Story of the Butterfly Hug

by Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC
Photo Above:  San Diego Trauma Recovery Network Training by Dr. Jarero: the Butterfly Hug

Story of the Butterfly Hug

I love to hear the stories of how fascinating new inventions are born. Though I’ve been practicing the Butterfly Hug with some of my clients since 2002, I didn’t know the complete story of how it came to be. This one was worth waiting for!

The Butterfly Hug (BH) is a brilliant EMDR Therapy self-bilateral stimulation method that was born in a mass disaster setting. It was developed in 1998 when Mexico City EMDR Therapists Lucina (Lucy) Artigas and her husband Ignacio (Nacho) Jarero arrived in Acapulco, Mexico to assist children and adults in the aftermath of Hurricane Pauline.

The EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Project (HAP) team consisted of 17 Mexican clinicians and three additional clinicians; one from Canada and two from the United States (all of them members of HAP-USA) who were invited to collaborate with the Mexican team. When 5 members of the team arrived on the Acapulco’s Cultural Center the first day, they were overwhelmed by the numbers of survivors requesting treatment. Approximately 200 children and adults were waiting for them, hoping to alleviate their intense suffering and fears. It had taken courage to undertake the difficult trip in the aftermath of Pauline.

After the last group self-soothing exercise of the day lead by Nacho, he say to Lucy: “it is your turn…please give a closure to this day experience”…Lucy was playing with a 4 year’s old boy that had lost all his family and in the middle of the hugging and laughing he asked her: “and when you return to your home…who is going to embrace me?

Lucy stood up in front of the group and silently prayed for God to help her. Then she raised one hand up, facing herself. She asked the participants to do the same. She raised the other hand up, facing herself.   Children and adults followed her lead. She then crossed her arms and put her fingers on her chest, just under the collarbone. Her hands tapped left-right-left-right. Soon the whole group was tapping in this way. It looked like butterfly wings fluttering.

Her prayer had been answered that quickly. That simply. That powerfully.

The Child version of the EMDR Integrative Group Treatment Protocol that use the BH as a self-bilateral stimulation method was a born few days later when working under a mango tree with a group of children that had lost their school because of Hurricane Paulina. Lucy sat in the sand with a small group of children and asked them to draw in the sand the worst picture of their hurricane experience using their fingers. The children drew the first picture in the sand with their fingers. Then Lucy asked them to do the Butterfly Hug “while observing what is happening to you…without judging or trying to change it… Stop when you feel in your body that has been enough and lower your hands to your thighs.” When the children stopped the BH Lucy ask them to erase the picture in the sand using their hands and draw another picture with anything disturbing at that moment and repeat the procedure with the Butterfly Hug.

A few pictures later the children said: “we feel O.K… now we want to play.” Based on that experience next day the team return with crayons and paper to repeat the same procedure of the day before and the result with the rest of the children was the same…

Dr. Jarero shared this story at his first training given in the United States, on March 21, 2015. He happily shared it with the San Diego Trauma Recovery Network members and potential members.

He said: “The Butterfly Hug and the Group Protocol born in the field under extreme circumstances. That is the reason of their efficacy.”

Thank you, Lucy, Nacho and all your team for creating in the field something that has been able to relieve suffering and serve countless people around the world.  (Nacho has traveled to 64 countries to train clinicians in EMDR after a horrific experience, so that they could serve many more people.)

NOTE: The Butterfly Hug is one of the inspirations for our butterfly logo (see our Directory of Certified EMDR Therapists). The other reason we like the symbol of the butterfly is that EMDR Therapy helps people leave the stuck place of stress, trauma or PTSD and emerge into greater freedom, like a Butterfly emerging from the coccoon.