Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR for short, is a trauma therapy. I occasionally use EMDR as a couple intervention, when infidelity, or some other kind of trauma is part of your story. More about that below.
Recall a distressing event in your life. Can you still feel the anxiety, the fear and confusion in an intense way? Have past events impacted your self-esteem and your relationships? If your answer is “yes,” then your brain has stored that emotional input as unprocessed “frozen” fragments instead of as integrated and resolved memories.
Later, when the upsetting events are recalled, they carry with them a (sometimes) surprising sense of heightened distress. These upsetting events can be powerful enough to negatively influence the way you interpret the world and relate to others.
EMDR helps to resolve those “fragments” — store them away in an orderly, healthy fashion. You won’t forget the past with EMDR, but EMDR helps you develop a perspective where past events stop haunting the present. Self-esteem is enhanced, relationships improve, emotions stabilize.
A few of my clients have given me permission to write about their experience when I used EMDR with them as part of their treatment:
A Typical EMDR Session
Couples Counselling and EMDR
I’ve used EMDR with couples in a number of circumstances: anxiety about sexual performance concerns (specifically vaginismus and ejaculation issues), challenging childhood events such as physical or sexual abuse, or other difficult life events.
Most often I use EMDR in couple’s counselling when infidelity is part of the couple’s story. In situations of infidelity a betrayed partner will frequently have trauma symptoms: nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks distressing and all-consuming thoughts. EMDR can help with symptom reduction.
…the affair happened a number of years ago and we’ve worked very hard to repair our marriage. But I felt so guilty, and he just couldn’t get the picture of me and his best friend out of his mind. I was kind of skeptical when (our counsellor) told us about EMDR and suggested we talk to you. After first talking to you I was still pretty skeptical. But (my husband) wanted to go ahead.
“…anyway the first few sessions I couldn’t tell the difference really. And then one day after one of your meetings he told me he thought the ‘spell’ had finally broken. He was right. He’s really different now. The flashbacks have stopped. We still have a lot of problems to work through but we’re not stuck anymore…
Exactly when EMDR is used as part of couple’s counselling is a decision between you, your partner and myself. Sometimes both partners are present when I use EMDR with one partner. Sometimes not. EMDR is generally not a beginning treatment intervention at Couples In Step. Someday I’ll write more about that in a blog post.
Who Provides EMDR Treatment?
Couples In Step therapist Irene Oudyk-Suk is a trained and certified EMDR therapist with the Canadian EMDR branch as well as the international EMDR organization. To maintain my status as a certified EMDR therapist I am required to participate in regular and approved EMDRIA training programs.
EMDR is a powerful tool, so it is important that the therapist be properly trained and certified. EMDR therapists are trained to consider the various factors that make for a positive treatment outcome. A trained EMDR therapist knows how to gently support you throughout the treatment.
How Does EMDR Work?
When a person is very distressed, the brain’s normal information processing system is interrupted. Exactly how EMDR works with the brain’s information processing system is not completely understood.
Bilateral (left-right) stimulation of the brain may help the client attend to both the memory and the visual (or kinesthetic, tactile or auditory) stimuli that the therapist provides. EMDR is thought to stimulate the brain’s operating system in the same way that the brain functions naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
EMDR has been around since the late 1980’s. Research on EMDR is ongoing and to date there is more controlled outcome research to support it than any other treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
EMDR is not a treatment for biological/neurological issues such as bipolar disease or attention deficit disorder. However, EMDR can be used to lessen the negative self-esteem such conditions often foster.
More Information About EMDR
If you’d like to learn more about EMDR there is plenty of information on the web. Just google “EMDR” (be sure to check out YouTube as well). The following websites provide information about EMDR (including research information):
Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy
Individuals who have experienced a great deal of early life neglect, rejection, or trauma may find that EMDR is not as helpful as they wish. The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) may be a helpful approach.
I took the DNMS training some years ago. It was a very helpful training and I continue to use some of the interventions I learned while training under that model.
The DNMS is tailored to individual therapy and since the majority of my work is with couples these days, I haven’t had a lot of ongoing practice with the DNMS. Because of my training however I can speak knowledgable about the DNMS and help you find a therapist who has more experience than I in the DNMS.
Here is how the DNMS Institute describes the DNMS:
The DNMS is an ego state therapy designed to treat a wide range of clients, symptoms, and issues. This includes adults with complex trauma wounds, such as those inflicted by verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; and with attachment wounds, such as those inflicted by parental rejection, neglect, and enmeshment. The DNMS is based on the assumption that the degree to which developmental needs were not adequately met is the degree to which a client is stuck in childhood. It starts by guiding clients to establish three internal Resources: a Nurturing Adult Self, a Protective Adult Self, and a Spiritual Core Self. Together these Resources gently help wounded child ego states get unstuck from the past by meeting their unmet developmental needs, helping them process through painful emotions, and by establishing an emotional bond. Alternating bilateral stimulation (made popular by EMDR therapy) is applied at key points in the process. The DNMS focuses special attention on healing maladaptive introjects (ego states that mimic abusive, neglectful, or dysfunctional caregivers). Since these wounded ego states cause the most trouble for clients, their healing results in a significant benefit. As introjects heal, clients report unwanted behaviors, beliefs, and emotions diminish.
You can learn more about the DNMS from the DNMS Institute web site.
For more information or to schedule an appointment call Couples In Step at 416-459-0956, or email Couples In Step.