Bill Harvey: You’ve been a trauma specialist for a while, and now you’re branching out into the new field of EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing] therapy. Is that true?
Darrell Sanchez: EMDR is a PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] treatment. Francine Shapiro is the psychologist who stumbled on this process of eye movement and immediately related it to her own experience with trauma. She developed this as a treatment for PTSD symptoms. It was my overall interest in trauma that led me to EMDR.
BH: I understand this is a technique she used with Vietnam vets so that they could recover from night terrors and the trauma of war.
DS: Right, among other things. Shapiro applied it to all forms of PTSD. She applied it to herself immediately and she wasn’t a war veteran.
BH: When she used it for herself, was she running her fingers back and forth in front of her own face?
DS: I think it wasn’t quite so obvious. She was doing some activity and found herself suddenly re-experiencing traumatic symptoms. She also found her eyes going back and forth real fast. Somehow she was engaging in a process that cleared up the symptoms. From there she said, “How do I reproduce this with other people? Well, I’ll get their eyes moving. How do I do that? Well, just follow my fingers.” So she came up with this method and made a protocol out of it.
BH: Now they have these wonderful machines that have lights that go across – so you follow the light with your eyes.
DS: Exactly, the basis is that the eyes move, whether you follow a person’s hand or you follow these light bars… they save your arms if you’re the practitioner. To expand on it, EMDR is some kind of bilateral stimulation – it can be sound – you can use finger tapping for people who can’t tolerate the eye movements. It’s some type of movement of attention from one side to the other. Presumably it’s in lateralization of the brain stimulation that gets this whole process going. It’s one of the basic concepts of the theory.
BH: Have you tried EMDR with any of your Rolfing clients?
DS: Not during Rolfing sessions. I think there is something like that that can happen. We go from one side to the other, and I think there is a lateralization that happens there. It’s a much slower process and it’s much more grounded in the somatics, but I think there is something like that. We do work on somebody’s left calcaneus, have them stand up. There is already something going on with the lateral change. It’s certainly in the movement work. The thing with EMDR is that they are very, very attached to the idea that you accelerate this process. The other meaning which Francine Shapiro uses for EMDR is Accelerated Information Processing. It’s this idea that accelerating lateral stimulation that is so attractive to them.
BH: This is like the idea in our culture that there is such a thing as a silver bullet – as Juhan points out, penicillin was a silver bullet, and all of a sudden the whole culture moved to this idea that there’s this one little thing that you can do and then everything will be better.
DS: That’s a trap that we all fall into, or that we can easily fall into. We get so affected by whatever process we experience or modality we work in, we want to think this is the answer. Maybe at a particular point in time it may have been the answer. We have this cultural conditioning that just says, “Give me this fast,” “Get this done fast,” and, “Why can’t it be fast?”
BH: My own experience with EMDR has been very positive. I had a skull fracture at the age of seven.
DS: That’s what you went into treatment for?
BH: Yeah, because I realized that whatever is always there is invisible. The pervasive is invisible.
DS: The pervasive symptoms you mean?
BH: Yeah, I lived my whole life sort of not trusting strangers.
DS: You were relating it directly to this?
BH: I never put it together with the skull fracture, but as I got older and started asking questions like, “Why did I act so weird when …?” I put it together with the skull fracture. So I went in for EMDR work on this specific physical trauma.
DS: Did EMDR help you make that link?
BH: No, I made the link before. We had a core trauma scene, the scene of me waking up in the hospital after I had a death experience…
DS: That’s what they like to do – you get a kind of focus picture, right?
BH: Right, and then we would hang out with that picture, while I would move my eyes back and forth. I haven’t quite figured out how to put together the concept that “healing happens in stillness” and EMDR, but I think there is a link there. And the link might be the picture that you are holding.
DS: Well, underlying the theory, in EMDR as well as other modalities, is that there really is self healing. That’s what they are tapping into. Something within the organism, in the person, in the being, self healing. They teach that the therapist just stays out of the process. The way they describe it is, you get the train going on the track and you just want to get it moving and keep it going, but the therapist gets off the track. I don’t know if that links up to this stillness part, but to me there’s an indication of where that self healing comes from.
BH: From my perspective that’s a very naive point of view about what the input of the therapist actually is.
DS: I would agree with that. In practice they do stay back. It’s not like dialoguing or directive therapy session. They really don’t get too much involved. In ideal EMDR sessions there are ways that they will. The cognitive interweave they call it, where the therapist is more correctively involved in a cognitive way, offering suggestions. But to get back to where the stillness comes in, it isn’t really explicitly stated. What is your experience?
