What You Should Know Before Starting EMDR
Part Two: Negative Beliefs
EMDR (a treatment developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s) addresses trauma, both in the form of single incidents and persistent negative experiences. For a more in-depth look at how trauma develops, see part 1 of this 3 part series. As I discuss in the first part, over time the brain can associate repeated negative experiences with certain negative core beliefs. These negative beliefs can develop from intentional or unintentional messages from others, or from life experiences. Everyone has some positive beliefs and some negative beliefs about themselves. When negative beliefs become distressing enough that they prevent a person from living in the way they would like to, then those negative beliefs can be addressed with EMDR.
As part of the process of EMDR, your therapist may help you explore these negative beliefs by making what is called a target sequence plan. A target sequence plan consists of identifying one negative belief and writing down what experiences feed into that belief. If a person has multiple negative beliefs then they would make a separate target sequence plan for each negative belief. These can serve as a roadmap for you and your therapist while doing EMDR. This is not the only way to target these negative beliefs, but I find it helpful to help organize a very large and overwhelming feeling into more bite-sized pieces.
Sometimes you may feel distressed but cannot connect those feelings to a negative belief. In that case, the first step is to explore what negative beliefs you hold. There are many ways to do this, and your therapist can assist you in the process. It can be as simple as listing distressing incidents or issues and looking for common threads between them. Often negative beliefs have to do with desires for control, feelings of responsibility or worthlessness. Negative beliefs can be at the core of feelings like guilt, isolation, or vulnerability.
If you know what negative beliefs you have but you do not know where they came from, then the next step is to identify incidents that embody those beliefs. The identified incidents are used in EMDR as jumping off points to process trauma. If there is one event that is clearly the cause of a negative belief, it can be like walking in the front door. More often it is not that obvious and other incidents must be identified as a way of climbing in the window into the same place, the same feeling, and the same belief. This is an important part of the therapy process that can be explored with your therapist when you are ready to confront and explore these negative beliefs and experiences.
This process varies with everyone. Some people may have one overarching negative belief that is fed into from many experiences. Others may have many negative beliefs that take time to pick apart and distinguish. People and brains are complicated, so it only makes sense that this process and these emotions are often not as linear as it may seem on paper but making a roadmap to organize these strong emotions can help make them less overwhelming.
Despite efforts to make these strong emotions less overwhelming, beliefs about oneself can be scary to confront directly. Therefore, in part 3 I will address the importance of emotional regulation while doing EMDR.
This article was provided by RaeAnn Teichert; therapist at the Center for Couples and Families.
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