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The Eyes Have It!

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

an eye

EMDR therapy started out as a technique using eye movements for change.  Initially it was called EMD (Eye Movement Desensitization).  Then those helping Francine discover how it works noticed that there seemed to be a reprocessing effect as well.  That the person was visiting other memory networks that had similar components to the memory that was being targeted, and those memories were also losing their charge and impact on the person’s life.

We then noticed that bilateral tactile and audio stimulation created a soothing effect.  In some cases, the person’s eyes would move with the auditory or tactile stimulation.  Myself, being a body centered psychotherapist, began using the auditory and tactile almost exclusively.

Then I began to notice that my clients were not reaching the depth of change I had seen before.  They would be more relaxed and the memory itself was not as charged but they were not visiting other memories in the network and really clearing out the pattern.

So, I returned to using eye movements and observed a much more comprehensive change in my client’s lives.

Because of this awareness and experience, I am a stickler for new EMDR therapists to use eye movements for reprocessing.  As with much of EMDR therapy, you have to find the right eye movement configuration that works for your client.  It takes going through many options, in some cases, to find what works. What really works.

The eyes need to move from corner to corner in their eye socket.  They MUST be fast enough for reprocessing.  Many clients want to slow it down because they are trying to focus or control what comes up.  This prevents reprocessing from occurring.  I tell my clients it is just about learning how it works.  They need to have all options for eye movements offered to them to find the top two that work best for them.  Horizontal at eye level, a little higher than eye level, lower than eye level.  Diagonal in one direction, diagonal in the other direction.  For some the figure eight or circle works better, often more complicated cases.  And end to end.  Some people cannot cross the midline.  They need a primary and secondary option.  Do you remember why?  Remember, if your client gets stuck during reprocessing the first thing we do is change the direction of the eye movements.

Once the primary and secondary options have been determined, then there is working on the speed, the letting go.  Many clients complain of eye strain because they are straining their eyes trying to focus on the prompt for eye movements.  What I say to my clients is: “Are you focusing, or following?”  The we go through the emotions of comparing the difference between focusing on the prompt vs following.  Eyeballs should just slide back and forth.  I have to tell clients to let things be out of focus, blurry.  The point of the prompt is just to help the eyeballs slide back and forth.  If they are trying to focus, they are not paying attention to the memory and what comes up during reprocessing.  Sometimes eye strain comes because they have dry eyes and need to bring their eye drops to session.

Ok, now that I have gone over ways to help clients learn to do eye movements, there is a video by Dr. Andrew Huberman (Stanford Neuroscientist) talking about why eye movements work and why they are the effective form of BLS for EMDR therapy.

It is nice that science has caught up with awareness.

Here is the video:

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