The #1 Therapy for Trauma and Mental Health (an interview with Deborah Korn and Michael Baldwin)

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Struggling with Anxiety? EMDR Therapy Could Be the Key

Are you looking for new ways to manage anxiety? This blog transcript dives deep into EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a powerful technique for healing from trauma and alleviating anxiety symptoms.

EMDR Therapy: An Alternative to Traditional Counseling for Anxiety

While traditional talk therapy can be helpful, some people find it doesn’t fully address the root causes of their anxiety. This blog explores EMDR therapy as a potentially life-changing alternative for those seeking relief from anxiety.

Through real-life experiences and expert insights from Dr. Deborah Korn and Michael Baldwin, this transcript unpacks the science behind EMDR. You’ll learn how EMDR works differently from traditional counseling and how it can help you process past traumas that may be contributing to your anxiety.

Is EMDR Right for You? Learn From Real People’s Stories

The blog features a powerful story of healing from childhood trauma through EMDR therapy. This firsthand account illustrates the potential of EMDR to transform lives.

Considering EMDR Therapy? Get the Information You Need

By the end of this blog, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of EMDR therapy, including its effectiveness and how to find a qualified EMDR therapist.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:00:08] This is Dr. Nicole and Hadlee and we are Holistic Inner Balance and our mission is to help you learn how to be your own holistic health expert. My particular passion is learning about the juxtaposition between anxiety and trauma. We’re really fortunate today because we’re going to be joined by two incredible experts in their own areas of trauma and what is the brain doing when we go through trauma and how do we actually heal from trauma? So today is a conversation you’re absolutely not going to want to miss. We’re going to be talking to Michael Baldwin and Deborah Korn and the book that we’re going to be focusing on is a recent publication of theirs, Every Memory Deserves Respect EMDR, The Proven Trauma Therapy with the Power to Heal. I have this book here, and I’m telling you, I couldn’t put it down. It’s beautiful. There’s lots of really inspirational quotes, beautiful images, stories, and personal testimonies. It’s written in a way that is accessible, where you can learn the rigorous science, you can see it applied to real human experiences, and there’s checklists.

There’s all sorts of wonderful stuff that hopefully you can walk away with, with a better understanding of why you feel the way you feel and what to do about it. So we’re going to be talking specifically about EMDR and so much more:

I can’t wait to get started. Sit back, relax, get a piece of paper and a pencil out so you can take notes and enjoy the conversation with Michael Baldwin and Deborah Korn.

I’ve been so looking forward to having this conversation. I love your book.

Thank you for the PDF that’s so handy because I like to control search through documents. So I’m like, ooh, what was that? I know how to find the word. And so thank you for that.

Deborah Korn: [00:03:05] The Book feels so nice doesn’t it. Oh it feels nice in your hands.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:03:10] The texture is beautiful. Your images are beautiful. The writing is beautiful. Like it’s just so I’m really I’m super happy we’re getting to have a conversation today.

Hadlee: [00:03:22] I’ve been telling my husband all about it, like for the past few weeks. I’m like, you don’t understand how amazing this therapy is. It’s so cool.

Deborah Korn: [00:03:32] Had you had either of you known much about EMDR prior to reading the book or learning about our message?

Hadlee: [00:03:43] I had learned a little bit about it. I knew what the therapy was and how it worked and everything. I’ve read some different books. I didn’t realize just how effective all of the research has shown it to be. It’s just so cool. I get so psyched about it.

Deborah Korn: [00:04:12] Yeah, 30 years in, we really have a substantial evidence base at this point in time, and not just for PTSD, but it’s really accumulating across many different difficulties. People treating medical disorders. It’s very exciting.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:04:28] I was trained by Ana Gomez. Do you know her? So I was trained by her. And then I’m dear friends with Randy Webb. I’m sure you know Randy.

Anna, she’s like the most gentle spirit. Like you go into her office. She has the biggest bookshelf, and it’s just filled with toys. And I remember I went into her office one day and she was just like, look at this one and look at this one. And it was just so fun.

Deborah Korn: [00:05:03] Yeah, I adore her. Yes. Yeah. Oh that’s great.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:05:07] Deborah, where are you located?

Deborah Korn: [00:05:10] I’m in Cambridge, Mass.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:05:11] You’re in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Got it. And then Hadlee, you’re on the west coast and then I’m Michigan and Michael where are you at present. You said.

Michael Baldwin: [00:05:19] In New York.

Dr. Nicole Cain: [00:05:19] And you’re in New York okay. Yes. We’re just like all spread out and we’re all sharing in the beautifulness, I love it.

Hadlee: [00:05:27] I actually just visited New York and Cambridge a few weeks ago in October.  I loved it. It was beautiful in the fall too. It’s amazing.

Dr. Nicole: [00:05:39] I was curious how you two (Michael and Deborah) found such a beautiful, synergistic writing style, because I see both of your voices in this book conveying this message to the reader. And so I was kind of curious about that process.

