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Build a strong, connected, and dynamic love life, where you feel seen, empowered, and held. At Wellstone Center for Love and Relationships, we use revolutionary, evidence-based techniques, including the Gottman Method and Emotionally Focused Therapy, to help you understand your relationship, work through challenges, and get the love you deserve. It’s time to reclaim your love life, let's start today!
EMDR for Couples
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment designed to eliminate trauma symptoms and promote well-being and adaptive functioning. In this process, clients focus on specific memories of experiences while undergoing bilateral stimulation, which can come in the form of following a moving image with the eyes, tapping, or listening to alternating sounds that create a bilateral effect.
EMDR can be done in-person or via telehealth, and helps clients to process difficult past experiences and make space for new ways of responding in the present. EMDR is valuable in treating a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, and trauma-related symptoms (Shapiro, 2017; Linder et al, 2021).
How Does Couple's EMDR Work?
EMDR has been shown to be effective in helping couples enhance their connection, gain insight into patterns, reduce emotional reactivity, heal attachment wounds, and gain understanding of the deeper meaning beneath perpetual conflicts (Linder et al, 2021).
Since EMDR often addresses underlying issues related to bonding and attachment, having both partners present during processing may increase connection and understanding in the couple. It allows the supporting partner to witness and support the processing partner as they work through difficult experiences and memories. EMDR processing is often done in session with both partners present (conjoint processing), but in some cases Shapiro indicates it is preferable to have partners process privately and share insights in the conjoint setting (2017).
EMDR has been found to pair well with Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and attachment-based modalities, including the Gottman Method (Linder et al, 2021). Your therapist will work with you to integrate EMDR couple therapy into your relational journey in a way that makes sense given your unique goals, needs, and circumstances. EMDR is completely voluntary and not required as part of ongoing couple or individual treatment.
What Are The Risks Associated With Couples EMDR?
As with any therapy modality, EMDR Couple Therapy presents some unique risks and challenges. The goal of couple therapy is to deepen understanding, improve communication, and help clients create a relationship they love. At times however, as couples dig deeper into relationship issues and needs, they may find that the partner's need are too different or relationship issues are too engrained for successful repair. In these cases, partners may actually opt for separation rather than continuing traditional couple therapy. In these cases, a couple may decide to work to successfully navigate a separation through therapy or to discontinue therapy all together. Couples coming in unsure if they want to continue with their relationship may benefit from discernment counseling, where they can explore their issues and the viability of their relationship in the safety and comfort of the therapeutic environment. Relationship decisions are personal and complicated, and Wellstone Center for Love & Relationships will not try to force couples to remain together if partners have determined that separating is in their best interest. The bottom line is that counseling may not lead to relational repair, and that there is always a risk of relationship dissolution in the process of couple therapy, depending on the unique goals, needs, and desires of the couple.
The process of EMDR may be distressing and activating for some individuals. When considering integrating EMDR into your therapeutic process, please note the following:
(1) Distressing unresolved memories may be surface through the use of the EMDR procedure. As partners become more aware of underlying thoughts, feelings, and memories, they may experience stronger feelings about relational issues in the present.
(2) Some clients experience reactions during the treatment sessions that neither they nor the administering clinician may have anticipated, including but not limited to, high level of emotional or physical sensations and an amplification of difficult symptoms during the treatment process. EMDR is completely voluntary and not required as part of my ongoing treatment.
(3) Those with limiting or special medical conditions (pregnancy, heart condition, ocular difficulties, etc.) should consult their medical professionals before participating in this therapeutic method. By signing below, I confirm that I do not have any medical or other conditions that would interfere with successful use of EMDR in my therapy process; I understand that I should inform my therapist, stop EMDR processing, and consult with my doctor immediately if any medical concerns arise.
(4) Wellstone Center for Love & Relationships offers EMDR exclusively through telehealth. Bi-lateral stimulation will be offered through a moving dot or other electronic means. By signing below I confirm that I understand the benefits and limitations of completing EMDR via telehealth and agree that I feel telehealth EMDR would be beneficial in my treatment process at this time. By signing below I confirm that I understand that I may discontinue EMDR via telehealth at anytime and be referred to an in-person EMDR provider or alternative provider.
(5) For some people, EMDR may result in sharper memory, for others fuzzier memory following the treatment. EMDR may not be appropriate for individuals involved in a legal cases where they need to offer testimony. Individuals should consult with their clinical team, medical providers, attorney, and appropriate legal professionals prior to beginning treatment if there is any risk of court involvement.
(6) In the process of couple therapy, it can be beneficial to have the therapist meet with individual partners either periodically or regularly for individual sessions in addition to joint couple therapy sessions. This allows the therapist to check in with each partner, gain deeper insight into each partner's perspective and unique concerns, support individual processing, and support each partner in addressing individual issues that are impacting overall relationship functioning. The couple therapist will work to ensure that equal amounts of time are offered to each partner in individual sessions to ensure a balance in therapeutic alliance between partners. Clients may benefit from working on personal concerns through individual sessions combined with joint sessions as it gives a unique opportunity for partners to work on themselves and the relationship simultaneously, and to deepen understanding, dyadic support, and functioning within the committed partnership. There are some limitations to working on issues during individual sessions, including the fact that the couple therapist is primarily focused on treating the relationship, the couple therapist must maintain a balanced alliance with both partners, the couple therapist is not able to keep major secrets that impact the relationship from the other partner due to it causing an unbalanced therapeutic alliance, both partners must agree to have individual sessions and be in agreement of working on personal issues that impact the relationship in individual sessions, and both partners must be involved in individual counseling with the therapist between sessions in order for individual sessions to continue.
(7) Both partners must willingly agree to participate in EMDR couple therapy. EMDR is completely voluntary and not required as part of ongoing couple or individual treatment. Either partner can choose to discontinue EMDR processing at any time, and if this occurs, the partner continuing EMDR may need to accept a referral to an outside individual therapist to continue their work.
(8) EMDR may highlight relational issues, and in some cases, may lead to increased discontent with relational patterns, and the insight gained during EMDR may lead to one or both partners to decide that they want to make changes in the relationship and/or move toward relational dissolution. There is no guarantee that EMDR couple therapy, or couple therapy in general, will improve your relationship or ensure that partners say together.
(9) There may be content revealed through the process of EMDR that is sensitive and that the processing partner does not wish to share with their relational partner. In these cases, it may be necessary for partners to be referred to an external provider. Partners reserve the right to discontinue couple EMDR or transition to individual EMDR at any time.
(10) Couples therapy and couples EMDR may not be appropriate in situations where certain cooccurring factors exist, including active addiction, domestic violence, suicidal or parasuicidal behavior, and unmanaged eating and mood disorders. In these cases, partners may be referred for individual treatment to manage symptoms and process issues prior to continuing with couple therapy. If you have a significant cooccurring factor coming up, please discuss this with your therapist so you can determine what the best course of treatment will be for you.
Is Couple's EMDR Right for Me?
Are you noticing perpetual arguments, flooding, or reactivity in your relationship? Do you feel that the past is interfering with your ability to feel happy and engaged in the present? If so, Couple EMDR may be a good option for you. Please speak to your couple therapist to discuss your unique circumstances and explore whether integration of this or other modalities might help you move toward your goals!
Linder, J. N., Niño, A., Negash, S., & Espinoza, S. (2021). Integrating EMDR and EFT To Treat Trauma In Couple Therapy: A Literature Review. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 32(4), 251–272. https://doi.org/10.1080/2692398X.2021.1954862
Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.