BH: Well, how to weave the idea of stillness and healing into everything that we do is pretty interesting. I think it’s very useful to think about that as we are Rolfing. When you have an area of the body where there is no movement happening, and then you put your fingers in there and your fingers aren’t moving, sooner or later something’s got to move. That’s often how I work. If it’s not moving, I’m going give it a chance to move. Not necessarily to move it, but there’s this moment and it’s a moment of stillness, when the tissue has to make up its mind. “Am I going to continue to hold on to this or am I going to resist this…”
DS: Now that’s really interesting. That’s really at the crux of creative work. Because we are talking about stillness as distinct from frozen. The energy that we are talking about as frozen is a trauma energy – the stillness is that moment of what you are describing, that moment of clarity where the awareness starts to come in, and you say, “What choice do I have here, what resources do I have to make which choice I make?” That’s profound and beautiful, those moments are so subtle and so not subtle at the same time. So where does that happen in EMDR? In her books, she relates to this idea of systematic desensitization, just continually expose yourself to the activation of trauma. You expose yourself and the more exposures you have the more it deactivates. Couplec with that is a necessary relaxation piece. So you get exposed but activated, and then there is a relaxation. Get exposed again and you experience something about the activation, the charge. And more and more exposure lessens the charge but there are also these periods of relaxation. So it may mean that the relaxation might represent a kind of stillness coming through it. At least a link to the stillness.
BH: There is something else happening though – there’s attention being given to something that the body has spent a whole lot of time avoiding giving any attention to.
DS: It’s interesting that you say the body because they wouldn’t necessarily say that first. You and I might say that because we’re more involved from a somatic point of view. They would include the body but for them I think they would use more of an array… it’s cognitive, it’s images, it’s sounds… It does include body, it’s emotions as well.
BH: I get Funny Times, it’s a little newspaper that comes out with cartoons from newspapers around the country and they have a section called “News of the Weird.” In it they talk about EMDR as news of the weird. This attitude of complete incredulity, that this could possibly do anything, infuriates me. Because I know it to be useful. It seems to me that there’s a place for this in a world where the prevailing model is still talk therapy. This basically moves you through talk therapy fast.
DS: It is accelerated and I think that is one of the reservations I have with it. It has been my experience both in my own work and watching clients, that on a somatic level, the body seems to crave a deceleration of process. Deceleration has a lot of value in healing and in awareness and that moment of stillness that we were talking about. And trying to rush some of the deep, deep body processes, especially the ones that are related to trauma in the autonomies, doesn’t seem to me to be the most beneficial way. I can understand the idea of accelerating through cognitive information. To me any creative process has two sides. In acceleration, the other side would be deceleration which fosters the toning, resiliency and expansion.
I was thinking about this idea of accelerating through information in a processing way in stillness. In EMDR, when you are watching this acceleration happen and you are experiencing it happening, it’s definitely being amplified and facilitated by the therapist. Presumably, somewhere in there within you or me or whoever is being the client, is somebody observing this happening, even though it may not be quite explicitly evident at first. And we may have to rely on the therapist to keep that space for us. The idea is that somehow part of us is watching this information, and that would be the stillness. And I think that’s what a good EMDR therapist would be saying. That’s the self healing element that we are trying to tap into to show this person that it exists within them.
BH: Why wouldn’t we just take our traumatized clients who are frozen in x, y and z and just send them to an EMDR person? Why not just get rid of all our difficult cases?
DS: From my perspective I don’t think they quite appreciate the depth of this deceleration. I might send clients for that kind of treatment if I knew the therapist and knew that they did understand that. I have a colleague who has done a lot of Hakomi training and she is into EMDR. I told her my reservations and how I use it. She said, “I don’t use it the way they teach it.” To her it’s a way in. It’s a way into a locked system, an unconsciously frozen state, and I can see that it has value that way. How it’s used after that would make a difference to me about who I would send.
BH: Do they pay any attention to the body in the EMDR?
DS: Yeah, they call it a body scan. It’s in the training, it’s in the books. So they are including the body. But what they are trying to do is stay with the accelerated model through the body sensation.
BH: So you’ve just done your EMDR session on your alcoholic Father and you’ve got this pain in the shoulder, so then you going to now do an EMDR session on the pain in the shoulder?
DS: Well it’s part of the protocol. You go through all these channels, where you have an emotional channel, you have images, you have sounds, you have a belief system associated and you are trying to change them from a negative belief about yourself to a positive one. You are trying to lower the emotional distress. You go through all the processes and the last thing that they tell you to do is a body scan. So when you’ve gotten all these other pieces where you want them, they’ll say, “OK, now check your body. Now is there anything in your body?” Then they do a repetition of the eye movements on that until the person reports that, “My body feels OK.” So that’s why they think of it as including the body piece … which is pretty bold for cognitive therapists. From my perspective, their experiences with the body are just like wading across a creek as opposed to diving in the ocean. Because they have their feet in the water they think, “We understand the body, we understand what water is.” But we would say, “Have you ever tried snorkeling?”