Michael Baldwin: [00:05:55] Debbie, why don’t I start and you can pick up. I think for both of us, actually it starts with the publisher. One of their primary objectives was to produce an accessible book for the lay public, because these topics are well known topics in the clinical community, but not necessarily in the lay public community. So accessibility in terms of writing style and how we presented things and the use of imagery was right up there, number 1 or 2 in terms of what the objectives were.

I had never met Debbie before. I first had a call with her and then we met, I think maybe a month or so later, because she’s very, very busy. She uses an expression, called bashert, which means it sort of faded. And I think the synergy and the shared goals and excitement for this book just kind of happened for both of us.

Deborah: [00:07:02] We engaged in a process where,, we had someone interview me so I could just speak very naturally about the work that I do and my passion about EMDR and tell stories about clients. I interviewed Michael, and then we took all of those transcripts and from there, we started to write a book. As we got clearer and clearer about the story that Michael wanted to share, it started to trigger thoughts about it, started to trigger commentary that I could offer about his story, that could kind of bring the workings of EMDR to life. So it was just this, as you said, a synergistic process that kind of took on a life of its own once we started dialoguing with one another, and once we started putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

Dr. Nicole: [00:08:00] So beautiful. Hadlee, I feel like I’ve, I’ve been running with this. And I could probably, like, just steamroll along. But I want to give you an opportunity to ask questions.

Hadlee: [00:08:11] I want to just go to basics for the audience here. Can you just give us a very basic level explanation in case no one has ever heard of EMDR, I would love to have you explain what EMDR stands for other than Every Memory Deserves Respect.

Deborah: [00:08:43] I’d be happy as we continue to talk and kind of walk through what someone might expect if they go into EMDR therapy. First, let me just give the overview,

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. So let me break that down a little bit. It’s a real mouthful. Desensitization refers to the reduction of distress, fear and anxiety. Reprocessing refers to the re-evaluation or the restructuring of thoughts and beliefs and the transformation of one’s sense of self relative to past traumatic experiences. It’s about really moving the past into the past so you can live more fully in the present and get a sense of who you are in the present.

Now then there’s the eye movement component. Basically, Francine Shapiro, the developer of EMDR, accidentally discovered that purposely moving your eyes horizontally back and forth while focusing on a traumatic memory leads to a reduction in the vividness and the emotional intensity of the memory. She developed an effective protocol for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma related problems using this, what we call bilateral stimulation, back and forth eye movements. She published the very first research study on this approach in 1989. She worked with rape survivors and Vietnam combat veterans.

[00:10:20] Hence the name Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. And basically, EMDR is a memory focused psychotherapy that helps people deal with the impact and the legacy of trauma and adverse experiences in their lives. It’s based on the idea that psychological problems are related to a failure to adequately process traumatic experiences and memories, and these unprocessed, traumatic memories that are kind of frozen or locked in our nervous system continue to affect how we perceive things, decisions we make, reactions we have, the beliefs we hold about ourself and others and then present day triggers come along. Triggers meaning anything that resembles the original trauma in some way, shape or form. These triggers come along and activate these unprocessed traumatic memories, leading to symptoms that cause ongoing distress.

In EMDR therapy, we help clients access and activate their unprocessed, traumatic memories with a set of focused questions and then we jump start the brain’s information processing system using this bilateral simulation. With EMDR reprocessing, a client’s distress eventually decreases and relevant adaptive information located in other parts of the brain. Helpful present day perspectives gets integrated. So by the end of treatment, folks are able to arrive at a place where they can truly endorse the belief, the idea it’s over, I’m safe now, or there’s a shift in the way they feel themselves rather than feeling like I was bad or it was my fault.

[00:12:08] They can arrive somewhere like I was only a kid doing the best that I could. It wasn’t actually my fault. We see these shifts in thoughts and feelings and behaviors, physical sensations in the body, and spontaneous movement toward more positive thinking, more manageable feelings, and a significant reduction in distress at a body level.

Probably the most relevant thing that I could say on a program like this is that the theory behind EMDR argues that the mind can heal from psychological trauma in the same way the body heals from physical trauma. We’re all physiologically geared toward the achievement of optimal health. If you’ve been physically injured and left with a wound, the body will naturally and spontaneously mobilize. If your arm gets broken, the body knows what to do to start moving. There may be some impediments that have to be removed or dealt with, like an infection, for example, but once you deal with those blocks, the body knows what to do.

Hadlee: [00:13:28] I love that. I love the way that you put that. Where the analogy between our bodies heal themselves and I want to say our minds heal themselves, but really our minds are also part of our bodies and so our bodies are healing themselves.

