Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy is the newest book by Francine Shapiro, PhD, the founder of the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy technique. It is “about understanding the ‘Why’ in your life, and in those around you. More important, it’s also about understanding what you can do about it.”

The book is chock-full of stories of people who have been helped by EMDR, but both the author and I want to make something very clear: All of the cases presented in the book were of people who were assisted by trained EMDR clinicians. Although one may believe from the title that you can apply EMDR techniques at home, it is essential to realize that the processing of painful and/or disturbing memories can lead to a very distressing emotional state and should only be done with the assistance of a trained professional.

This is really my only concern with this otherwise helpful and interesting book – that people with severe past trauma may try some of the techniques and be caught in the middle of a difficult emotional experience without support. However, Shapiro does state frequently throughout her book that the reader with past trauma must be approach the exercises with care and perhaps not even try them without help.

The core of EMDR theory is that some events, usually from childhood, can become “stuck” and not processed as properly as other memories are. Difficult emotions and behaviors can then occur as a result of these unprocessed memories. The purpose of EMDR is to help you locate the memory and re-process it correctly so that it doesn’t have negative power over you any longer.

The book has a multitude of quite interesting case studies that cover areas such as:

  • Attachment issues
  • Phobias
  • Panic Disorder
  • Childhood Asthma
  • Phantom Limb
  • Body Image
  • ADHD
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Substance Abuse
  • War
  • Child Sexual abuse
  • Trauma in prison
  • Grief
Through each chapter, Shapiro teaches the reader something new about the brain, memories, and behavior and provides exercises and techniques for locating unprocessed memories and negative cognitions or thoughts. Some of the techniques include:
  • Creating a safe place
  • The Butterfly Hug – a shoulder-tapping technique to increase the feeling of the safe/calm place and to decrease stress
  • The Floatback Technique – used to identify a Touchstone Memory
  • Breathing Shift – allows you to lower your level of distress
  • Meditation
  • The Four Elements – a stress-reduction technique
  • TICES Log – helps you keep track of Trigger, Image, Cognition, Emotion and Sensation as you apply the other techniques
  • Water Hose or Wet Eraser – helps you eliminate disturbing images by washing them away

And these are just a few of the many exercises and techniques discussed in the book.

Overall, this book is about helping readers to get a firmer grip on the sources of negative emotions and behaviors and then empowering them to take charge of their lives through various self-help techniques.

Will it help you to bounce back?

Yes, it could.

But remember that old line “Don’t try this at home”- be very careful about trying to process traumatic experiences yourself. Use this book for the purpose it was intended – to help you understand yourself and others better and to give you tools for self-improvement.



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    Last reviewed: 21 May 2012

APA Reference
Emel, B. (2012). Book Review: “Getting Past Your Past” by Francine Shapiro. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2015, from



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