E.M.D.R. stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It was discovered by Francine Shapiro, PhD. and offered as a treatment in the 1980’s to help veterans who were struggling with symptoms after trauma exposure. It worked. In fact, it worked so well that it caught on rapidly and has been expanded by professional groups to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), other negative responses to trauma, as well as many unresolved issues from someone’s past.
For many years I had doubts, just like some people still have today. It took me a long time and a lot of other approaches to treating PTSD (and mostly avoiding working with clients with PTSD!) to finally admit that it was time for me to learn something new. Six years ago, when I was working as a therapist at a low income health center in a rural community on Hawaii island, I realized that many of the clients referred to me for depression or anxiety concerns had PTSD. I was the only therapist within a 90 minute drive, so I couldn’t refer out to someone else for PTSD treatment. I started to research what works best for PTSD treatment. Everything I read, everyone I talked to, everything I found pointed to one thing that worked the best- EMDR. So, with some doubt I found a Level 1 EMDR course on the same island and I went for a long weekend to learn.
This is not the part where I tell you about my instant love of EMDR. It was not love at first sight for me. No – it was challenging and it was difficult to sit through in many ways, because it required me to look at my own unresolved issues with my past, which I thought I had finished dealing with years ago. We practiced and “real played” – not role played. These were real incidents- with each other in a training group of 14 therapists. It was fascinating and it was profound, but it was also personal and I didn’t expect that.
So, after that long weekend I practiced the techniques with clients over the next six months with weekly Saturday morning supervision groups and I could not believe the shifts clients started to make. On a personal level, I started to feel much more helpful to my clients. I often know that what I do with clients makes a difference, but suddenly that was clearer to me than it had ever been. I also went back to therapy with an EMDR clinician and did my own work. Fast forward five plus years and Level 2 EMDR training, specialized training in treating dissociation and emotional parts, many hours of supervision, and now EMDR influences almost all of my work with clients.
Today I am passionate about the healing power of EMDR. I am passionate about the work and the transformation that can come about from this work with our clients. My personal change on this subject is a constant reminder of the ways we help our clients work towards their own changes in every therapy session.