people become traumatized and how EMDR can help heal and repair this for people.

Over the years, Dr. Shapiro has been met with lots of resistance in the field of psychology, and she wanted to understand why. When she asked she was told, “The clinicians are too enthusiastic… nothing can work that well”. This was quite surprising that this would be a bad thing.

From my own experience teaching EMDR, the excitement that therapists gain from learning EMDR is priceless. It gives them a way of working that they feel good about, and that when they see change in their clients. It is very rewarding and satisfying.

One of my favorite quotes in the movie was from Helen Keller – “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”

I feel that EMDR is a catalyst for people overcoming their suffering. Allowing people’s own brain to do the healing through the process of EMDR. For more information on the making of the movie or to purchase it go to

If you have seen this documentary, we would love to hear your feedback in the comment section below.