What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that helps people who have suffered from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Life events are stored in our memory. Sometimes when a traumatic event happens to you, your memory of that experience can become locked away inside your brain, often with the same distressing emotions, sensations and thoughts of the original experience. When something happens to you that triggers that experience, you may re-experience the same feelings and sensations in your body, in effect reliving the memory as if it were in the present. For some, the re-experiencing can be mildly distressing though for others the emotional pain can be overwhelming and unbearable.

Often it is assumed that deep emotional pain takes a very long time to overcome. Numerous studies have shown that EMDR therapy assists the mind in healing from psychological trauma, just as your body naturally heals itself from a physical trauma. For example, when you get a splinter, it festers and causes pain. Your body works to push out the foreign object and once it has, the natural healing your body already knows how to do occurs. EMDR therapy works in much the same way, allowing your brain to process information naturally and move toward healing. If our brains are blocked by traumatic events, the emotional wound festers and causes suffering. Remove the block, healing follows. EMDR therapy allows clients to access their brain’s natural healing processes already inside of them.

"If intruding images or unpleasant thoughts are taking over your life, EMDR might be just right for you."

Dr. Ben Culhane

EMDR has been studied so extensively that the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense recognize it as an effective form of treatment for trauma. Studies have shown that by comparison, EMDR therapy not only works better than Prozac or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in terms of relieving symptoms but also after 12 week follow up, traumatic symptoms did not return. EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias as well as the “everyday” experiences that have led to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and the negative thoughts associated with feeling defective, powerless, or unsafe—any number of issues that bring individuals in for therapy.

Emotionally traumatic wounds are not just “unblocked,” or closed, but the trauma that has festered has been pushed out and healing happens. Clients who successfully conclude EMDR therapy sessions have a sense of empowerment over their past experiences that at one time defeated them. The sensations, emotions, thoughts and images associated with the debilitating event or events are no longer experienced when a person brings the trauma to mind.

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

More information on EMDR:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/can-you-benefit-from-emdr-therapy//

http://psychcentral.com/lib/can-you-benefit-from-emdr-therapy//

http://brainworldmagazine.com/how-emdr-therapy-opens-a-window-to-the-brain/

We Are Responsible for Our Partner's Emotions

I realize that some people will completely disagree with me on this, and that’s OK. Please, hear me out.

Responsibility is a word made up of two words, the word “response” and the word “ability.” Responsibility is not what someone throws in your lap. Responsibility is not your job description or a paper you sign. Responsibility is a choice as I will explain.

Conflict is inevitable in relationships. We will all find ourselves in situations with our partners where we will disagree or argue. Each of us has our own set of abilities which are different from one another. What are yours? And given your abilities, you must ask, what will be your response with those abilities? Do you have the ability to listen? Do you have the ability to understand your partner’s perspective? Can you validate your partner’s feelings? If you do have these abilities, what will be your response? And will it be loving or unloving?

RESPONSIBILITY does NOT equal requirement or obligation.

I want to be clear about what I am NOT saying. You are not required to “take care of” or “fix” your partner’s feelings, drop what you’re doing and attend to him or her as if the room is on fire. You are not required to listen to name calling or hurtful language. You are not required to suppress or never ask for your needs to be met. You are not required to do something that goes against your values. Sometimes you have the ability to respond to your partner’s needs and being responsible for our partner’s feelings, doesn’t mean you must meet that need. You always retain control. You always maintain choice.

RESPONSIBILITY Options

Learn vs. lovingly disengage. We can, assuming we have the ability in the moment, listen with curiosity. Jon Gottman, long-time couple’s researcher, speaks about this as the “What’s this?” way of listening instead of the “What the hell is this?” way of listening.

"Cultivate curiosity in your relationship."

Dr. Ben Culhane

“What’s this?” is an activate mode of authentically feeling interest in learning about your partner, his or her feelings and needs. In this mode, our heart rate goes down, certain nerves activate that may raise our brows, lower our chin, tilt our head and immobile our body. Blood flow changes in the brain, increasing in areas of neural activation. We are learning. Think about the last time you witnessed a baby see something new and interesting. 

“What the hell is this?” mode is a defensive mode and defeating to authentic listening. In this mode, our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, our alarm system is activated, and we are either in or about to enter fight/flight mode. Blood moves away from out extremities and concentrates in our trunks in preparation for reaction. We are listening closely but for rebuttals to our partner’s words. We are in persuasion mode not learning mode. We are not fully present and will find it difficult to let compassion into our hearts, let alone learning into our minds. We are flooding. 

