A Community of Heart Profile: Elan Shapiro



Francine Shapiro…was she a cousin…a long lost relative? That is what Elan Shapiro wondered when he heard about the first EMDR training that took place in Israel in 1989. When Elan was a college student, he worked with Dr. Danny Kahaneman who later became the first psychologist who won a Nobel Prize. Elan was his assistant when he was writing a book on attention. His job was to read every article on attention and summarize it in one page. There was one article that caught his eye and stayed with him, only to be triggered when he heard about Francine Shapiro and a new idea called Eye Movement and Desensitization. This article was by someone called Day that documented the following observation: when attention is focused inward e.g. while doing mental arithmetic, the eyes move to the left or right. Some people’s eyes move right and the others move left while, with couples, often, one spouse goes to the right and the other goes to the left. Day’s conclusion was that it had something to do with personality; he thought that there was a link between shifting attention and spontaneous eye movement. Interestingly, this was the only article that Elan remembered so vividly Shapiro and eye movements, it looked like a winning possibility.

Elan was born in South Africa. The family moved to England when he was six. Education was always important for Elan and it was in England that his first love of science was fostered and then thwarted. Physics, math and chemistry were his passions and life may have taken a very different turn had he not had an uninspired Physics teacher. The subject became so much less interesting in the hands of this ungifted teacher that he decided to take a year off before university and enlarge his world perspective.

In 1966, Elan went to Israel for a year through a one-year program at the University of Jerusalem, joining students from seven different countries, including his soon to be bride, Helene, from Belgium. Elan was entranced by Jerusalem and Israel. He stayed on to complete a first degree with distinction at the Hebrew University where he majored in Psychology and Sociology and he began his work with Dr. Kahaneman. He was married in 1968. When he completed his university studies in 1970, they went to England.

He was accepted at Sussex University, one of the “new” universities of the time, modeled on the tutorial system of Oxford and Cambridge. When he saw the unstructured nature of the program meant that no one yet was able to graduate with his doctorate, he finished his MA and went on to merge his science with his love of art. He went to an Art Therapy Program at St. Albans, now Hertfordshire College of Art and Design.

At the time, he read about an idea that a program in Holland espoused which was to give their students a list of 300 different types of art media and expected them to try at least 150 to find the one that spoke to them. They figured that if artists find a medium that speaks to them, they will know what to do with it. Elan found oil painting on wood and began to experiment.

At around the same time, the need for Israel and his desire to work with the land grew until he could no longer deny it. In 1973, one day before the Yom Kippur war, Elan and his wife made “aliyah” to Israel. They came to stay.

They moved to a rural area in the north near Nazareth. He began to work in Clinical Psychologist training posts at a Ministry of Health Child and Adolescent clinic in Haifa and the Psychiatric Department at a government hospital in Afula. They were expecting him, also, to use his art therapy, and, it was then that he came to another point of crisis in his life. Elan said that after the Yom Kippur War, it was a very strange and difficult time in Israel. The people went into shock and depression and it lasted a long time. He tried to use Art Therapy but found that he did not really know what it was and how to help with these tools. He felt that it was “not authentic for me.” He made the big choice to keep art and psychology separate. While he continued working as a psychologist, he began taking his own art more seriously.

It was then that Elan stumbled on this oil painting on textured woodwork. He took great delight in the sensuousness of the wood and the figurative models and landscape that he began to capture in this unique medium. He did exhibitions and he was surprised to find out that people really liked his work and that he could supplement his income through his art.

In the beautiful home that he and Helene created in Ramat Yishay with their 3 children, Cygalle, Yuval and Inbal, Elan turned his second floor into a studio and went to work. No doubt finding inspiration in the splendor of their garden with its orchards and 30 different kinds of fruit trees.

He became a member of his local Town Council in the 80’s for about 5 years and takes great pride now in the 700 trees he was responsible for planting during his term portfolio for Education and Environmental Development.

Deciding too delve more deeply into Psychology. Elan went on to specialize in Adlerian Psychology doing a 3 year training in Adlerian Lifestyle Analysis with Mica Katz, who, incidentally was trained by Dreikurs –who himself was trained by Adler. It was only when he had his own Lifestyle analysis that Elan realized a possible holistic connection between his name Elan –which means “forest tree” in Hebrew and his passion for trees and for working with wood.

At this time, he went to the Director of the Psychological Service in Nazereth Ilit for some advice. Wisely, the Director offered Elan a job on the spot. In Israel, Municipal Community and Educational Psychology is the largest employer of psychologists with an impressive continuing education program. Elan went on to become a Senior Consultant in Educational Psychology and directed the Clinic for several years when his chief went abroad. Later, he became the director of their new Treatment Unit. Today, he focuses on administration, treatment and special education. He is the Coordinator for Special Education and has had a private practice for over 25 years in Ramat Yishay.

In the late 90’s, he was the Deputy Chief Regional Psychologist, an inspector of psychologists for a period of time. His job was to visit the 80 clinics in Northern Israel and check the quality of the work.

EMDR entered Elan’s life in 1989. He attended the first workshop that Francine Shapiro gave on EMD after she presented her research at the International Stress conference in Tel Aviv.. It was given in Kiryat Schmona and sponsored by Mooli Lahad. Elan was convinced during the second day of the practicum after he had an authentic experience in the practicum. Francine told them to go out and see what they could do with EMD(R) and Elan did just that.