Dr. Nicole: [00:13:51] I was just going to ask about the adaptive mechanism of the formation of trauma. When we’re thinking about how we have this wise mind, this wise body, and we’re going through aversive or traumatic experiences, how this process can actually be adaptive. I hear a lot of patients when they’re learning about this, there could be so much shame of, oh my gosh, I couldn’t cope with it and now I have trauma, and now I have to go do EMDR to recover from that trauma. So I was wondering if you could speak on that.

Deborah: [00:14:26] When we are exposed to traumatic experiences, something very different occurs at the brain level compared to everyday experiences. When we go through every day, so-called normal experiences, non traumatic experiences, the mind is continually, regularly processing information. We go to a party, we see our friends, we eat good food, we dance a little, we talk a little. We go home that night and we reflect on the experience. Maybe we talk to our partner about it. Maybe we have a dream about it that night. Maybe we write in our journal about it, but by the next day we’ve processed it through.

When we go through a traumatic experience, something different happens because of the overwhelming nature of trauma, because we may not have the supports in our life to deal with it, because it’s bigger than something we can handle. The mind takes it and tucks it away. It’s held in another part of the mind, so to speak. So the parts of us that have to get up and go to work the next day, the parts of us that have to take care of the kids can continue to function while the mind holds this constellation of experiences with feelings and thoughts and physical sensations. It gets held in its state specific form, separate from that daily functioning. And there is absolutely an adaptive aspect to that.

Dr. Nicole: [00:16:18] And Michael, I heard that in your story, how you described your experiences and especially your experience in the book with your mom and that desire to take care of her and to protect her and mother her, in a sense. And so that was what you needed to do at that time, given the resources that you had to survive. And so I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about that.

Michael: [00:16:45] So that’s an interesting thing you should bring up, because part of my dilemma from birth was getting nothing, no attention. In fact, it was my therapist that referred to it as willful neglect for my mother. When I got towards my lowest point, I was overcompensating by doing anything and everything for her, hoping that she would finally give me the attention and love that I’ve been yearning for since I was pre-verbal. That just was never going to happen. There is one episode, the last time she was in New York, I realized on the third day when she was going to the airport that she never asked me a question about my life or what am I doing, or am I going out with anybody, never any substantive question ever came up that she asked me. I’m realizing this and then at breakfast was when the straw that broke the camel’s back. She said, Michael, you haven’t even noticed my new blouse. You haven’t said one word about my new blouse. I’m realizing at that point that I was just to give up the ghost. I had taken her to two live shows and to the polo restaurant and everything I could imagine to do in New York and for nothing.

Unfortunately, that ended up in a pretty serious episode because I was out late, drank to the point of blacking out, fell on my forehead. I had seven stitches the next morning.

It’s funny, the therapist I was seeing at the time said, I can’t help but notice that this is the same place where all your concussions took place in your forehead, where it seems like that’s sort of ground zero. Even as a child, just always falling on your head.

So that particular episode in respect to my mother, and paying way too much attention, was kind of my last gasp attempt to get something.

Deborah: [00:18:56] I remember Michael early on when we started talking about your history and your story, I shared with you a phrase that really rang true for you, which was, attachment at all costs. We know that we’re biologically driven to attach to our caregivers from the very first moment of life. And I think Michael really had to lock away a lot of experiences from earlier in his life in order to maintain that attachment. And in terms of continuing that quest to get that love that was first and foremost, and other experiences really got pushed into the background until he finally arrived in a therapy where he had the safety and the guidance to begin to remember, to begin to process and to begin to piece together the pieces of his life in a way that made sense for the very first time.

Hadlee: [00:19:58] So, so powerful. And the book is incredible. If you’re wondering more about that, definitely go check out the book.

Would you also just explain to us a little bit about trauma? I know people are learning more about this, but if people are like, well, I don’t have like a big trauma in my life, we have like big T traumas and little T traumas. So can you explain a little bit about that just for anyone who doesn’t quite understand that?

Deborah: [00:20:34] Trauma is a part of life. It’s more a part of life than ever before. I think 70% of adults have supposedly experienced at least one significant trauma in their lives. In our book, we define trauma very broadly. We say that trauma is any experience that feels overwhelming, triggers strong negative emotions like shame or terror, and involves a sense of powerlessness or intense vulnerability. Trauma is both objective and subjective. It’s both the event and the experience of the event. No two people are going to experience the same event in the same way. What might be traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for the next. It’s not just what happened to you, but also what happens inside of you.

We know that the greater the number of traumas that you’re exposed to, the greater the psychological and the physical toll. We know that trauma is cumulative and that it’s developmentally bound, meaning, the younger you are, the earlier you are in your development, the more vulnerable you are to the after effects of trauma.

We do talk about big T trauma and little T trauma in the book. When we refer to big T trauma, we’re talking about events that most anyone would consider traumatic. You know, what you might call shock traumas, where the person perceives a potential threat to their survival or the survival of loved ones. Here we’re talking about childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse, rape, physical assault, perhaps the traumatic death of or murder of a loved one, combat related trauma, perhaps devastation related to an environmental disaster or witnessing violence.