CONSIDER your responsibility to your partner’s feelings.

If, for example, your partner is sharing their anger or hurt or both, you can tune into your own feelings and physiology and gauge your ability to respond in a loving way. You can choose your response between learning or lovingly disengaging. If, in the face of your partner’s unloving behavior, you can maintain compassionate curiosity, then you might choose to be responsible for your partners feelings. Part of your ability rests in knowing how your partner would like you to respond in that moment. More on that later. 

If, on the other hand, you notice a “What the hell is this?” response within yourself, you are only half-listening to your partners words. The other half is attending to your rebuttal in your head, or the urge to interrupt and defend your intention or perspective. You may need to lovingly disengage if managing your own emotional discomfort is difficult. 

At a heart rate of around 100 beats/minute, adrenaline and cortisol enter our blood stream, our oxygen saturation degrades and our ability to respond in a loving way can be compromised. How you lovingly disengage is up to you. Consider how you might want your partner to disengage from you. A 20 to 30-minute break is recommended before returning to the conversation. This gives each partner an opportunity to self-soothe, allows each of your heart rates to return to resting and regain control of curiosity and loving behavior. 

WAYS that partners can help each other.

During a conversation, there are two roles, Speaker and Listener. Each has a responsibility to themselves and each other. The speaker can help the listener stay curious and in a physiological zone of understanding by respecting the suggestions below which create potential opportunity for the speaker to receive his or her need. The listener can do their part in helping the speaker by considering their role as well. 

Speaker role.

Blaming and criticism are quite difficult for most people to stand in the path of. Blaming and criticizing often begin with “You statements” and make it difficult for others to lovingly lean in and learn about what emotion is fueling his or her partner’s words. 

No one is a mind reader. Your partner must be able to state his or her feelings using “I statement” about a specific situation. A soft-start up might sound like, “I feel [name the emotion]. We often want to explain the reasons behind our negative emotions compared to our positive ones. Try to avoid this as sometimes can lead to “You statements” as in “I feel hurt because you’re never home...and you always go ... and you never think about.... I think you get the point here—try to avoid explaining why you feel the way do. You are feeling and therefore your feelings are valid.

That might look something like this: “I feel hurt about our conversation yesterday.

Then he or she states a need in positive vs. negative language. What might that that sound like? 

Negative need: You talked about yourself for the last 3 hours. (Sounds blaming and critical).

Positive need: I need you to ask me about what I’m doing. (Sounds like an opportunity to respond given your partner’s abilities). Your partner can say: “That’s true. Tell me about your day.”

If you struggle with coming up with a positive need, remember that behind every complaint there is a longing or need. What do you wish would happen? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to happen?”

Listener role.

Sherry Fleming, a licensed marriage and family therapist, calls this part “making LUV.” Listen. Understand. Validate. 

As the listener, and the person who has a responsibility for our partner’s emotions, we need to be willing to listen non-defensively, accept a “What’s this?” perspective. Then seek to understand your partner’s feelings. It can be helpful to summarize, to your partner’s satisfaction, what he or she just said. You can ask them after summarizing, “Did I miss anything?” We can all relate to wanting to feel heard.

It may be helpful to ask open ended questions before you validate your partner. For example, “Help me understand why this is so important to you?” Then, use language like, “It makes perfect sense that you feel ...” Side note: validation should be authentic not like dialogue between actors. If you need more help in understanding, perhaps you could ask, “Is there a story behind this need?” 

If more help is necessary, perhaps you might consider this: given his or her perspective and the way he or she sees the situation, is their emotional position valid? If yes, then let your partner hear that you “get it.”

Pushing Pause

We may not always have the ability to respond in a loving way as much as we may want to. There is no shame in needing to take a break during a conflict. It does not mean that there is “something wrong with you,” or that you are weak. Quite the opposite in fact. If you can say to your partner, “I need a time out,” or “Can we push pause?”—then you are being mindful and present. And that is a strength to be celebrated. 

It is helpful to add that the two of you will return to the conversation and specifically state the time frame. This can help your partner calm down because they know they are not being thrown away like some feather in the wind. 

Is Short Term Therapy for You? Ask Yourself These Seven Questions

“Time-limited therapy” or short-term therapy works well for specific concerns. So, how do you know if going on a short-term basis is going to enough to make that changes that you want to see? Would committing to a longer therapy schedule be more beneficial? Consider the questions below.

Seven Questions to inform your choice

1. What are my therapy objectives?

Short-term therapy might be best typically when you have one issue to specifically focus on. If understanding yourself or you past and how it has affected your present patterns, if there are several concerns you want to address, or if you’re unsure where to begin, then long-term therapy might be better suited to you.

