This post is the final discussion of the article “Beyond the Talking Cure” by Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading expert in the field of trauma. In the third section of his essay,”Learning about EMDR,” he gives a thumbs up to this technique, which he himself trained in. I have never had EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), but I have heard only good things about it. A friend told me that this technique helped her process the trauma from a car accident; as a result, she can drive on highways again. And whenever I’m in a group and the discussion lands on therapy, someone inevitably asks in an upbeat voice, Has anyone tried EMDR? A friend of mine …………. The story that follows is always positive.
According to “What is EMDR?” on the website EMDR Institute, Inc., “EMDR psychotherapy is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of pathologies. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health.” The first few phases involve in-depth discussions between client and therapist about the issues in the client’s life that will be focused on. Then “the client is instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously moving his/her eyes back and forth following the therapist’s fingers as they move across his/her field of vision for 20-30 seconds or more, depending upon the need of the client. Although eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus, therapists often use auditory tones, tapping, or other types of tactile stimulation.” As far as I can tell, during this process the client shares associations connected to old trauma and forms new, positive associations as the old ones lose power.
Dr. van der Kolk shares the following impressions of EMDR with us: “. . . EMDR seems to loosen up free associative processes, giving people very rapid access to memories and images of their past, possibly allowing a person to, in some way, associate current painful life experiences to prior life events that have been successfully mastered; . . . EMDR seems to be able to accomplish its therapeutic action without that subject having to articulate in words the source of his [or her] distress; . . . EMDR may have a beneficial action even in the absence of a trusting relationship between patient and therapist” (15). He also believes that it is “capable of softening the pain of past experience, while it can also enhance feelings of pleasure and serenity associated with others” (15).
EMDR, according to van der Kolk, is vastly different from traditional psychotherapy in that the relationship between client and therapist is key in a different way. It’s not the transference that is central but the way that the therapist is more of a facilitator of the process. Here, in van der Kolk’s words, are the three elements of EMDR that make the treatment remarkable: “1) the lack of, or minimal, input from the therapist, 2) the relative absence of words to describe the details of the traumatic experience, and 3) the activation of new images and thoughts that have, at best, weak associations to the core elements of the trauma.”
EMDR is definitely “beyond the talking cure.” It relies more on helping a client to replace old associations with new ones in order to enable him or her to live a more free and pleasurable life. It seems to facilitate taking the charge out of traumatic memory so that positive thoughts and feelings can take its place. To me, EMDR is worth checking out. Maybe it can help me, for example, wake up in a relaxed state rather than one of tension and fear; I want to wake up feeling refreshed and excited about the day. Maybe next time I’m in a group and we’re discussing therapy, when someone inevitably says in an upbeat voice, Has anyone tried EMDR?, my story will follow.