When we refer to little T traumas, we’re talking about experiences that people might not necessarily recognize. As you said, it might not recognize as traumatic or events that might not necessarily meet the official diagnostic criteria for a so-called trauma. Examples would be criticism, covert bullying, experiences of betrayal, experiences involving humiliation or failure or aloneness, subtle microaggressions, as well as discrimination or hostility related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, appearance. Little t examples in adulthood might be a divorce, or losing a job, a difficult move, or the discovery of a partner’s affair. Although again, that could be considered a big T trauma for some people. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who you are, what you’ve been through before in your life, what kind of support you have. Other examples in childhood of little T traumas might be feeling ignored, feeling different, unable to measure up, feeling powerless or unable to control the chaos in your family if you grow up in a so-called dysfunctional family or an alcoholic family.

And the last thing I’ll say about trauma is that it involves both commission and omission. And I say commission, I’m referring to the things that happen to you. For many people, something happened to them in their lives, right? There was an assault. There was emotional, physical or sexual abuse. They were in a car accident. They had a traumatic loss. Something happened to them. But for many people, trauma involves omission and this refers to situations where things were supposed to happen but didn’t, situations where someone was not properly protected, where they weren’t listened to or cared for or valued. So here we’re talking about experiences of neglect, as Michael mentioned, deprivation, abandonment, alienation, discrimination. Those are the kinds of traumas that often get missed when someone enters therapy and a therapist says, have you experienced trauma in your life? Have you ever been abused? But they don’t ask, do you have memories of being profoundly alone? Growing up with a frightening parent or a parent who was frightened themselves? Do you recall an utter and profound sense of alienation? Therapists tend not to ask about omission. They ask about commission.

Dr. Nicole: [00:25:40] I really appreciate you giving language to that. There’s a book out with Bruce Perry and Oprah, What Happened to you? And they’re emphasizing the commission, the commission of what happened to you. And I really, really appreciate you giving us the word omission. This just happened last week in my clinical practice, I had a patient who says he’s rock bottom ten out of ten, suicidal despair, very, very deep, dark place and he sat down one day and just started googling what is emotional neglect. And it was as though, like the light bulb turned on.

He turned a corner because suddenly he had language for something that had been giving him enormous amounts of suffering, but no one had asked him about before. So I was sitting in this meeting with him, and he was like, Dr. Cain, I was emotionally neglected. It makes sense that I’m suffering. And so that’s like what you described in your story, Michael, a lot of that trauma of omission. I think it’s really important and that for me, that’s a huge take home.

Deborah: [00:26:57] I’ll let you tell the story, Michael. But Michael tells a story of being put out in his backyard in diapers and bare feet and nobody attending. And you want to share that story, Michael?.

Michael: [00:27:14]  In fact, I shared a photograph that I found from my sister of me at age two in that backyard in a diaper, barefoot, where I was just left no supervision. I find my way out into the back hall alleyway and wander down to the intersection in Denver, Colorado. A neighbor would find me and bring me back to the front door of the house and say we found your son, two years old, in a diaper, wandering around the intersection. I mean, absolutely true story. What’s so funny about this is, we would laugh about this story growing up. My mother would laugh. So here’s a mother who was supposed to be a caregiver so completely mis attuned to her children. I’ll speak for myself needs and entitlements in terms of attention and celebration and mirroring and being cared for, etc. completely mis attuned.

The early work of my therapist had explicitly having to do with buried feelings, oceans of feelings of longing and loneliness and neglect, which were profound that I was completely unaware of.

Dr. Nicole: [00:28:42] I resonate with that. I found when I was doing my own work and doing my own EMDR work, that that was a big thing that was coming up for me, as it was a lot of like forsaken feelings and loneliness and memories of being by myself when I was way too young and the woods and just like off, like The Boxcar Children. And so I very much resonate with what you’re describing.

Michael: [00:29:22] The external facade that I would put out there for the world to see the happy, perfect, successful people. When Debbie interviewed me, the precursor to that was me writing my story for Debbie prior to the interview. One whole section was about the creation and the maintenance of that facade. I just think back at the time I was in Boston or New York, the lengths that I went to, the things that I would do, this complete and totally overwhelming obsession with status and achievement and putting out a facade of happy, successful by all these superficial markers. By the time I got through with writing it, it was just exhausting.

Dr. Nicole: [00:30:45] Are you familiar with the Enneagram? If I can ask, are you a three?

Michael: [00:30:54] My younger sister, she’s a development coach and she’s doing an Enneagram course now. I thought they had the letters, but I think she said I’m a seven or an eight.

Dr. Nicole: [00:31:14] Fascinating. Because as you’re describing that, I’m like, yes, yes, yes, me too, me too. And I’m a three. So it’s all about Hadlee and I like to unite in our threeness where we find value, inherent value from success. Like, if I’m not successful in achieving, then I don’t have value.