2. How sure am I about trying therapy?

Looking into a more time-limited approach to therapy might work for you are apprehensive about whether therapy is for you. Short term commitment will give you a taste of the process to see how agreeable it is for you. If you’re seeking support, this is a good place to start. When you therapy has ended, and it seems that you still need support, you can look into pursuing something longer, perhaps even another series of short-term sessions.

3. How much work do I want to do in-between sessions?

Typically Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) has some homework associated with it. Research results suggest that completion of these assignments tends to lead to more successful outcomes in therapy. Committing to these assignments can have a more positive effect on your therapy outcome. If you would rather just go to appointments and not be bothered with anything between sessions, a longer time commitment may be better for you.

"If the idea of long-term therapy is a struggle, keep in mind that time-limited support is better than no support."

Dr. Ben Culhane

4. How much time do I have to do therapy?

If your lifestyle allows you brief pockets of time before you are traveling, moving or vacationing, short-term therapy could be a sensible option for the time being. Something to consider is tele-therapy. Many therapists are able to continue sessions with you via web-based video conferencing regardless of your location.

5. What is my budget?

Budget or lack of insurance can be a factor. If you need support with an issue, short-term therapy can be better than no support at all. You might also consider ways to find a therapist that are more reasonably priced. Some community mental health centers accept new clients, and pricing is based on actual income. Be prepared to show tax-returns, however.

6. How long have I struggled with this issue?

Some psychological issues are better suited for longer term therapy. For example, if you suffer from an addiction or from abuse of some form or relationship distress, long-term therapy might be a better fit for you. To be clear, you may still see benefits from short term sessions if that is your preference. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) offers useful tools for people struggling with abusive pasts and unwanted ways of coping like addictions

7. Are my issues an integrated part of my personality?

It is most likely that a longer commitment in therapy is necessary of the issues you face are an integral part of your personality. Consider, for instance, if anxiety is something that you have always struggled with when interacting socially, or if you have tended to hop from one relationship to the next and find it difficult to be vulnerable with a romantic partner, these issues are more suggestive of core patterns and concerns that insist on continual work. These issues might suggest that some of your early attachment relationships have affected your personality in ways for which long-term therapy is clinically suggested and shown to be more effective.

OVERALL

Remember, when it comes to your therapy, you are in control. You are not confined to only one option. Keep in mind that regardless of the model you chose, finding the right therapist is key. If you select long-term therapy, there is nothing that says you must stay. Changing your mind is your prerogative; though, make certain that you aren’t perpetuating a pattern of running away from your success.

If the idea of long-term therapy is a struggle, keep in mind that time-limited support is better than no support. Consider a round of short-term therapy.

Remember, too, therapy is a process. It might surprise you. If you keep an open mind, you just might discover that short-term therapy helps you to learn things about yourself and that inspire you seek longer term therapy, or one more round of short-term therapy. Incidentally, you might discover that one round of short-term therapy was exactly what got yourself on track again.

Modern Relationship Status

It's complicated, today we have more choices in finding a partner than our parents did...

In today’s relationships we have much more freedom and choice than the generations before us. That freedom, however, has come at a price; we lose a sense of certainty in belonging and identity. Now, we turn to our romantic partners to help us with our sense of belonging, our aloneness, our need for continuity in connection. We still want many of the things relationships of the past provided: we want family life, companionship, economic support, and even social status. In addition to all these relationship values, we look to our partners and say, I want you to be my best friend, my most trusted confidant, plus my most passionate lover –all for the long haul – and the long haul keeps getting longer. 

To do all of this, to maintain this ideal is ambitious for our modern romantic relationships. And yet, this is what we want. This isn’t a relationship dilemma that we solve overnight, but you can learn to communicate your needs in a way that conveys ownership, not blame. You can, together, learn to create an atmosphere were sharing and asking for your deepest longings and needs with your partner feels less risky. You can learn to hear your partner’s protests for connection as less demanding and less critical. 

We have come to expect that our partners will help us overcome what is – most likely – one of the most amazing challenges of relationships today: collectively bringing together our fundamental sets of contradictory human needs of change and stability. On one hand we want our partner to satisfy our need for security, belonging, safety and predictability. And on the other hand, we want our partner to satisfy our need for adventure, novelty, mystery, and exploration.

"There are those of us who have come out of childhood needing more protection and safety whereas some of us have come out of childhood needing more space and autonomy.

