EMDR Clinicians Only
In order to be good trauma therapist, it is crucial to understand dissociative phenomena. Having no memory for the first 12 years of your life can be very disturbing. While we don’t know each other it sounds like you may suffer from dissociative amnesia. These kinds of events only happen when you have suffered through multiple traumas.
But you can’t get to them directly by using the active trauma processing phases of EMDR. These are eight phases that make up EMDR treatment. Phases three through six, named Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, Body Scan, are used judiciously by the therapist to help the client release the pain of traumatic memories that they have the ability to retrieve. Dissociative amnesia by definition means that there are traumas that are not able to be retrieved initially. Much work needs to be done in phases one and two before active trauma work can begin. EMDR is not a method for memory retrieval. It seems to me, by your report, that you therapist did not spend enough time in the first two phases of EMDR.
Phase 1 called history taking and evaluation is designed to facilitate the recognition of conscious traumatic memories that are put on a treatment plan so that you in the clinician can determine what memories you wish to reprocess (meaning release the pain from). Having such a long amnestic time period is a red flag to any seasoned trauma therapist of any stripe.
Phase 2 of EMDR is designed to help the person develop all needed coping and self soothing strategies so that the person is ready to reprocess old traumatic material. Phase 2 can last for a session or two, or up to a year or two. One of the issues that Dr. Shapiro mentions is that a firm therapeutic relationship must be established in order to do trauma work. This doesn’t mean that you like it therapist, or therapist likes you. It means that the two of you have set goals, discussed the tasks each one of you needs to be active in, and by agreeing to both tasks and goals of therapeutic bond begins to develop. One issue that it sounds like you therapist missed was the issue of creating safety for you before starting the active phases of trauma work.
Part of safety means talking things out until memories do start to surface, and/or taking the necessary steps in dealing with someone with a dissociative disorder. There are many strategies, I’ll just mention one. There is a technique called Frasier’s Dissociative Table Technique. This procedure is used to help someone with a dissociative disorder recognize that they have different parts (as we all do). Optimally All of our parts work together, only in this case there are parts that are protecting you from things that have happened during your first 12 years of life. Without creating safety by using those protective parts as allies to help the wounded child part no good work can be done.
It seems to me that EMDR is not the problem. It seems that you’re therapist did not understand how to deal with you dissociative problem. As a result EMDR was misused and you suffered as a result. I’m sorry for your pain. If you ever do decide to try working with the trauma therapist again let me know what part of the country you are in and I will help you find someone who is competent in trauma and memory, as well as any number of different kinds of trauma therapies. While I do think EMDR practiced by someone who understands dissociation is your best bet, somatic experiencing, sensorimotor therapy, internal family systems, structural dissociation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, are all reputable forms of treatment. Please remember this above all, it’s the quality of the therapeutic relationship as well as the clinical judgment of the seasoned clinician that will make the difference in any form of therapy.
That is why when I train people in EMDR I spend a good deal of time helping them understand how the therapeutic relationship affects the work in all eight phases. I also spend a good deal of time lecturing on have trauma affects memory, how different kinds of attachment problems may need modifications in the standard methodology, and have different kinds of dissociative disorders need to have a much different approach when thinking through, and using EMDR methodology.