Michael: [00:31:30] Well, in my case, the flip side of that, it’s sort of like always having to keep the plates spinning. Any comment from a client that maybe I didn’t do something as well as I could have, any suggestions, I would go completely off a cliff. Failure, worthless. Going to run out of money. I’ll be the guy on the sidewalk with a blanket in the snow in New York City with no money and completely off a cliff. There was no stability because nothing was coming from the core, me. It was all this dissociated, externalized facade that I had created to protect against this conviction that I was worthless, I was not deserving of love and attention. The deduction of a pre-verbal infant.

I remember in the doctor’s office having cramps in his office. I remember my somatic memories of not being fed, no one coming to feed me, just sitting in this crib in this room, and. And I’m by myself. I don’t know if anyone’s ever coming.

Dr. Nicole: [00:32:49] And the body keeps the score like feeling that coming back up.

Michael: [00:32:55] Yeah. It’s like what is happening to my body. What is going on. I don’t know what’s happening right now.

Hadlee: [00:33:02] Your mind has no control over it.

I’m curious because in the book you talked about how you had gone to therapy for, I think 22 years, it was talk therapy, it was CBT. There were a few other ones as well.

Michael: [00:33:30] Short time intensive dynamic psychotherapy. It was over about a 22 year period. A total of seven doctors, my current therapist is the eighth, so I was really trying. At one point I would fly once a month from Los Angeles to Cambridge to see this doctor, and I would see him for five hours at a time. And then the geography got reversed, and I was in the East coast, and he was in Los Gatos, California, and I’d fly out there and go to his house once a month for five hours. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying. It’s just none of them offered any substantive relief. Number one. Number two, none of them helped me understand the connection between my present day adult symptoms and traumatic experiences in my past.

When you step back and you have a head above water, what we refer to in the book as a sitemap. I could see exactly sort of like bird’s eye view. Oh, that was my mother’s role. That was my father’s role. That’s the role my brother played. That’s why this happened. Which is really in a way, your ticket to get out of jail because you can finally see what was going on in your developmental history.

Hadlee: [00:34:58] I want to learn more about why EMDR was so much more effective than these other modalities.

Michel: [00:35:11] None of the therapists that I had seen ever talked about trauma. None of them were EMDR therapists or knew anything as far as I could tell about EMDR. Debbie was not my therapist. Doctor M was the first EMDR therapist I had ever seen. From the very first time I saw him, it was different because it wasn’t talking about experience. It wasn’t intellectualizing about experiences. It was experiencing both somatic and emotional. When I said earlier about these just waves, these currents of longing, I mean, that was intense, I want to say convulsive sobbing, and it’s just coming out. Where is this coming from? And it went on like this, because we did EMDR, every time I saw him over the course of two years. It was like grabbing right onto that third rail of the real emotional experience, of the traumatic experiences that you had at the time you had them. And it goes up and through your body and out, and then you have this, this massive relief. You also understand, oh, that’s why that was happening.

That’s where this sense of dread was coming from that and in my case, it wasn’t until towards the very end that two things that I had plagued me for over 30 years, two recurring nightmares that never changed and were as terrifying the last time I had them as they were the first time I had them finding out through EMDR with Doctor M, were the true source of those nightmares. Your brain’s in this loop trying to say there’s something unresolved here. There’s something unresolved here. Here we are again. And finally being able to go back and find out what those nightmares were trying to tell the conscious, my conscious self and understanding those,  both of which were extremely traumatic experiences. And I can sort of understand why somebody was saying, oh, we’re not sure he can handle this yet, so let’s just wait, because Doctor M knew, I think after the first year he knew what was going on, but he couldn’t tell me. So he had to wait until I arrived. One of the dreams sort of revealed itself in what it truly was. And that led to getting right in touch with the actual event.

Dr. Nicole: [00:38:09] This kind of brings to mind the question that you guys wrote about in the book of implicit versus explicit memories. And so I have a question about that. In implicit memories, you were defining as memories that you can’t consciously recall versus explicit memories are those that you can consciously recall. And so it’s kind of like what you were saying. Michael’s like he may have known within the first year, but you had to come to that arrival yet. And so what I’m wondering, especially as a clinician, is when does this even occur? When is somebody creatively using imagination and metaphor, and when is this like an actual literal memory? Is there a way to discern that? And do people have memories that they have no access to that in EMDR may come up.

Hadlee: [00:39:05] Or does it even matter?

Dr. Nicole: [00:39:11] My analytical brain must know.

