A Community of Heart Profile: David Wilson



Over the many years that I have known David Wilson, each time I meet or talk with him I learn something I did not know before about him. Whether he is telling me about his latest invention, or a new concept in research, or something about one of the many organizations that he is involved with (or on the Board of), I am always surprised and delighted by the breadth of his interests and the depths of his concerns about psychology, people, and the world in general.

His earliest interest in uncovering a good story and creating a narrative history came through his fascination with archeology. He began by working several summers at the Town Creek Indian Mound State Park in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina, in the late 50’s. He continued this interest with site surveys in North Carolina and California. In 1984, he went on the “Expedition Luna Maya Caribe” on the Eastern Coast of the Yucatan to study the Archaeoastronomy of the Mayans. David called this “a trip of a lifetime”, and he spent a year preparing for it. He was part of the surveying crew and cross-trained in compass reading and in the sextant. His last archaeological adventure was under his first mentor in North Carolina. It seems David will do anything to piece together and solve a good story!

Most of you may think of David as a native Californian since he has contributed so much to this state through his work in professional organizations, community services and forensic endeavors. However, David was born and grew up in the lovely southern state of North Carolina. Both father and son were brought up in North Carolina and they trace their family lineage back 1000 years. They are related to Heinrich Widener, IV, the oldest son of the Duke of Saxe-Colberg and Gotha-Hapsburgs- and to Herman the Cruel and George the Fat!

Although from a home of modest means, his father modeled the importance of education by becoming “the first modern Wilson” to finish High School, and David was the first to finish college on his father’s side. Not only did David value education, he excelled in it. He received his A.B. from Davidson College in North Carolina, where he completed this fine men’s school as a Dana Scholar for every year he attended.

David was inspired by a professor at Davidson, William Gatewood Workman, who had been a student of Carl Rogers at Chicago and an outstanding Psychology teacher. David was hooked and decided to major in Psych- ology and go into the experimental and physiological branches of the field, since he has always been interested in brain functioning. An inventor at heart, David built his own equipment to replicate James Olds’ experiment on the electrical stimulation of the pleasure centers in albino rats. He became an expert in Neurosurgery on rats. Luckily for the rats, he took a summer job after college at a clinical psychology internship program. Instead of treating him like a new college graduate, they let him do whatever he could learn to do. It was here that David learned of his love for working with people and doing psychological testing. When he went on to do his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he decided to major in Clinical Psychology, but he has never lost his love for the physiological aspects of his discipline. He was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the University of North Carolina, where he received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

In June 1963, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and served for 5 years in the US Army. He was deferred for graduate studies to begin his doctorate. In September 1966, he moved to California to begin a one-year internship in Clinical Psychology at Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio of San Francisco. On the completion of his internship, David was promoted to Captain. The following year he became a Staff and then Supervising Psychologist for the Outpatient Services in the Psychology Service Section at Letterman. In 1967, he received his doctorate and in September 1970, he left the army and worked for Kaiser Permanente in Haywood for 2 years.

By 1972, David relocated to Redding in Northern California as it reminded him more of the South because of its rural nature. He began to build his private practice in 1974, and has worked full-time in private practice since that time. His busy practice includes seeing individual and group clients, 2 hours of Consultation for the Child Welfare Department, 2 diagnostic evaluations per week and work in forensics. David is a forensic specialist and is an expert witness in Clinical Psychology for Superior Courts in 10 California counties. He is considered a qualified expert witness in another 6 California counties plus Oregon, Arizona, and the Federal Courts. He is also a Court appointed expert witness in Child Psychology by 7 California counties for Superior Court. He has done over 2000 forensic evaluations, including 260 murder cases over the past 20 years.

David has been involved with state psychological issues since the beginning of the 70´s. He is proud to say that he was among the first psychologists licensed in the state of California. He founded the Shasta Cascade Psychological Association, as a Chapter of the California Psychological Association. He was President, Chapter Representative, and on the Executive Board. With the California Psychological Association, he was a member of Divisions I, VI and VII; on the Vision Quest Committee/Long Range Planning; Commission on Social Healing; Chair of the Membership and Publications Committees; on the Board of Directors as Chapter and Division Representatives; Co-Chair of the Chapter Representatives Group; Executive Council as a Chapter and Division Delegate.

David has won many awards over the years such as Outstanding Psychologist Award (1994) from Shasta Cascade Psychological Association; Outstanding Research Award (1994) from the EMDR Network; the Silver Psi Award from the California Psychological Association; and the Outstanding Contribution to EMDRIA (1997) from the EMDR International Association.

His love of helping groups organize was put to use as he became a member of the Board of Directors for over a dozen nonprofit Social Service agencies like the YMCA’s Youth and Family Counseling Center; Criminal Justice Advisory Board; Parents United; the Sexual Abuse Treatment Program; Help, Inc.; Head Start; and The Redding Teen Center.

David brought this wealth of knowledge to us when he became part of the EMDR task force to build a new association in EMDR. He was a Charter Member and Founding Board Member of EMDRIA where he served as the Chairman of the Board and then President-Elect and finally, President of our organization.

