Eye Movement De-sensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

I want to mention this model as it has had almost as much impact on me as Transactional Analysis (TA).

Just before, and ever since the recent death of its US-based founder, Francine Shapiro, EMDR has spread its wings.

In its early days it was driven by very specific ‘protocols’ – rule books about how to do it correctly.  This was not surprising, given the roots of EMDR in the Cognitive Schools of psychology. Today, EMDR seems less rigid and more imaginative in its ways of reaching out to people seeking help.  For that reason, please pay attention to my health warning right at the bottom of this page.

I am not going to describe  EMDR in depth. I’d encourage you to investigate it as much, or as little, as helps you make an informed choice. There are many avenues to follow. I have offered you the UK-based professional association already and here is another from the UK. I’ll include just one more; the International Association 

Instead, I will shift my attention to look at some practical strategies. These include:

  1. The Body Scan: once pre-occupied with the images (or cognitions) of clients, EMDR has now adopted the body psychotherapy technique of Body Scanning to incorporate feelings and sensations with our images and beliefs. The Body Scan can play a large part in integrating traumatic experiences back into our whole being; from being dissociated, to associated; from quarrelling ‘parts’ to better integrated parts as Dan Siegel would put it (I recommend Dan Siegel’s account on the nature of ‘Mind’ summarised in the middle of this hyperlink page).
  2. The Safe Place:  Sometime called the Safe Mood, but I find ‘place’ more concrete and helpful. Either way, it is about how to establish a ‘Secure Base’ – giving this experiment some connection with the conventional attachment-based psychology of John Bowlby and others.  This safe experiment is described right at the bottom of the hyper-linked page, so do scroll down to find it. EMDR places store on trauma work starting when the client feels safe and is confident that they can access a safe place; and, indeed, say STOP, when that is needed.  This careful attention to the preparation stage of de-sensitisation work borrows extensively from standard psychological systems such as case conceptualisation used in Cognitive Behavioural models, as well from Clinical Hypnotherapy and other visualisation-oriented practices.  The Safe Place is an experiment widely adopted by a whole range of therapies these days.
  3. Installation: EMDR shares with Affirmation work the value of client and therapist working collaboratively to identify positive beliefs. Affirmation work involves repetition of a short sentence to instil a different habit or belief into our world-view.  EMDR does this in a ordered and structured fashion during and/or at the end of the de-sensitisation process.
  4. Measurement via the SUD and Validity of Cognition (VOC) Scales (scroll down to Experiment Two on this latest hyperlink)
  5. Eye Movement, or, indeed, any form of ‘bilateral stimulation’. Tapping and the Butterfly Hug are two good examples. See this YouTube account for more on the nature of bilateral stimulation. It includes some very practical small, safe experiments. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has something to contribute here, through its work on ‘anchors’
  6. Looping: I first came across this label during my own EMDR training. It is the tendency  to cover the same old ground without any sign of visible movement. It is likely, when looping, to feel ‘stuck’ on your scenic route; facing a ‘rock’ on your road that you cannot move, or walk round.  It is a behaviour that suggests some difficulty moving out of our Window of Tolerance (WoT). It is a useful label as you may just notice looping when you repeat safe experiments.  The difficulty, then, is to know when to stop and do something else just a little different, or to repeat it once more. Maybe this time you will find a way around the obstacle. Use the SUD and VOC scales – see item 4, above – to keep a note of your ‘measures’. If in doubt, do something just a little bit different.
  7. Visualisation: EMDR shares a respect for visualisation, along with a number of therapies.  There seems no limit to the value of visualisation!  Bear in mind that Einstein initiated a large revolution in the world of physics based on visualisation – his thought experiments. You will find a signpost to Internet resources here. Headspace provides a useful app to help you.

In more recent years, a number of specific techniques have emerged. Although closely associated with EMDR, there are some practical safe experiments that do not require a detailed knowledge of EMDR or, indeed, any exposure to the EMDR protocols and processes. Let me mention:

The Dream Completion Technique

This is a brief and simple strategy as long as steps are taken not to trigger traumatic memories.  This website includes a few strategies to ensure this safety net is in place. All are useful preparations for trauma work.

There is a YouTube account of this technique, in action, from Justin Havens at Dr Justin Havens – YouTube

He makes the point that unsettling dreams can be managed differently.  It helps to think of such dreams as a ‘wash cycle’ that is not completed.

Healing involves finding a new direction for your dream in order to limit any discomfort. He emphasises that a new ending can be magical, not real.  He says this is important as any alternative ending needs to feel powerful to you – it’s got a bit of work to do, to help you over the hump! There is no need to justify your choice and, anyway, the choice is replaceable.

Justin Havens’s aim is for you to be the Director in charge of your own dream; able to change it in an unconstrained fashion.

I’m not going to break down this safe experiment further; take a look at the YouTube video, hyperlinked above; try things out; see what happens.  It may be better if you have some-one to help you through the process, but this may not be essential. You can use your internal dialogue to help rebuild an alternative end to a dream. If you are helped by the Robin-approach to small, safe experimenting, please keep in mind that the experiment is not complete until something is recorded that constitutes a ‘result’ –  one you can learn from or build on.

The Flash Technique

On the hyperlink, above, you will find a link to Phil Manfield’s view on the Flash Technique as well as a demonstration video (at the bottom of the page).

If Dream Completion is a strategy to reshape one part of a memory or dream, then the Flash Technique enables you to compare and contrast one constructed memory with another that is located in your matrix memory.  It can be used for troubling memories as the Technique advises you “to put tricky things over there” – to shelve them on a temporary basis – in order to review a much more positive memory of your own creation. Unlike the Dream Completion programme, this technique may well require some-one else to help you. Therefore, I am not going into detail about the technique. I am offering some leads along with a suggestion that you seek professional help to ensure the technique works for you.

You can hear Justin Havens talk about this on this page: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=justin+havens+flash+technique+on+YouTube&docid=607986993552782382&mid=BFC6999E98E46BCBB42FBFC6999E98E46BCBB42F&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

I trust these signposts into the world of EMDR are useful to you. Here in the East of England we have a well experienced, recognised EMDR Consultant and you might like to explore his websites:

braynework.com and emdrfocus.com

If in doubt, enter into a therapeutic relationship with a well-trained  practitioner. EMDR, in common with many other ‘trainings’, can attract practitioners with limited training so do enquire about the background, qualifications and experience of any prospective therapist.  If some-one does not like being asked, please treat that as a Red Light.

EMDR does have accredited practitioners (I am not one, despite my prior training in it!) and accreditation does offer some protection against therapists who ‘piggy-back’ on the back of short courses in EMDR.

Return to:


What is a nudge?

Designing a small, safe experiment

Models of therapy

Models of change

Categories of safe experiments

Limits to action