Power-walking into the Hilton Garden Inn with exactly 3 minutes to spare, I find the windowless conference room where the instructor had begun speaking. I wipe the sweat from my brow and frantically sign in while Carol speaks into her microphone. Then to choose a seat near an individual I spotted in the lobby who radiated an aura of therapeutic, approachability and catch my breath. As I attempt to open my mind to the start of the 40-hour training required to be an EMDR Therapist, I feel something inside me skeptically say,
“Is this worth it? Can this really help my clients?”
As I learn the basics of EMDR, mysteries of eye movements, and targeting core beliefs, I begin to feel comfort and understanding; yet my inner critic is active as ever. “This can’t always work, what if this ignores the real issue and only makes things worse? What if it makes you a sucky therapist because you blindly follow a modality.” my critic shouts. It wasn’t until we began to practice by partnering with strangers that I began to understand, this shit can help.
What EMDR is known for is re-processing negative beliefs that come from bad experiences and trauma using bilateral stimulation (BLS). This looks like a therapist moving their hand left to right at eye level sitting in front of the client for 12 and 25 seconds per round. This activates both sides of the brain to target the neuro-networks where negative beliefs are stored and allows processing to occur. Clinicians can also use other modes (i.e. sounds, light bars, tappers, or tapping) to provide BLS. Francine Shapiro – the founder of EMDR – discovered that BLS can occur naturally when she observed that her negative thoughts decreased after walking in the park1. While BLS is an important tool, and likely the most well-known, it is only one of eight stages of EMDR therapy.
When it was my turn to be the client on day 3 of 5, I was still skeptical. I had successfully facilitated an EMDR session with my partner (the approachable stranger I sat next to on day one) but had not had the “aha” experience that I wanted, needed, to have to trust in this approach. I chose something that was distressing to me (that I won’t name on the internet) as the third partner from our group began our practice session with me as the client. As the processing began, my therapist helped me untangle the web of my core belief and eventually led to the actual belief that was at the center
“I’m not a good dad.”
We were allocated 40 minutes per person and my session went well over the time given – ironic given my late nature and un-timeliness – but this session proved to be powerful and could have continued. As I wipe away the moisture and snot that I refused to admit as my tears, my partners (complete strangers just 2 days ago) who guided me during my vulnerable experience were there. “Wow Joe. You really got there.” my neighbor says as I see my therapist share a compassionate grin. Overshadowing the masculine shame ingrained into me for crying in a room with 20 people, I feel pride and relief.
Becoming an EMDR therapist, I was unsure and skeptical that I could use this in my practice if I didn’t believe in it. As the training continued after my vulnerable session, I feel a warmth and trust toward the EMDR process that I didn’t expect. I finally feel as though I can trust in this process and know that it can work for me and my clients.
It’s also apparent to me that this would not have worked, if I didn’t let it work. We have to rely on our therapist to sort through the web that we see as the issue to get to the strand holding the concern and, let go of the part that doesn’t want therapy to work. We must allow ourselves to trust our therapist with this burden to let the healing begin; terrifying to do so with a complete stranger – trust me, I know.
If you’re interested in learning if an EMDR therapist can help you, contact me today to set up an introductory call.
Shapiro, F. (1989). Efficacy of the eye movement desensitization procedure in the treatment of traumatic memories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2, 199-223.