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What is EMDR?

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

an eye

Even if you think you know you might find this interesting.

Bottom line, for me, is EMDR is an art.  It is based on the AIP model.  Do you know, or remember (if you are EMDR trained) what the AIP model is?

From “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Basic Principles”, Protocols, and Procedures. Ch 1. by Dr. Francine Shapiro:

“Briefly stated the model regards most pathologies as derived from earlier life experiences that set in motion continued pattern of affect, behavior, cognitions, and consequent identity structures.  The pathological structure is inherent within the static, insufficiently processed information stored at the time of the disturbing event.  In a wide variety of cases, ranging from simple PTSD and phobias to more complex conditions such as panic disorders, some forms of depression, dissociation, and personality disorders, pathology is viewed as configured by the impact of earlier experiences that are held in the nervous system in state-specific form. "

We have an innate information-processing system that is adaptive.  And, it can become blocked, leading to maladaptively stored memories.  So anytime any component of the original experience is present, in present time, we will react as if the original, unprocessed memory is occurring.  This shows up in various symptoms and pathologies.  When we unblock our innate adaptive system, these stored adaptive memories reprocess, symptoms disappear, and new adaptive responses show up spontaneously.

The AIP model is the guiding principle for EMDR therapy.  Very often when I ask people who have been trained in EMDR they are unaware of the very foundation of EMDR therapy.  This guiding principle makes all the difference in the world for your client.

How?  The AIP model empowers the client to trust their innate inner wisdom.  Your job is just to facilitate them through the process, so their Adaptive Information Processing System unblocks and moves them to new possibilities, without you directing what that should look like or how it should be done.  If you have done your job correctly, your client walks out of your office amazed at how their own innate system moved them to health.

It is a bit of a dance being an EMDR practitioner.  You must use the structure of the 8 phases and the 3 prong EMDR treatment plan, and at the same time get out of your client’s innate capacity to move to health.  EMDR therapy is client centered, but in a different way from other psychotherapies.

Once you as a practitioner become well versed in how each of the phases work and why they were created it is easier to keep track of where to go next.  So, the structure is IMPERATIVE to keeping on track finishing all 3 prongs of each EMDR treatment plan and addressing all the identified presenting complaints your client has come to you to address. 


Your job is to assess (Phases 1 & 2) what your clients has and what they need to be able to successfully reprocess.  Prepare them for reprocessing.  Then during reprocessing (Phases 3-6), STAY OUT OF THEIR WAY, facilitate them with very, very, very brief interventions to unblock stuck material.  Then celebrate their successes.

I was very fortune when I discovered EMDR.  I was already training in body-centered psychotherapy which was teaching me to observe the bigger picture, stay out of the way, use very short words and statements to facilitate access and change, and to be fully present to observe the meta information that was showing up with a client.  I have to say this made EMDR easy for me to do.  I had to learn to work from an aware state, suspending my left brain from being in charge so I could see what else was there I could otherwise observe.

Your success as an EMDR practitioner depends on your ability to use the structure to guide you and be thorough.  And, at the same time be in the art.  Allow the client’s innate wisdom, their Adaptive Information Processing System, move them to health.

EMDR will teach you how it works.  It taught me.  Luckily, I was trained by Dr. Shapiro in 1991, she had only been teaching EMDR for 2 years at that point.  EMDR was in its infancy.  We were discovering where it worked well and were it did not.  And, because the EMDR community was always curious about how it could work for complicated presentations, much effort was put into learning what were the blocks and how to resolve them, so these clients could also reprocess and receive the amazing benefits of EMDR.

The more you move into a state of curiosity and observe how EMDR works, and get a lot of consultation to help with how to prepare clients and how to unblock stuck points, the more you will learn from EMDR therapy and your clients.  Those of us who were trained early on had to discover what would work.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  When you get stuck and your experience observing is not bringing up possibilities, then get consultation.  Doing EMDR therapy in isolation does not work well.  I learn a great deal because I facilitate at trainings regularly.  I am always hearing a little snippet of something from different trainers and facilitators, as they learn from me.  The more you do advanced training and consultation the better you will become at helping our clients prepare and get unstuck.

EMDR taught me a great deal about how to observe and be curious.  How what I thought was what the client needed and what they innately knew they needed, were two different things.  EMDR therapy will teach you, if you let it.

For me EMDR therapy facilitates my clients to Live Authentically!

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