Deborah: [00:39:16]  EMDR is not a truth serum. It’s not a lie detector. We know that memories do morph and change over time in our memory. We know that memory is not a perfect science at all. So as an EMDR therapist, when somebody comes and reports something, I don’t judge, I don’t assume, I work with what the client presents with. I educate the client about the nature of memory, and that we are not working with this as an absolute. We’re working with this as what is emerging, what we have to work with. Very often over the course of processing, what comes to the surface, the client’s remembrances shift and change and evolve. I tell people that we’re working toward your own personal truth, your own emotional truth. That’s when people come with certain memories, certain beliefs about what happened to them and they want to know, did this really happen? I take a stance of  being a benevolent caregiver that’s going to be there, that’s going to be at your side, but we’re going to explore together and we’re going to co-create a sense of what happened in your life.

Again, not absolute truth, but some form of emotional truth.

Then there’s folks who come and say, I have all these symptoms, I am doing all these things in my life, I’m choosing bad people to be in relationships with, I keep repeating these patterns that are not good for me, addictive patterns or self-destructive patterns and something must have happened to me, but I don’t remember. We typically start with where the person is. We kind of float back along symptoms, I might say to somebody, well, when’s the last time you experienced this? And they say, oh, just last week I did this and that, say, okay, walk me into last week. What were you feeling? What comes up in your body as you think about it? Are there any beliefs or words that go with the experience from last week? And let’s float back. Let’s just follow that back until you arrive at something that feels similar, right? So we look for memories that perhaps are associated with these patterns, but sometimes we don’t even find anything when we explore in that way. And so we start with what happened last week.

[00:42:07] We target that. We target a feeling, we target a sensation, we target beliefs, and we start there. And that may be the only fragment of a memory that may have been a pre-verbal memory, even. Right? Pre-verbal memories are implicit memories. They’re held in the body. There’s not a narrative or a story that goes with them, but they’re memories just the same and they manifest often as symptoms or impulses or urges. And we work with that. So we bring a lot of flexibility to the work and never, ever jump to assumptions and never propose that we are detectives trying to get to the absolute truth. Our goal in EMDR therapy is to get to a place where people have relief, where they can live their lives fully in the present, and where they can knit the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes some sort of coherent sense. Michael used the term site map. By the end of his therapy, he had a site map. He knew where he was and where he was relative to where he’d been, and he had a sense of where he was going, where he wanted to go from there.

Dr. Nicole: [00:43:28] Hadlee, you had asked the question, I think earlier about what is it like if somebody goes to EMDR therapy, what actually happens?

Deborah: [00:43:39] When people come for therapy, early sessions involve taking a thorough history, coming up with a treatment plan collaboratively. I focus with people on establishing safety and trust within the therapeutic relationship. We work on what we call resourcing or skill building work, if needed, to make sure that a client feels ready to approach challenging emotional material that they’ve got the emotional muscles to do that work. Most people don’t show up saying, I’m here to work on my traumatic memories from age five or age 12. Most people walk through our doors and they say something like, I’m miserable or I’m having trouble at work. I’m having trouble coping. My marriage is falling apart. I’m depressed. Maybe someone in this day and age, maybe people walk through the door and say, I think I’m suffering from PTSD or anxiety. We often, as I said, begin with the client’s current distress and we float back looking for the root of the distress. We search for relevant memories to target, and once a target memory is identified, we might have a treatment plan where we’ve listed many different events, many different experiences, omission and commission across someone’s life that we’re going to address over the course of treatment. But we decide to start somewhere. Typically I start with people around a memory that is linked to symptoms that are causing the most disruptive disruption in their lives, a memory, memory that feels most active or most acute or most related to the current distress.

[00:45:28] We activate that memory through a series of questions, and then we introduce 30 to 60 second sets of eye movements, or bilateral back and forth stimulation to jump start and support the brain’s stalled information processing system. Now, over the years, we’ve discovered that other forms of what we call bilateral stimulation are also effective in reducing distress. So we might have clients track our fingers with their eyes as the fingers move back and forth in front of their eyes, or track a light that moves back and forth. Or we might have them listen to alternating tones while they’re focusing on the memory, or we might tap back and forth on their hands, as they rest their hands in their lap.

By the way, during the pandemic, we’ve discovered that EMDR can be done virtually without difficulty and with equally effective results.

But with every set of bilateral stimulation, the client is asked to simply notice what changes or emerges and to report so clients report images and thoughts, reflections, feelings, sensations. They report on impulses and insights. We encourage them to just notice, to be a passenger on a train, just watching the scenery go by, always staying connected to the present moment, just witnessing from a distance, one foot in the present, one foot in the past at all times. We always stress the importance of this dual attention, staying connected to the here and now as they dip into the past and with every set of bilateral stimulation, we ask, what do you get now? What do you notice? What’s changing? And as I said earlier, no two people process in the same way.

