EMDR and Mindfulness

Both EMDR and mindfulness lead to major shifts in perspective. Both forms of therapy help our clients stop being the 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 clients learning to look at themselves and the situations around them from a wider perspective.

A successful EMDR treatment will result in your 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 distortions.

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 of negative emotions, which is usually 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.

Just Notice

In both EMDR therapy and in mindfulness you teach your clients to notice. When processing EMDR targets, I like to instruct my clients to just notice, more than to go with that. It feels more gentle. Less like a command and more like a mindful suggestion. And this is what we do in mindfulness practice.

When teaching about mindfulness, I often tell my clients that mindfulness is not just a set of tips and tricks. This is the way we perceive it 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. We want to see results and we want to see them as fast. This is where the main difference lies – the benefits of mindfulness practice usually takes longer, but not when you incorporate it 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 will help your clients to calm down their nervous system. When focusing on a calm or safe place, your client will help her brain to decondition the 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 that mindfulness training not only helps to quiet the active limbic system, but also strengthens the frontal lobes (which is another reason why your clients come to see you).

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 of 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.

Mindful Processing

EMDR processing is a form of meditation. In both EMDR processing and meditation we let whatever happens happen. Maybe in meditation we don’t use this phrase – but it’s what we do. When your clients lets whatever happens happen – they learn to take the role of the observer. This process lets them see reality more clearly. It’s important to help your clients learn how to observe the thoughts and 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 a meditation my Muse meditation device. It usually helps.

Different approach – similar results

In Buddhist psychology there is a clear distinction between a positive and a negative emotion: a negative emotion is something that prevents the mind from seeing reality as it is. A negative emotion 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.


Mark Epstein – 3 books


Pernell – a therapist guide to EMDR


Mindfulness-Oriented Interventions for Trauma


Jamie Marich Book