In 1991, he was on sabbatical in London taking a CBT course at the Institute of Psychiatry, when he wrote to Francine that he was getting good results with EMD. She invited him to come to the United States as a guest to see what she was doing with it now. During 1992, he completed his Part I and II trainings in Philadelphia and San Francisco. When he returned, he had hoped that the Maudsley Institute of Psychiatry would sponsor a training; this was not to be. However, two years later, during his facilitator program in London, he took on the role as client when a participant needed one. He chose as the target the disappointment and responsibility he felt because he was unable to get EMDR to London 2 years earlier. As he worked, he realized that it had not been realistic, as he did not have the contacts that he had in Israel. He then went and asked Robbie Dunton, the co-owner of the EMDR Institute, about sponsoring EMDR seminars in Israel. The birth of EMDR in Israel came out of an EMDR session; his insight got translated into action in 1995.

EMDR was re-introduced in its current format to Israel in Zichron Yaakov. William Zangwill was the trainer and Elan and I did the Logistics. More training followed with Francine giving the first Part 2 in 1996. Institute trainers, Gerry Puk and Roger Solomon, continued the trainings and they were major influences on the local training team. Since then, there have been a number of trainings throughout Israel. There are 2 EMDR Institute trainers: Udi Oren and Gary Quinn and 15 trained facilitaters, trained by Harriet Sage and myself: Yair Emanuel, Alan Cohen, Brurit Laub, Frances Yoeli, Yvonne Tauber, Aiton Birnbaum, Joel Comet, Eva Eshkol, Estie Bar Sade, Shula Brin, Barbara Wizansky, Nili Arkin and Marlene Zaslow. Two of the facilitators are also trained Child Trainers by Bob Tinker and Sandra Wilson: Estie Bar Sade and Barbara Wizansky.

Although Elan identified himself as an Adlerian and worked within the framework of the Lifestyle Analysis work where you use early recollections, interpreting them and then looking for “the recognition reflex”, Elan’s therapeutic gestalt shifted in 1991 after he worked with a woman in her seventies and decided to try using EMDR with the early childhood memories rather than the way he would ordinarily have done it using the lifestyle work. He brought the results of the session to his peer supervision group in lifestyle. They interpreted the memories and he compared them with how the woman herself processed the memories with EMDR; he found that the EMDR work took her much further. Subsequent to processing 3-4 memories, the woman’s depression went into remission and she was able to decrease the many medications that she was on. The treatment was so successful that it was the last time that Elan interpreted memories, moving directly into EMDR.

EMDR-Israel was formed in 2000 as a non-profit professional association whose mission is to promote training of therapists in EMDR and promoting and maintaining standards. In keeping with this beginning conceptualization, Elan’s plan for Israel to address the results of terrorist attacks was to adopt a strategy to train as many therapists as possible so that people could be treated in their own regions. He did this by charging a nominal fee. Currently 1500 people have been trained at a Part 1 level. Recently, they have been doing small trainings in the hospitals and work places. In Israel, the course has been modified into a 4-day course that is mandatory with much more time for practice. The last day of the course is 6 weeks later after the participants have worked with at least one real client of their own. During this last day, they are given some supervision, learn resource development and there is a lecture on children and a practicum.

After being involved in so many HAP projects, the local trainers and facilitators are in the planning stage of evolving their own HAP-Israel. Members of the Israeli team have been very involved in the Turkey trainings after the earthquake and supplying ongoing support. Recently, Gary Quinn led a team to Bangkok, Thailand to train therapists and work with victims of the Tsunami.

The latest phase for EMDR-Israel is the decision to train consultants from all over the country. In March 2005, I taught the first part of the Consultancy training -pioneered in Germany- in Zichron Yaakov. Twenty-one consultants were trained and will ultimately be involved in consulting with groups of EMDR- trained therapists to ensure ongoing support in the implementation of their EMDR skills into their practices.

Not only has Elan been instrumental in bringing EMDR to Israel and promoting its growth there, he is also an active member of EMDR Europe. He was part of the founding EMDR Europe Board and has been on the Board since its inception in 1996. He was recently elected to the Executive Board as its Secretary. Currently, there are 14 member countries and observer countries like Greece.

His thoughts for the EMDR Community are the following:

I have always liked Rollo May’s definition of Creativity, “Total commitment in the face of total uncertainty”…the product is unique, transformed. With the artist, if you believe in the process and have the hope that the outcome will be a worthwhile outcome, you are committed to the process. This is the way in art. In EMDR, you are similarly committed to the process while you are uncertain about its course. You know where you start and you do not know where you are going to go. EMDR is a merging of science and art. After you structure and organize it a lot of the work is intuition. The actual process is creative and intuitive in that sense and empowering for the same reason. You step back and say, ‘How did that happen’? You are amazed at the outcome. It has come from somewhere divine.

Elan’s total commitment to EMDR has been our good fortune. He has contributed to the EMDR community in innumerable ways. How did that happen? Clearly, he has come from somewhere divine.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Elan Shapiro,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7686.

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