David began his EMDR career in September 1990, when he took one of the early trainings with Francine Shapiro. He said that, “Things were wide open at that point. No model, no facilitators. She developed EMDR, as we know it, out of teaching others how to use it. She realized that people who were doing a lot of EMDR were complaining about tennis elbow.” This is where David, “the Inventor and Saver of the Collective Arms of EMDR”, came to the rescue! He built the first eye movement device out of “Knight Rider” turn signals. He re-wired the circuitry so it would go back and forth and he could control the speed. He mounted it on a tripod so that the angle could be adjusted, and that was the beginning of the gadget that became the “Eyescan.” He then teamed up with Doug Fisher from Neurotek. David said, “The ones I build look like I built them! Doug’s look like they were built by an engineer!” David noted that he thought of the visual, audio and tactile machines at the same time in 1991, but did not do anything about them because of the prohibitive cost of the patents. Doug and David are in collaboration of a new device that will be coming out soon and will provide more choices in the use of bilateral and tactile stimulation.

However, the very latest in David Wilson technology is what he likes to call “the poor man’s brain scan”! David was interested in looking for a physiological trigger that could tell us when to change the stimulus when the EMDR processing was blocked. But, how should we measure it? He started with the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) but it was too unstable; blood pressure was too difficult; and skin temperature was too slow. He looked at heart rate but settled on ear temperature figuring that ear temperature is closer to the brain and the carotid arteries and would reflect blood flow to the hemispheres. After thinking about Bessel van der Kolk, Uri Bergman and Frederic Schiffer’s work, he developed a gadget that would measure left and right ear temperature. He thought that the difference would be small but was surprised to find that the first group of combat veterans that he tested were much hotter on the right consistently. It turns out that normal males who do not have PTSD have no difference in ear temperature. Women also run close to a 0 difference. Battered women also run hotter on the right side. He now has temperature on 80 people and he has found the most consistency with combat veterans. There is a high correlation with the degree of combat experience (i.e. chronic higher arousal) and having a hotter temperature on the right side. Normal males also show variability and may have hotter temperatures on the right or left sides; David wonders if these men have been traumatized in some way or if this is some version of an anxiety disorder. He also noted that most left handed combat veterans run hotter on the left side than the right, however, left handed combat vets showed more variability, suggesting that some of these men might not be left handed naturally. The interesting news is that in this sample of men, when the temperature is taken before EMDR and then after, EMDR normalizes the ear temperature differential! David has 8 other research publications that he has authored or co-authored on subjects such as EMDR, Hypnosis and Military Stress, the MMPI and Creativity.

David has a rich personal life. He has 3 children from his first marriage, Cheryl, Lisa and David, Jr. He is proud of all of them and their accomplishments, including his 2 grandchildren, Eric and Alex. He recently married Gail whom is a Nurse and working in an administrative capacity as a Discharge Planner for the Northern California Rehabilitation Center. She finished her BA in January and he is looking forward to more time with her. They like to dance and have been taking dancing lessons for the past 3 years.

What you also may not know about David is that he is a playwright. He has written two plays. The first one, “Ten Zen Tales”, was performed in November 1985, as a benefit for the Hunger Project, Beyond War, and the Redding Church of Religious Science. In March 1987, his play “The Moon Cannot Be Stolen” was produced at the Critic’s Choice Theater in Redding. After receiving video training, he also filmed the productions of his two plays.

David has a love of outdoor sports that includes camping, hiking, fishing (trout) creeks and stream in the high country, and white water rafting. He is an avid reader of Science Fiction and recently has begun to do Sumi-e, Japanese ink brush painting.

When I asked David about what was close to his heart, this was his answer:

“I do believe that there is something in EMDR that represents a breakthrough in psychotherapy. What EMDR attracts are people who want to make a difference in the world.”

I think that EMDRIA is now in a position where it could absorb a geometric increase in members, and to attract that, we need a vision that is big enough to make people want to be a part of what we are doing. I think that my best statement is my introduction to Francine Shapiro at the Toronto EMDRIA Conference last year. If our lives are going to be used by something, why not make that something a grand and noble purpose that turns you on and lights you up and calls you forth to be the best therapist and the best human being you can be.

If we look at where the world is headed, it is headed in a bad direction. With the Internet, TV, and rapid transportation, we have shrunk the world to a point at which the rules for success have really changed, from one based on competition for survival, to one that requires cooperation for survival. We need a critical mass of enough people who can see that. We need to move from you OR me, to you AND me.

I see EMDR potentially playing an important role in that. My hope is that by healing trauma, we can empower people to next focus on living a meaningful life. In a way, that is full circle. What is a meaningful life? Touching and being touched by our family and friends.”

David has touched the lives of people on our planet in many ways. From gathering the ancient stories to loving father and husband, healer, inventor, soldier, sportsman, organizer, playwright, and EMDR advocate and practitioner, David has made contributions that will help forge and touch many more futures, a fitting legacy for such a kind, creative and intelligent man. Thank you, David, on behalf of the EMDR community of which you are such an integral part.


“A Community of Heart Profile: David Wilson,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7691.

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