5 Ways To Be a Better EMDR Therapist

A good therapist is mindful of their client’s goals, process, progress and satisfaction. Wouldn’t you agree? Many of us are mindful of these factors consciously. Perhaps you update treatment plans regularly. You might be asking your clients to complete an assessment to track improvement in their depression, anxiety or PTSD symptoms.

But, to skip to the heart of this blog, many more of us are attuned to that feeling that sets in at the end of a tricky EMDR trauma therapy session… Like a gray cloud on our ego it whispers, “Did you accomplish anything in the last hour? Was that EMDR therapy session any good? Are we progressing at all?”

AN EMDRIA CONSULTANT WANTS TO ASK YOU…

If you can hold onto your ego just a little tighter I’m going to ask you a bold question.

Are you the reason your client’s process / progress has stalled?

Okay, bear with me here. If your client has stalled I’m not suggesting it’s all your fault. In fact, unless you’re being offensive or engaging in some form of unethical behavior, you are likely in a safe zone. But if you’re reading this blog, you actually want your EMDR clients to find relief from their struggle and grow as a human! So let’s jump in and see if some subtle adjustments and inspiration from Internal Family Systems can get your EMDR clients back on track.

REAL LIFE: EMDR CONSULTATION REVEALED MY FEARS

I was meeting with one of my co-therapists and we were staffing clients. I shared vulnerably with her that there was one particular client with whom EMDR trauma therapy had been moving very slowly. I shared the fear that this client would fire me and quit therapy because I wasn’t helping her enough. I spoke about how I felt less-than compared to the client’s super-human descriptions of other healers in their life.

I had all kinds of negative cognitions and burdens coming up: I’m not good enough, I have to prove myself, I should be doing more, my best is not enough and I’m afraid.

Then we switched cases and she told me about her client. And do you know what? She felt not-good-enough for her client too! We were going through the exact same thing with two unique clients. I was certain that if we didn’t address our fears and insecurities we would only complicate our client’s experience of therapy. In other words, I would be the reason my client’s process stalled.

WHAT IFS TELLS US ABOUT BEING AN EMDR THERAPIST

I am a huge fan of EMDR. Huge. I’ve been practicing the theory and model since 2011. Then in 2021 I became an EMDRIA consultant so that I could help other EMDR clinicians learn to integrate EMDR trauma therapy into their practices. EMDR consultation allows us to reflect on the invaluable grounding of the 8 phases in addition to the creative, expressive dance that is required for effective application.

But none of the 8-phases actually tells us how we should be as a therapist. Enter Internal Family Systems (IFS)! If you’ve never heard of IFS, here’s a nutshell explanation:

The underlying concept of this theory is that we all have several parts living within us that fulfill both healthy and unhealthy roles. Life events or trauma, however, can force us out of those healthy roles into extreme roles. (Blanchfield, T.)

For example, there is a part of me that knows I don’t have to be perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes. But there is another part of me that sometimes gets so scared of making a mistake that I delay, procrastinate and make things more complicated than they need to be. Both of these parts are very real and, according to IFS, must be held with curiosity and compassion (among other loving attitudes).

…BUT BACK TO BEING A MORE EFFECTIVE EMDR THERAPIST

But IFS doesn’t just tell you what to do. It also tells you how to be. This “being” part is incredibly valuable no matter what skill set you are employing. But it’s perhaps especially valuable to EMDR therapists who can get caught up in the 8 phase.

Internal Family Systems tells us that there are “5 P’s” that describe how to be an IFS therapist:

  • Presence
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Perspective
  • Playfulness

Applying IFS “5 P’s” To Get Unstuck In EMDR

Let’s think again about the client I felt stuck with. I was definitely not 100% present with her. I felt mildly worried about their sessions prior to the hour and wasn’t coming with a completely open mind; I was worried about what we’d talk about and worried I’d have to carry the momentum of the session. I wasn’t patient; I was worried we weren’t going at an “appropriate pace”. I didn’t have perspective because I was preoccupied with comparing myself to work they’d completed earlier in life. And I wasn’t really playful – not from my core.

I was the problem. Not the phases. Not the model. Me. And here’s the beauty in that- I can change me! That day in consultation when I got curious and connected to my insecurities I took the first step in getting me (and my client) back on track. Here’s what this looked like in real-time:

  • I gave myself permission to move at a snail’s pace and acknowledged that no tactical timeline actually existed.
  • I gave myself permission to move away from the formal EMDR phases again and again and again to simply be in a relationship with my client.
  • I acknowledged that this client had actually told me how much they were valuing the work and decided to trust them over my own fear and insecurity.

HOW TO GET BACK ON TRACK WITH EMDR THERAPY

So, let me challenge you. Think of a client you feel stuck with. Someone with whom you wonder if you’re doing a good enough job, if you are making enough progress… Now ask yourself:

  • How present am I in sessions? How do I feel when I see this client on my schedule? Do I feel a sense of flow in session or does it feel calculated and forced?
  • What is my experience of patience? Am I annoyed or fearful we aren’t going faster? Am I worried my client is not seeing results? Am I counting sessions? Do I have a sense of paranoia around the minutes passing during the session?
  • What does it mean to me to be persistent with this client? Does that word sound aggressive? Do I feel pushy in sessions?
  • Am I able to keep perspective? Can I simultaneously hold onto the client’s larger treatment goals with the need for genuine, unconditional positive regard? Do my fears and critical self-assessment get in the way of my perspective
  • When is the last time I’ve felt playful in the EMDR therapy session? Do we ever laugh? Is it okay to recognize the ridiculousness of our humanity? Do I use appropriate self-disclosure or story to connect as a human with my client?

EMDR CONSULTANTS NEAR ME

It may come as no surprise that the questions above can be hard to answer alone. It’s hard to determine if you’ve lost perspective when you’ve… ummm… lost perspective. This is one of the many reasons finding “EMDR consultants near me” is important. They lend not just their knowledge and skills but also their perspective.

And here’s another beautiful thing about EMDRIA Consultation – you can work with a consultant anywhere in the world! Finding a consultant near you is as easy as jumping on a Zoom call. In fact, as an EMDRIA consultant I offer a free 15 minute call to anyone interested in EMDR Consultation so that we can explore your needs, interests and goals for EMDRIA training, EMDRIA certification and reaching EMDRIA consultant status.

Scheduling your discovery call is as easy as picking a day and time – then I call you! It’s amazing how just a monthly consultation call can get you back on track with your clients. Each call ends with a review of actionable steps you’ll take – not just theory – but actual shifts and skills that you can use as soon as you hop off your call. I cannot wait to empower you, learn with you and grow your practice. Today is the day to reach out.

P.S. – If you’ve been wondering if you are interested or ready for EMDRIA Certification check out my blog post, 10 Reasons To Get Your EMDR Certification!

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Healing Depression, Anxiety, and Trauma in St. George and all of Southern Utah.

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720 South River Road Suite E 103, St. George, UT 84790