- Kristy McConnell, R. Psych.
EMDR was, as, is Song
I've been thinking about how the structure of an EMDR session is much like the structure of a song; to see how, continue reading. If you're curious about EMDR, have a look at EMDRIA's video that describes what it is and how it's used to treat trauma and painful life experiences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pkfln-ZtWeY
It has now been two years since my practice as a therapist was profoundly altered. This occurred when I attended EMDR training in Tempe, Arizona facilitated by the incredible Sarah Jenkins. I've realized that the passion I have for this therapeutic art form is swiftly rooting itself deep into my experience of walking alongside incredible souls, who have the courage, strength, and vulnerability to share their story with me.
Music is also an intertwined part of our human experience. Humans are unique in comparison to other mammals in our ability to make music from our collective experiences. EMDR is another way that humans can retrospectively make new meanings from stories told. Daniel Levitin, in his book This Is Your Brain on Music, suggested that “music communicates to us emotionally through systematic violations of expectations.” It is the space between the notes, or the breath that the singer takes between gut-full expressions, that you feel the pain, the joy, the longing. And then, just when you think you've got the tune figured out, it takes you to another place, one you couldn't have expected. The processing of traumatic events in EMDR takes place during processing, the time where the client and therapist are not saying anything, but the rhythm of the bilateral stimulation is the shared space between the meaning that is made. EMDR takes us through the song of a person's experience where cultural, societal, and individual thoughts and expectations play games with the person's felt sense of it all. A song is comprised of verses, the chorus, and the bridge, much like EMDR takes us through the person's past and present, in order to look towards a hopeful future.
The Verse: Meaning in the Memory
The verse of EMDR is the story. We all have experiences in our lives that have shaped who we are. The formidable events are touchstone memories that sometimes cause pain and suffering. In EMDR, the verse is the part of the song that needs to be processed; taken apart and broken down into phrases of melodies that reveal images, emotions, and body sensations within. The verse becomes the foundation from which the rest of the song rises up from. Will I survive? Am I worthy? Am I lovable? Can I trust? Can I let it out?
The Chorus: Thought, Body, and Emotion
The chorus is the realization of that touchstone memory. It is the connecting into that rawness of what the trauma left behind: I can't stand this. I have no control. I'm shameful. This embodied sense of it all is where the song takes you deep into expression. In EMDR processing, this is when we let the spaces between the notes and between the words, create the meaning. As the movements go back and forth, the brain takes us through the different progressions. Sometimes both the listener and the musician are not sure how it will end because it has to be felt and linked together to the verse.
The Bridge: Clarity and Renewal
Finally, there is the bridge. In a song, this is where the repetition of the chords and melodies shift. The lyrics sound similar, but somehow take on a different form. The bridge can bring a sense of calm, peace, and cohesiveness to the narrative that was told. This is where clarity comes from distancing from the rest of the song. There is new awareness and growth. The bridge is not always the part that draws you into the song, but like EMDR, it is the simple message that often needs to be heard, felt and expressed in order to heal. I am safe now. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am strong. I can be myself.