Can EMDR Help Me Change an Old Pattern?

Tomorrow I will be a guest on the internet radio program Growing Up Chaotic to discuss EMDR and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s at 7pm EST and I hope you will listen.

As a result, I’ve got EMDR on the brain. I’ve been using this type of therapy with many of my clients for several years now. What I’ve learned is that EMDR can be a tool for change when you have an old pattern that just won’t budge.

EMDR is a comprehensive form of therapy that is well-researched and highly effective. It is an approach that is done by  psychotherapists who have received specific training. “What is EMDR?,” you ask: well my previous post will start to answer that question- click here.

In my practice I tend to use EMDR when clients indicate a history of trauma or a single traumatic event that is related to current problems or distress. I also see a very clear use for EMDR when clients find that they have troublesome feelings or reactions despite previous therapy and even when they intellectually know what to do, but the response is so automatic that they cannot help it.

In my mind, many automatic responses are learned to cope with an early life situation. If you grew up needing a response to cope in your environment (for example, shutting down emotionally, yelling to get attention, avoiding conflict at all cost), these coping mechanisms may become counter-productive when your environment changes. For people who grow up making changes in their lives (which is healthy!), these old coping responses become out-dated. However, they are so well learned in childhood that we can’t always get them to change without help.

EMDR can often help process old patterns and the negative messages about self that go along with them. For someone who grows up not getting much attention, the skills of being emotionally shut down and being ruggedly independent may end up working well. In the child’s perspective, though, the message about the self is something like, “I’m not important” or “I am not worthy of attention.” This is because children can only see the world through their own perspective. Everything that happens is interpreted to be about them. This means that these very old automatic responses are also tied with negative beliefs.

How this plays out is that we grow up with certain coping responses and when we unconsciously sense that we are in a situation that feels like the old situation, we tend to use the same responses. These responses are not just behavioral and emotional, they also are tied with core beliefs about ourselves. So the person who grows up being emotionally neglected may sense danger when another person wants to be connected to them. The old pattern of shutting down and the belief about not being worthy of connection will automatically come into play. This all happens without us really understanding where these thoughts and feelings come from.

There are other ways to work on these automatic responses and negative beliefs, but I find that EMDR works the best for those who have benefited from other forms of therapy but still want to break these old patterns once and for all. If you are thinking of trying EMDR, I recommend looking for a therapist who is fully trained in EMDR, uses EMDR regularly, receives consultation specific to EMDR, as well as actively continues his/her professional development in EMDR.

Have questions about EMDR? I’m going to follow up with another post next week, so please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.


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