The field of psychotherapy has frequently overlooked or minimized the importance of culture and the impact of societal forces on an individual’s wellbeing. Culturally aware eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy provides a powerful alternative to this omission. From conceptual to practical, this book explores the interface of culture and EMDR therapy.

Cultural experiences and societal dynamics, for better and for worse, are fundamental dimensions of every human being’s life and should be integrated into a general clinical approach. For many people, personal identity is intertwined with social identity and the welfare of one’s cultural groups. Culturally linked experiences and values can be sources of great meaning and sustaining personal resources. At the same time, hostile social forces of discrimination, stigmatization, and oppression can define or confine an individual’s sense of self and position in society. Whether explicit or more implicit, the many “isms” that persist in the world can limit human potential and threaten fundamental human dignity.

The movement for cultural competence is gaining greater recognition and momentum within the field of mental health. Service providers are increasingly aware of the need to keep step with an evolving multicultural world and to reverse the injustices that are perpetuated when cultural populations are marginalized and mistreated. As “culture-blind” psychotherapy models become obsolete, new approaches for culturally aware and effective intervention must be developed.

This book launches EMDR therapy both explicitly and dynamically into the broader movement for cultural competence. As EMDR therapy gains everbroadening acceptance and stature throughout the world, it is only fitting that it aspires to excellence in this dimension. Indeed, EMDR therapy has the capacity to be a model of cultural competence for several reasons: EMDR interventions have already demonstrated effectiveness across a wide range of cultural contexts; EMDR humanitarian and membership organizations have reached out to serve culturally marginalized or underresourced populations throughout the world; the EMDR therapy model invites cultural awareness and attunement; and EMDR therapy’s top-level evidence-based effectiveness in trauma treatment can be readily directed toward healing the impact of culturally-based trauma including the effects of social discrimination and oppression.

And yet, each individual practitioner must make a deliberate and informed commitment to embrace cultural competence. This book offers EMDR clinicians information and guidance to move cultural competence from the abstract realm of an ideal to the applied methods of the real. Though the desire for cultural competence is an aspiration that is never fully achieved, its pursuit is inherently rewarding and the content of these pages illuminates the attitude, skills, and knowledge needed to move in this direction.

This book is written for EMDR therapists, EMDR leaders and supporting organizations, and others who want to understand and develop what EMDR therapy can offer as a culturally competent intervention. In a wide array of chapters, over 20 authors share their wisdom and bring their expertise to life with clinical examples. Suggestions are offered for weaving the cultural dimension into all phases of treatment, starting with a careful assessment. Information from allied fields of social psychology and social work are integrated into the adaptive information processing (AIP) model to provide a more nuanced understanding of innately human social tendencies toward inclusion and exclusion, including the neurology of social categorization. This knowledge helps EMDR clinicians transform maladaptive memories to more adaptive ones by informing protocols to undo internalized oppression and dismantle social prejudice. Readers will come away with new theoretical frameworks, useful language and terminology, in-depth knowledge about specific cultural populations, and practical intervention protocols and strategies.

In the end, clients will benefit the most from this book as the societal context of their lives, both external and internal, is more fully understood and welcomed in their psychotherapy work.