Dr. Ben Culhane

You may notice in your relationship that there is likely one person who is more in touch with fearing the loss of their partner while the other is more in touch with being afraid of losing themselves. In other words, one more afraid of abandonment and one more afraid of suffocation. Reconciling these polar needs for safety and adventure has become one of the greatest challenges to navigate in relationships today—especially when your partner has a varying degree of need compared with your own. 

So, what is the answer? How do we get all that we want in our relationships and give our partners what they long for as well? Such a delicate balance. Sometimes it takes a skilled and neutral third party (like a therapist) to help each partner understand and communicate their yearnings and desires to their partner in a way that can not only be heard but also received and reciprocated. Other times it may take a collective of other couples who are struggling with the same communication issues to see and know that what they are feeling and longing for is normal, that you are not alone in your desire to feel important to another, to belong, to feel loved—in the way that you need to feel loved. 

Ask yourself, “How do you show up in your relationship? What are some of the things that you do to disconnect from others? When was the last time you searched out ways to learn to be a better partner, a better lover? These questions and others are the kind explored in couples therapy. 

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that helps people who have suffered from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.


Life events are stored in our memory. Sometimes when a traumatic event happens to you, your memory of that experience can become locked away inside your brain, often with the same distressing emotions, sensations and thoughts of the original experience. When something happens to you that triggers that experience, you may re-experience the same feelings and sensations in your body, in effect reliving the memory as if it were in the present. For some, the re-experiencing can be mildly distressing though for others the emotional pain can be overwhelming and unbearable.

Often it is assumed that deep emotional pain takes a very long time to overcome. Numerous studies have shown that EMDR therapy assists the mind in healing from psychological trauma, just as your body naturally heals itself from a physical trauma. For example, when you get a splinter, it festers and causes pain. Your body works to push out the foreign object and once it has, the natural healing your body already knows how to do, occurs. EMDR therapy works in much the same way, allowing your brain to process information naturally and move toward healing. If our brains are blocked by traumatic events, the emotional wound festers and causes suffering. Remove the block, healing follows.

"EMDR therapy allows clients to access their brain’s natural healing processes already inside of them."

Dr. Ben Culhane

EMDR has been studied so extensively that the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense recognize it as an effective form of treatment for trauma. Studies have shown that by comparison, EMDR therapy not only works better than Prozac or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in terms of relieving symptoms but also after 12 week follow up, traumatic symptoms did not return. EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias as well as the “everyday” experiences that have led to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and the negative thoughts associated with feeling defective, powerless, or unsafe—any number of issues that bring individuals in for therapy.

Emotionally traumatic wounds are not just “unblocked,” or closed, but the trauma that has festered has been pushed out and healing happens. Clients who successfully conclude EMDR therapy sessions have a sense of empowerment over their past experiences that at one time defeated them. The sensations, emotions, thoughts and images associated with the debilitating event or events are no longer experienced when a person brings the trauma to mind.

Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:

More information on EMDR:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/can-you-benefit-from-emdr-therapy//

http://brainworldmagazine.com/how-emdr-therapy-opens-a-window-to-the-brain/

Relationships Matter

When we are born, we rely on another person to meet our needs. And as we grow and develop new relationships, we learn that those whom we hold close have the ability to influence our sense of happiness, especially in romantic relationships.


Our partners impact us physiologically and emotionally. We have a need to form emotional connections with other human beings. This need for emotional connection with others is the most basic longing, the most basic motivator we have. When we can’t find a safe, loving way to stay connected with our partner, we end up moving further and further away from where we want to be, which is safe and connected. Instead we move into conflict and distance, wonder if we matter to our partner, feel insecure in being our most authentic self.

"When we don’t feel loved by our partner or feel that we don’t matter to them, we feel alone."

dr. Ben Culhane

Feeling cut off from our partner can throw us into a sense of panic. We can then send out emotional signals that often get distorted by our partners and seen as aggressive or angry. Often these distorted emotional signals then trigger defensiveness or a tendency to shut down. We fight. Or withdraw. When couples get caught up in these types of negative patterns, conflict escalates and distance increases; we get the opposite of what we wanted in the first place—to feel important to and appreciated by our partner, loved. Eventually we may wonder where the love and connection went.

If your relationship is important to you and you are considering counseling to repair the connection that has been damaged, then couples counseling may help the two of you to once again find security and safety in love.

If any of this is speaking to you, I invite you to call for a free, in-office consultation. You can tell me about your situation and I can answer any questions that you may have. It will also give you a chance to see if meeting with me is a good fit for you and your partner.