[00:47:23] There’s no supposed to’s. There’s no should’s. We say to clients, whatever comes up, just let it come. And clients remember and they process. They process fear, grief, anger, guilt and shame. They move in and out of confusion and into clarity, and we work to keep the processing body focused. I’m always asking, and where do you feel that? Where is that in your body? Just notice, I remind folks, it’s just a memory. Just keep being a witness, be an observer. And in the course of processing, a client might imagine saying or doing what they never got to previously say or to say or do. They might express their rage. They might imagine themselves running from a scene when in fact they were trapped or they couldn’t run. At the time, they might imagine fighting themselves, fighting as a young little person against somebody bigger and stronger than them, but somehow having superhuman strength. A client might also spontaneously see their younger self and offer compassion and care to help bring something to a level of greater understanding and completion. And with reprocessing, a client’s distress eventually decreases and they eventually arrive at their place where it feels like they have moved the past into the past.

[00:48:56] Their distress comes down, and they’re able to integrate a more positive belief about themselves or the world. It’s important to say that comprehensive treatment involves tackling past traumatic experiences, but also present triggers and symptoms and goals for the future. So we start with the past. We typically try to begin with getting at the roots, pulling things out by the roots, so to speak, we begin with past traumatic experiences if we can identify them. And if that does not clear the symptoms fully in the present or clear the reactivity to triggers, we go in and we target those triggers. Then once we’ve cleared all of that, we move into the future and we work on what are called future templates, which is we ask the client to kind of take those new beliefs about themselves, that new felt sense in their body, and to imagine themselves in challenging future scenes, coping, dealing, being effective. We have them play a movie and we add in the bilateral stimulation as they play that movie and the bilateral stimulation seems to strengthen and integrate that new sense of self. Then we send folks out into the world to try to take on challenges, to return to situations that they previously were not able to cope with, and to take on new things in their lives, to expand their world, and to think about engaging in activities that they would have never considered previously.

Hadlee: [00:50:32] Oh, it’s so cool. I just have chills all over as you explain this. It just makes me so excited for the future of therapy. I would love to hear from you just a little bit more about the research as well, because thinking about moving my eyes back and forth and that’s supposed to do all of these things. It sounds like it’s maybe too good to be true, but really the research shows that it is incredibly effective. So do you want to just say a little bit more about that?

Deborah: [00:51:07] Well, sure. First let me say something about the bilateral stimulation, which sounds so hocus pocus. The truth is we have a lot of research now that substantiates the effectiveness and the effect of bilateral stimulation, particularly eye movements. Basically bilateral stimulation refers to any facilitated stimulation that challenges the client to orient or track laterally, back and forth with their attention, stimulating both sides of the brain. There are over 30 randomized controlled trials that substantiate the positive effects of eye movements and we can now unequivocally report that eye movements, first and foremost, reduce negative emotions, imagery vividness and emotional arousal and eye movements increase or enhance memory retrieval, recognition of true information. The eye movements lead to positive neurophysiological changes and flexible thinking. There are many hypotheses about the mechanisms behind EMDR effectiveness. The one that’s actually gotten the most support in terms of research is called the working memory hypothesis. It suggests that eye movements, as well as other forms of what we call dual attention stimulation, focusing on a memory while engaging in some other activity, not necessarily bilateral, but at the very least, dual attention, require the client to focus on a memory while doing something else. The idea here is that dual attention stimulation taxes the limited capacity of working memory, leading to a reduction in the vividness and the emotionality of a traumatic memory by distracting a client as they are trying to hold a memory at the front of their brain in working memory.

[00:53:13] We see this deterioration of that memory as they engage in other activities.

There’s plenty of other hypotheses I could talk more about. But I also just want to say that I think there’s over 44 randomized controlled trials, RCTs demonstrating the effectiveness of EMDR for PTSD in civilian adults. It’s an evidence based top tier treatment for this condition. It’s strongly recommended as a treatment for PTSD in the treatment guidelines of organizations around the world. So the World Health Organization, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the US Department of Veteran Affairs and Defence, the American Psychological Association, and so on and so forth.

In addition, there’s evidence mounting in support of EMDR therapy for PTSD in children and adolescents for acute PTSD reactions associated with recent trauma, for combat, PTSD for unipolar depression, for chronic pain, and for complex PTSD. And clinically, aside from the research, it’s being used with every kind of diagnosis and issue imaginable, not even necessarily recognized as trauma based disorders. We’re using EMDR with eating disorders, with body dysmorphic disorder, with phobias, with generalized anxiety, with sexual dysfunction, with fibromyalgia, with medically unexplained symptoms, with OCD, even with psychotic disorders, we’re treating people with EMDR.

Dr. Nicole: [00:55:05] Which I think goes into that whole debate between the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM and then what the counselors, therapists and psychologists are saying about adverse events and trauma and the nervous system.

So I’d love to see that being reflected in the DSM one day.

Deborah: [00:55:26] We can hope. We can hope and we can fight. I think that’s right. You know, we have to be mental health advocates and we have to be advocates based on what we’re seeing in our years of clinical experience.

Dr. Nicole: [00:55:40] Transformation is possible. I feel like Michael, you’re a brilliant and beautiful example of that.

