INTEGRATING MINDFULNESS INTO EMDR THERAPY
A MAJOR SHIFT IN INSIGHT
The most significant effect EMDR and mindfulness have is that they both lead to major shifts in perspective. EMDR therapy, as well as mindfulness-based therapy, will help your client stop seeing herself as a victim and taking the role of the observer. Different therapists have different names for it (helicopter view is one of my favorites), but successful therapy – any therapy – results in the client’s ability to look at herself and the situations around her from a wider perspective.
When done right, EMDR treatment will result in the client’s ability to see reality more clearly. This is exactly what happens when people practice mindfulness. EMDR and mindfulness both lead to a radical acceptance of reality, without the personal misinterpretation (or cognitive distortions, if you’re a cognitive-behavioral therapist…)
In cognitive-behavioral terms, both EMDR and mindfulness practice lead to a change of schemas and core beliefs, and as a result, there’s a change in automatic negative thoughts. The changes in thought process lead to changes in negative emotions, which is, in most cases, is the desired outcome of treatment.
In this article, I will describe what EMDR and mindfulness have in common and the main differences between them. I will provide information on how to integrate more mindfulness into your EMDR practice.
In both EMDR therapy and in mindfulness you will teach your clients to notice. When reprocessing EMDR targets, I like to instruct my clients to just notice or notice that, more than the traditional instruction – go with that. It feels less like a command and more like a mindful suggestion – the same thing we do in mindfulness practice.
When teaching clients about mindfulness, I often tell them that mindfulness is not just a set of tips and tricks. This is the way many people look at mindfulness in the west, largely due to how the research world works. In order to be accepted by the research community, mindfulness needs to be measured and quantified. It needs to show how practice leads to change. Researchers want to see results and they want to see them quickly.
But the reality of mindfulness is a little different. Mindfulness is NOT just a set of tips and tricks. It is NOT a quick fix. Mindfulness has been around for centuries before it arrived in the western world in the 1960s. In The Way of Zen, Allan Watts explains the main differences in perspective between our Western thought and the Eastern way of thinking
Much of the difficulty and mystification which Zen presents to the Western student is the result of his unfamiliarity with Chinese ways of thinking–ways which differ startlingly from our own and which are, for that very reason, of special value to us in attaining a critical perspective upon our own ideas.The Way of Zen, Allan Watts
If we’re looking at mindfulness as a way of being, and not as a quick-fix solution to a problem – we accept that the benefits of mindfulness practice usually take longer.
Unless you incorporate your mindfulness practice with EMDR therapy.
When integrated into an EMDR treatment, mindfulness helps to enhance the processing. The integration makes the sum larger than the parts. If you want it in a formula – it looks like this:
(EMDR + Mindfulness) > EMDR, mindfulness
THE ANTIDOTE AND THE PREPARATION PHASE
Both mindfulness and RDIs help our clients to calm down their nervous systems. When focusing on a calm or safe place, your client will help her brain to decondition the automatic activity in her limbic system. Traumatized clients, especially those with histories of early childhood trauma, have an over-activated limbic system. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of studies that show how mindfulness training not only helps to quiet the active limbic system but also strengthens the frontal lobes.
In Buddhism, there is a specific antidote for every negative emotion. Love and hatred are antidotes. They are two emotions that you can’t feel together, at the same time. The use of RDIs we develop in the preparation phase has a similar nature. When you are in your safe place, you are safe and nobody can hurt you. When you are in your calm place you are able to stay calm, despite the chaos around you.
And when your client learns to hold the feeling of being in a calm place, she is ready to start processing.
In its purest form, EMDR processing is a form of meditation. Both EMDR processing and meditation, give us the chance to let whatever happens happen. In meditation, we don’t use this phrase – but that’s exactly what we do. When your client lets whatever happens happen – she learns to take the role of the observer. This process helps her see reality more clearly.
It is important to help your clients learn to observe her thoughts instead of getting attached, obsess or ruminate.
I find that clients who meditate are able to process faster and more efficiently. For that reason, I encourage all my clients to meditate. I encourage, beg, convince, educate, and give them Mark Epstein’s books and if all this doesn’t help – I let them borrow my Muse meditation device. It usually helps.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH – SIMILAR RESULTS
In Buddhist psychology, there is a clear distinction between a positive and negative emotion: a negative emotion is something that prevents the mind from seeing reality as it is. It distorts the view of reality and creates a gap between the way things appear and the way things are. The ability to see things as they are can be achieved through daily practice of mindfulness. A clear view of reality is also the outcome of a successful EMDR treatment.