Correct Visual Stimulation Is Essential For The Effectiveness Of EMDR
Without a doubt, rapid eye movement is the key element of the EMDR method
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an extremely effective method which is used in therapy as well as in coaching. The crucial key element of the method is the processing of stressful memories through rapid eye movements.
Stimulation by auditory stimuli or touching of the shoulders or knees is also occasionally used. Ultimately, however, visual stimulation (inducing fast eye movement in the client*) is probably the most effective form of stimulation. Without the intervention of rapid eye movement, processing would be difficult. Neither auditory stimulation nor “tapping” are as effective, in my experience of over 10 years.
But even with visual hemispheric stimulation, caution is required. Incorrect execution of fast eye movement can reduce or even prevent the effects of EMDR.
What has to be considered when performing fast eye movement during an EMDR session?
Supervision with coaches and therapists repeatedly shows that complications in sessions with clients are often accompanied by the incorrect execution of rapid eye movement.
Which aspects of visual stimulation need to be carefully considered?
The following parameters have a decisive influence on the effectiveness of EMDR intervention with rapid eye movement:
- Duration of eye movement: If eye movement is performed too briefly, stressful memories cannot be processed or are processed incompletely, increasing strain on the client. In such a case, repetition of the stimulation by rapid eye movement is necessary in order to continue the process initiated and ultimately lead to a satisfactory result, which is the well-being of the client.
- Speed of eye movement: It has often been observed that eye movement is carried out much too slowly. Even if the client has difficulties in performing rapid eye movement at first, it is still necessary that eye movement is performed quickly and smoothly. In most cases, the flexibility of eye movement improves after a short time. The speed of eye movements varies from client to client, and so each client should choose the highest speed they are comfortable with, in order to support the process in the best possible way. If eye movement is carried out too slowly, the processing of the stressful topic can become more difficult, with the EMDR process coming to a standstill.
- Range of eye movement: The range of eye movement refers to the outer markings to which the eyes are guided alternately to the left and right. These outer markings differ from client to client. If the range is too narrow, the effective process is likely to be impeded.
- Frequency and repetition of eye movement: The processing of the stressful topic is accompanied, in the same phase, by multiple repetitions of rounds of eye movements. Again and again, the client focuses on their subject, perceives their emotions and traces their body sensations, in order to process them again with fast eye movements. As soon as the client has finished the fast eye movements, they should answer the question “What is happening now?” However this appears to them, they continue with it and begins working through it again. This cycle of the process is repeated until the client feels little or no stress. Also, if the process is stopped too early, there is a high risk that the client will get stuck in the process.
- Mistakes such as head movements, which reduce or even prevent the movement of the eyes
The above 5 points are obvious sources of error. Faulty execution can destroy the effects of an EMDR intervention with fast eye movement. Therefore, in EMDR therapy or EMDR coaching, it is the therapist’s or coach’s responsibility to control visual stimulation with rapid eye movements. For this purpose they guide the client by waving before their eyes. Usually, they wave their hand with two fingers stretched in front of the eyes of the client, who should follow with their eyes. The therapist or coach chooses a distance that is comfortable for the client.
The therapist or coach usually controls fast eye movement
The therapist or coach thus ensures that the fast eye movements are correctly applied, with regard to duration, speed, eye movement range and repetition. They also make sure that the client does not move their head. Observations show that it is almost impossible for a strained client to perform fast eye movements correctly without an external impulse.
If it were so easy to carry out the fast eye movements correctly, an external guiding stimulus could be dispensed with. A prompt such as “please move your eyes now!” would be sufficient. However, this does not work! Even in a stress-free state, it is difficult for EMDR trainee therapists or coaches to guide the fast eye movements correctly. It is almost impossible for the client, in their emotionally charged situation, to control the correct execution of their eye movements.
Hardly any client would be able to perform the eye movements correctly. As a result, countless clients would be disappointed and firmly believe that EMDR does not work.
In self-coaching with EMDR, an external stimulus is essential
Especially when self-coaching with EMDR, the self-user that must execute their fast eye movements correctly in order to achieve the desired effects. To make matters worse, in self-coaching there is no coach available who could point out these mistakes.
During development of the EMDR self-coaching method, it quickly became apparent that visual stimulation had to be controlled by an external impulse in order to avoid mistakes. In self-coaching, the self-user goes through the 6 steps of EMDR self-coaching alone. They also perform the eye movements at the specific moment, as per the instructions.
There is no question that, at this moment, the fast eye movements must be carried out correctly and repeatedly: i.e. fast, flowing, with sufficient range and sufficient duration. Without external stimulus, the user would have to guide their own eyes movements over a fairly long period of time, with frequent repetitions. At the same time, however, they should perceive their inner changes regarding their subject, emotions and body sensations.