As we’re coming to the end of our conversation, I was wondering if you’d be willing to share a story of hope and a story of success for those who are listening that feel like they’re at that kind of rock bottom. I’ve gone to all the therapy and that despair from not getting the results they want.

Michael: [00:56:04] By way of working through EMDR with Doctor M, my trauma history and in my case, a lot had to do with my relationship with my brother, who was my bully growing up. I also had a bully in school, and anyone who’s dealt with bullying knows that you never feel safe. You basically live in a state of terror. By having worked through that, the desensitization of all those  traumatic memories with my brother David and at the same time, almost in an eerie, coincidental way, my brother  started his own EMDR journey, we came together with this interesting nexus.

Right before the book came out, I reached out to my brother and he reached back. I was reaching out because I felt strongly that I didn’t want the book to come out without me telling him about the book. His response was, you can say whatever you want about me. I don’t care if this means that we finally might have a chance to be brothers.

[00:57:35] So in answer to your question and success from EMDR, in my case, this person was terrifying to me up through graduating from high school and I would have had PTSD from my brother. We’d have reunions two decades later and he’d raise his voice, my whole body would tense up, so it was serious PTSD for my brother.

We recently had our first week spent together as brothers in Vermont on the lake for his 70th birthday. So this person who was my bully, from whom I was estranged my entire adult life, I now, over the last year have had a zoom call every Friday. We had our first time together celebrating his 70th birthday and to me, it just feels like a miracle and there’s no way it ever would have happened without my experience with EMDR.

Likewise for him, because I’m now experiencing the adult outside of that crucible of the dysfunctional family we both grew up in that formed who we were at the time, all of us in survival mode. I’m now getting to experience the real David, my brother David, so I can’t think of anything more miraculous than that. And it’s just brought such joy.

We also just went to Paris for six days. He wanted me to go with his two daughters, one of whom was married. We spent six days in Paris in the same Airbnb and had the most spectacular time, and we actually ended up sharing a room and sharing bunk beds like we did when we were kids. And I’m sitting there when David turns the light out and I just know he’s up there. We’re talking for a little bit, thinking, I can’t ever tell him how much this means to me because I don’t think I’m insane or something, but just the nourishment of it. And having wanted it so much since I was a boy and never having gotten any attention or love from him, which I now feel in spades.

Dr. Nicole: [01:00:04] Oh, that’s so amazing. And what a gift that he was doing his own EMDR work as well.

So how does somebody find a good, qualified, trained EMDR clinician?

Deborah: [01:00:22] First and foremost to check out our website. And on our website there are links that will take them directly to the EMDR International Association, which has a find a therapist directory. www.everymemorydeservesrespect.com

There are EMDR therapists in all 50 states of the US and around the world. One of the later chapters in our book talks all about how to think about finding an EMDR therapist. We have a list of questions to bring with you to a first conversation with a therapist. We help people think about what’s important, what are you looking for in a therapist? What are you looking for at this point in your life?

I would encourage people to reach out and they’ll find when they go to the find a therapist directory that there are different levels of credentialing. There are certified therapists, there are consultants. Anyone that is involved with the EMDR International Association is somebody that’s committed to doing this work, committed to learning, committed to offering their patients the best that they can offer them. They don’t only have to see someone who is a certified therapist or a consultant, they can see someone that has EMDR training with lots of years of experience.

Dr. Nicole: [01:02:15] The questions in the book are really good. Definitely buy the book because it’s so helpful to know what to ask when I’m calling a prospective clinician. So thank you for including that.

Deborah: [01:02:26] And I do want to just say that, you know, we’re going through a mental health crisis in this country. Around the world. There’s a shortage of therapists. There are a lot of EMDR therapists. But I just want to say to people, be persistent. If you make a call or make another call or send an email, don’t give up hope. Be persistent. Ask about waitlists. Ask if somebody isn’t available. Ask if they know someone else that’s available. Just don’t give up.

Michael’s story is one of persistence over 22 years. And I just want to urge people, that it is worth the effort to find the right person for you. And they’re out there.

Hadlee: [01:03:09] Absolutely. And so how can people connect with you? How can people buy the book?

Michael: [01:03:16] They can go to https://www.everymemorydeservesrespect.com/

You can buy the book there. You can contact Debbie or myself on the contact form. You can sign up and be a subscriber on the site. And there’s also many interviews and podcasts that we’ve done, mostly that Debbie has done, that are wonderful.

I tell you all the time, she never believes me, I listen to every interview she does and I’m just mesmerized. It’s like I’m hypnotized. I know it’s mesmerized.

Hadlee: [01:04:09] Yes. Thank you both so, so much. Michael, thank you for sharing your heart, sharing your story with everyone. It’s incredible to be able to read the book and kind of go through the whole journey with you. And thank you, Debbie, for sharing your wisdom and your years and years and years of experience. It’s just really wonderful, really beautiful. So thank you both.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.