Bypasses in EMDR Therapy

Noticing is the bright yellow line in the center of the road of EMDR Therapy.  A client that struggles or resists noticing is unlikely to move efficiently in the direction of healing.  But, noticing sucks for most people with trauma.  It really, really, sucks.  Clients may find ways—intentionally or not—to bypass the distress of noticing.  Bypasses usually happen in the first third of a reprocessing session and they often occur on the thought channel.  Most of us would rather notice a warm or nurturing thought than a distressing body sensation, an unpleasant emotion, or a frightful network of memories.  The thought channel may attempt to provide a bypass around many forms of awfulness.  Such process may be adaptive in other contexts, but EMDR Therapy is about noticing the wound.  Bypasses enlist comfort in the place of noticing.  When deep healing comes in EMDR reprocessing, it comes to you and it rarely comes in the form of a thought during the first few sets of a reprocessing session.

People of faith often have access to a remarkable set of resources.  They are also accustomed to utilizing those resources when they feel a certain way.  The snap to a spiritual resource may occur so effortlessly and naturally that it may appear as the next link in the chain of noticing.  When this occurs too soon in a session, the client may be self-comforting (going to a resource) instead of noticing what is wounding about this experience.

Many bypasses organize around a slogan on the thought channel.  A few common ones are:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.” [Therefore, I don’t have notice the wound because this was supposed to happen to me… therefore I should just let it go.”]
  • “It wasn’t that bad… a lot of people have it a lot worse.” [Therefore, my trauma isn’t serious enough to notice… it was just a small thing that happened to me.]
  • “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  [Therefore, I am powerful and largely uninjured by this experience because of my faith.]

I often direct the client back to target with instructions to notice the wound and to try to avoid going to a comforting resource too soon or using strategies to minimize the wound.  I often remind clients:

In EMDR, we simply interact with a memory and notice whatever comes.  We don’t push anything, pull anything, calm anything, actively seek anything, try to make sense of anything, or run from anything.  We simply notice.  It is through this noticing that deep healing comes.

One thought on “Bypasses in EMDR Therapy

  1. Oh wow – the number of times a pastor hears those very “churchy” comments! The denial of the pain that is likely present because the person has apparently been taught that faith is only about accepting an unattainable standard! I have been spending a bit more time recently affirming that doubt is normal and okay.


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