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People used to freak out about solar eclipses. They didn’t have sophisticated astronomical knowledge to make sense of what they were witnessing, so they made up explanations based on what they were familiar with. The ancient Egyptian myth was that the serpent god of chaos was swallowing the sun god. The ancient Greeks believed an eclipse was a sign that the gods were angry at the king. Medieval Europeans had a better understanding of astronomy, but popularly saw eclipses as ill omens of terrible events to come. With advances in science, we now understand the celestial phenomenon we are witnessing and can retain our awe and excitement about the upcoming solar eclipse without experiencing unnecessary fear.

Developmental Learning Theory and EMDR

What does this have to do with learning EMDR? Well, in his Theory of Cognitive Development, psychologist Jean Piaget described learning as a process in which learners first try to assimilate new information into an existing view or framework. When the new information represents a big departure from a previously held understanding, the learner may temporarily experience disequilibrium or cognitive conflict. Given the right circumstances, eventually the old schemas shift and transform as the learner begins to accommodate and integrate new perspectives.

Experienced EMDR Basic Trainers, Facilitators, and Consultants see this process of assimilation, conflict and accommodation unfold over and over again as clinicians move through the process of encountering, understanding, and embracing EMDR’s Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) Model. The EMDR Basic Training process is intense, and there’s so much to absorb and practice.

EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy, so some of the approach can feel familiar to clinicians coming from a background in CBT or other modalities. At the same time, the AIP Model is distinct and represents, for many therapists and clients, a significant departure from CBT, talk therapy, and other “top down” therapeutic approaches. For example, in EMDR Therapy, therapist skill and fidelity to the model is very important, but the therapist is not considered the agent of change. Instead, it’s the client’s own inherent, neurobiological processes that transform troubling memories, enabling them to be reconsolidated and stored in a more adaptive and benign state. That’s a real paradigm shift, and once you see it in action it’s hard to return to business as usual.

Still, new EMDR therapists (and clients) can understandably find it difficult and uncomfortable to “get out of the way” and trust the process as they move through the phases of EMDR Therapy. They can feel awkward at first when following scripts and procedural steps. There’s often a strong pull to default to the familiarity and comfort of previous models. But with the support of experienced EMDR training faculty and knowledgeable Consultants…along with a lot of tenacity and a little bit of humility, the old framework begins to shift and clinical skills start to shine even brighter than before.

Clients undergo a parallel developmental process at an accelerated speed as they process information in session. They access maladaptively stored information (the old paradigm) while staying present with current reality and awareness (physical, cognitive, emotional, and somatic). There’s often a cognitive dissonance as these two perspectives clash during EMDR’s reprocessing phases. Ultimately, the shadow passes and those old experiences are integrated into a more adaptive, present day perspective. The new perspective shines through in the form of healthier new insights, emotions, and behaviors outside of therapy. The progress clients make can eclipse what was possible in the past.

Transformational Process

Learning new concepts and skills can be intimidating. It’s a risk to leave the safety of the familiar on the path to something better. Whether you’re exploring a whole new modality, moving up to a more advanced level of practice, or pursuing a credential like Certification, there’s often a period where things feel murky and confidence dims. We encourage you to stay with it – keep practicing, and reach out for guidance or consultation when needed. Attend a free Study Group or Peer EMDR Consultation Group. Consider an advanced training or EMDR Certification series in order to really develop your expertise. No special glasses are required…and chances are, you’ll come back brighter!