A Workable Metaphor for the Therapist Role in EMDR

I view my role as an EMDR therapist as an assistant navigator in working with clients to reprocess trauma.  This can be an elegant metaphor.  It suggests that one of the primary purposes of our relationship is movement.  What I bring to the relationship is experience related to how the roads connect from where the client is to where the client wants to go.  I have made journeys similar to this in my own life and with many others.  I have learned some helpful and essential things from those experiences.  While a lot of the early work looks like I take a primary role, I’m careful to stress the reality that I am an assistant on the client’s journey.

My ability to assist initially comes in the form of information and planning.  My own experience and the collective wisdom of the road teaches that several things need to be in place before we head out.  First, we need a reasonable estimation of where we are right now (without a good assessment of our current location, we’ll never know which way to head out).  Second, we need to know where the client wants to go (what healing and recovery looks like from her perspective–and how we will know when we arrive there).  Third, we need to assess and gather the things that the client will need in terms of resources to make that trip safely and efficiently (make sure that the tires are properly inflated, a full tank of gas, a route, and emergency cash).  For each of these things, we discuss and negotiate any differences.  I will defer and accommodate when deferral and accommodation are needed.  Again, I’m the assistant.  This is not my trip.

Once the client is ready to move, I help guide the client to the initial road.  Once the client is on that road, I pivot to a position behind the client and my ability to see what comes next is immediately obscured.  Despite the fact that I can’t know for certain what is coming next, one of my primary roles is to ensure that the client is on a workable road that goes in the direction of the destination (one that isn’t a dead end, isn’t a long diversion, or doesn’t goes in a circle).   Since I can’t see straight ahead, I have to provide guidance based on the scenery from the side.  When the client encounters an obstacle or block, it’s my job to detect this and to efficiently assist navigating around it (despite the fact that I may not always know what the obstacle is until we have mostly cleared it).  Much of my job is to provide comfort and support as the client moves down the road.  It’s not my job to pick the roads.  The client must pick the roads because only the client can see what is “coming up.”  If the client wants to take the next road, I may advise about which way to turn (i.e. what part to notice, again based on experience, intuition, and scenery).

EMDR places me in an uncomfortable position sometimes.  I may be tempted to take the wheel.  I can be a controlling back-seat driver.  EMDR requires that I check these impulses and get out of the client’s way.  Over and over, I get out of the way.  I’m forced to trust again and again this process–this network of pathways inside us.  I’ve made enough trips to see the wisdom and the elegance in that.  Every day I get to accompany people on the hard work that they do in their own recovery.  Most of that time, I’m simply following behind.  I’m validating.  I’m serving more as a witness than a guide.  I’m encouraging.  “Notice that.”  The road may be rough and bumpy, but the journey brings more beauty than I can describe.

4 thoughts on “A Workable Metaphor for the Therapist Role in EMDR

  1. I love your posts. The descriptions of the road and the therapist guiding as the client journeys through is exactly how I have felt in my EMDR sessions. Keep posting your insights.


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