BH: Maybe this is the point, to tell Bill Smythe’s story about his client who was an Auschwitz survivor. Rolfing and somatic trauma work were helping to some degree. Then the client got a couple series of EMDR and reported that he felt terrific, all healed, all better. Maybe three months later he developed an ulcer, gastro-intestinal problems. The EMDR, as far as the body was concerned, just drove the trauma that much further into the system.
DS: Well, that’s a hypothesis, none of this can be proven or disproven. We go by our experiences. I would certainly give some weight to that. There’s so much charge in these trauma situations and the body is so involved. I think that we appreciate how much the body really is involved more than your average EMDR person. That energy has many pathways deep into the deep physiological systems and what it takes to clear it from those deep places really requires deceleration which gives it a lot of space. That space is so vital. If the body were completely a clear space then we might be able to accelerate information to it and not have a problem but it’s not totally a clear space.
BH: This is what we do. We give space. This is our job in life.
DS: Conscious experiences of space in the body. It’s an endlessly fascinating world in there. And there are plenty of opportunities to encounter shadow in the body. I’m not convinced that accelerating through at that level is really what clears up all the trauma.
BH: Body oriented psychotherapy is a thing in the world, it’s an energy trying to come into some kind of form. From what I know I think we are the only ones who are beginning to really get a handle on working directly with trauma, psychological issues. Coming out of Sutherland, and Peter Levine, we’re the only ones who really have some parameters on this discussion that are grounded in an understanding of trauma and understanding of the body.
DS: Well, there are probably a lot of movement people that would –
BH: I would include movement people with us. Certainly the whole movement strain from Hubert Godard…
DS: Even around the turn of the century Delsarte was developing movement and its connection to inner feelings which pre-dated what we call modern dance therapy and modem dance. Before that, in ancient cultures, there were disciplines that included not just physical prowess or physical exercise but something about meaning that’s being connected up with movement. Back when classical ballet was starting, around 1500, one of its purposes was to perform an understanding of human experience, and the meaning to it, through movement training.
BH: It’s hard to believe, about ballet.
DS: Ballet represented one end of an experience and in response or reaction to that, which is what many creative endeavors are, someone says, “Oh, I’m not into that, here’s the other side.” Of course, the trap is if they think that’s the answer. But there are attempts and efforts and early precedents for understanding what we are talking about.
Jung thought of the body as the shadow, that mind and body were expressions of the same psychic energy, but the body held all the denied power and energy and everything that we didn’t want to be associating ourselves with in the body. And here we are. We put our fingers in it, our hands. We literally have our hands in that shadow continually. We’re doing movement – we’re standing in the shadow and having people stand in their shadow and move it, shine light on it. It’s endlessly fascinating. It can be damn frustrating. But we are engaging it at that level, we are going right into where the shadow resides and coming out from the mind end of things. Coming out from that other side.
BH: I was Rolling® a lot of dancers at the same time and finding out how profoundly screwed up these people were. The idea came to me that there are places in the body where the trauma resides and these people are driven to dance because it’s their onl way to get any movement in or near these places. At least when they are moving they are not like weighted down or crippled by the stuff that they are carrying around. In many cases that’s the only time they do feel alive.
DS: In dance there’s a way that you can just keep moving to stay clear. But just because you are moving and just because you are excellent at moving doesn’t mean you are really engaging the shadow that’s in that body that’s moving. You can actually be doing the movement to keep you out of it. It’s amazing how creative we are isn’t it?
BH: Yeah, beautiful things come out of this.
DS: And we are so creative in our avoidance.
BH: So we should wrap up. If I were to summarize what I have learned about EMDR from my discussion with you, I would say given that EMDR is taught in two weekends, that if we are referring people to EMDR therapists we ought to know for sure that they hold EMDR as a tool to be an adjunct to the therapy that they are doing as opposed to the main event. In my own EMDR therapy I could go four weeks in a row without doing any EMDR – working through the stuff. And it would occur to me that if I just kept blasting through, moving my eyes at rapid speeds I would be off the track. I’d lose my way.
DS: Well, Shapiro tries to set up more context. The actual eye movement section is only one part of an eight step context. They will only train people who are already licensed therapists. They clearly state that there is a responsibility and that’s why they require a certain amount of training and experience before you can be trained in EMDR. What I don’t think is emphasized in the training is how much the context really matters. Good EMDR therapists will spend a lot of time making connection there and describing and setting up a really good context and then introduce this element. And then when things start to resolve or heal or process, they don’t just keep doing EMDR eye movement repetitions for the sake of that. This is the way I would value it. It’s not just about a technique or method or a protocol. There’s a huge context and there’s a lot of other activity on both sides. That’s what I think would make a good EMDR therapist or any kind of therapist for that matter.
BH: And that would be a good thing
to say to your client who is seeking out an EMDR therapist.