My supervisees often bring a question to supervision about being stuck with the EMDR Processing. It can feel difficult to recognise; but to use the train metaphor,  it feels like the train is not moving or it’s slowly chugging along, losing it’s energy and momentum. This can happen a lot in sessions and there are many things you can do to help.

You might feel like the processing is going nowhere. That you just keep going round and round in circles, and you are not seeing any progress with the client. 

In part 1 of this blog series ( I talked about choosing the clients and memories to start our EMDR journey with. If we start off with clients who do not have too many other complex issues we can really develop our skills in these unblocking techniques so we don’t make the mistake I made and forget to use the simple unblocking techniques!

Sometimes, when you are trained in a model and have learnt about complex interventions, you can forget the simple strategies, (or is that just me?) Our first though might be about cognitive interweaves (I have provided a webinar on this topic so email me if you want to find out more info), about ways to work with dissociation, our mind goes here as we have probably done training in these areas. But I think this is a level up from what we should try initially.

We often talk about how we get into bad habits once we have mastered a new skill (take passing our driving test as an example!!) and this rings true when I think about my EMDR journey. It really strikes me how much I had forgotten the basic unblocking strategies. In 2018, I decided to train to be a facilitator on the EMDR training courses. I got to be retrained in EMDR by listening to the training all over again and I have loved this journey. I was shocked that I had almost forgotten the first strategies to try when we are stuck with processing!  I know I am the type of person that continues learning and the more complex interventions I have learnt had seemingly taken away my standard skills. HONESTLY, KEEP THINGS SIMPLE GUYS, THERE’S NO NEED TO OVERCOMPLICATE THINGS!!

So one of the first unblocking strategies that we talk about is CHANGING THE DIRECTION OF THE BILATERAL STIMULATION so if you’re doing horizontal eye movements make them diagonal. Speed up the eye movements. CHANGE THE MODE OF THE BILATERAL STIMULATION, switch from eye movements to tapping.

I love it when I come off a training session and literally apply something I have learnt straight away. But back in my next clinic, when we got struck, instead of offering an Interweave I changed the direction of my light bar and it made such a difference. I was so cross with myself for forgetting this. It’s almost as if it’s so simple that I had dismissed it as too easy.

I now will frequently make these changes when we are stuck or a little slowed down in the processing. And, it works, it does make a difference!!

Clients may often get stuck in one system. When we start the metaphorical train we will ask clients to notice what they’re thinking; notice what they are feeling; notice what’s happening in their body. So if a client is constantly feeding back in one system and nothing seems to change you can redirect their awareness to another system. If they’re constantly giving you a body sensation for example ask ‘what does that make you think’, of course remembering that our aim as always is to keep out of the way as much as possible. 

Sometimes it can help to really laser in on things. So if there’s a particular point of the trauma memory, you might want to say ‘What do you want to say to that person’, this can all help in moving that train forward.

I always think about the window of tolerance on our EMDR journey. If clients are above the window of tolerance and too distressed by the memory, we can use distancing techniques. We could project the memory onto a video screen and give the client the remote control, make it black and white, turn down the volume etc.  All little things to make the memory not as intense as it was so that processing can continue. 

Stuckness doesn’t mean it won’t work, there’s plenty we can try to move things forward!


Peter B McCaffrey · August 30, 2020 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for this. I’ve been doing EMDR for a while and find that I need to revisit the basics from time to time.

    admin · September 12, 2020 at 7:17 am

    Yes exactly, it really enhances our work

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