EMDR stands for eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a technique that helps one to release overwhelmingly bad feelings that are attached to memories. It consists of allowing a bad feeling into one’s awareness while tracking a finger moving right and left before the eyes. Doing this causes the feeling to quickly dissipate, leaving only the facts of the memory without any feelings attached to it.
Bilateral tapping is another way to release bad feelings, and is done by alternately tapping the right and left sides of the body—tapping one’s knees, upper arms or shoulders.
The R in EMDR stands for reprocessing, which is the replacement of a negative thought with a positive one—an affirmation such as, “I am safe” or “I am a good person.” By all means follow the protocol, but bear in mind that it isn’t an inaccurate view of the self that is the cause of grief, fear and shame, but our identification with that self.
The ego is not a subject; it is not “I”—it is an object. It is as if we were great actors—in perfect health, incredibly wealthy, able to go anywhere on a whim—playing the role of a poor, unlucky wretch. Because we are great actors, we have completely immersed ourselves in this role. Releasing painful memories makes us feel good because we have let go of acting the part of the miserable wretch for a moment and caught a glimpse of the happy, carefree being we really are.
Method acting is an emotion-oriented technique developed by theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938). Stanislavski encouraged his actors to draw from personal experiences and memories in order to generate genuine emotions and fully identify with the characters.
Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) further developed the technique. His theory is that the actor should live the character he or she is playing even while off-stage. Some film actors completely change their habits and lifestyle in order to “become” the character they are playing, and they do not “break character” until the final scene is shot.
The video below demonstrates how simple it is to do EMDR and bilateral tapping. In it a therapist helps a young man to let go of his grief over being abandoned, which was attached to the memory of breaking up with his girlfriend. He uses the thought of the breakup to bring up the feeling of grief. Notice how relaxed his body is: physical tension is associated with holding on to a feeling, and physical relaxation is associated with letting go.
EMDR/Bilateral tapping protocol
I have included the protocol here in case people were curious to know what it is. Assigning numbers to feelings tells the therapist when the feeling has been completely released.
Choose a traumatic memory (see below for the definition of a memory).
State how you feel, e.g., “I am a horrible person” or “I am going to die.”
State the opposite, e.g., “I am a good person” or “I am perfectly fine.”
On a scale of 1 – 7 rate how true the positive statement is. If “I am a good person” does not feel true, assign it a low number—e.g., it feels false, so I give it a 2.
On a scale of 1 – 10 rate your level of distress. “I feel terrible” might be an eight or a nine.
Bring up the event or memory and begin moving your fingers back and forth and tracking them with your eyes.
If you want to try tapping, alternatively tap each knee, right-left-right. Another tapping method is to cross your arms and lightly tap the front of each shoulder with your fingers. Tapping can be fast or slow.
What a memory is:
• A negative memory is rarely an accurate recollection of what actually happened. Every time we remember something we edit it in some way, and what we put back into storage is never exactly what we retrieved. Memory is constructed, rather than fixed; it is an edited and re-edited recording, rather than the original one.
• A negative memory is a negative memory whether we actually remember it or not. You know those stories you hear so many times that in the end you do not know if your memory is of the event or if it is constructed from the telling? That still counts. It’s what is in your head that matters.
• A negative memory can be something that did not even happen to us. Sometimes we imagine an event that we hear about or see on television so vividly that it is stored in our memory as if it were our own experience. And it can have just as much influence on us.
• A negative memory is sometimes a composite. If something happened over and over, especially when we were children, we might find it hard to know what is an actual historic negative memory and what is a composite of a number of them. But it really does not matter. What counts is what we have stored in our memory, not what actually happened.