Attachment-Focused EMDR Therapy – A Targeted Approach To Healing Relational Trauma
by Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Psy.D., LMFT
In recent decades, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has proven to be a powerful treatment method to help people find freedom from painful emotional states or traumatic memories that are keeping them from living their ideal life.
While EMDR is often the treatment of choice for those who suffered major traumas—such as wars, disasters, accidents, assaults, and childhood abuse—it’s also a very effective therapy for healing “smaller” traumas (subtle and repeated instances of shame, humiliation, rejection) that manifest as anxiety or depression symptoms, phobias, relationship difficulties, self-esteem issues, performance anxiety, and creative blocks.
The tricky part is that you may not even be aware that you’re repeating the same old story over and over again. Traumatic unprocessed memories get stuck in the right brain. And when those memories are triggered, it can make you feel and act as if you are in that old place without knowing why.
You may hear that you need to “live in the present” and “just be positive,” but this kind of well-intentioned advice can actually leave you feeling even more isolated and misunderstood. Overcoming traumatic or painful experiences isn’t as simple as choosing a new mindset. Fear, doubt, shame and self-criticism can quickly take over, leading to anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, and creative blocks that only add to your concerns.
EMDR is a revolutionary approach that incorporates bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, or sounds) to help the brain process and integrate upsetting memories. It heals the pain and the disturbing memories connected to traumatic experiences. At the same time, it also frees you from challenging feelings and beliefs, distressing body sensations, and trapped emotions so that you can enjoy life without feeling stuck or controlled by these post traumatic symptoms.
Many trauma-related problems benefit from a specifically adapted trauma therapy method of EMDR called Attachment-Focused EMDR (AF-EMDR).
What Is AF-EMDR Therapy? And How Does It Work?
AF-EMDR is a targeted, research-supported, and empirically validated form of traditional EMDR therapy. It combines the latest scientific insights and research on the neurobiology of relationships and psychotherapy with the EMDR treatment framework. This attachment-based modification of EMDR therapy is particularly helpful if you don’t respond to the traditional EMDR treatment format or if you have chronic relational trauma that interferes with you being successful in your relationships or career. Relational trauma is emotional trauma due to unhealthy relationships.
Perhaps traumatic experiences during your childhood have negatively affected you, and now it’s difficult for you to form close relationships as an adult because those distressing memories got stuck in your brain, and every time they’re triggered, it takes you back to that painful place. Or maybe you’re experiencing performance anxiety, creative blocks, or problems in your career, are depressed all the time, anxious, or just don’t feel fully alive—but you may not realize that these symptoms are related to some past experiences or trauma in your life.
AF-EMDR therapy not only helps you access these unprocessed emotions, which other forms of therapy often can’t tap into, but it also gets to the root of unhealthy emotional states faster. And instead of just treating the symptoms, it addresses the root of your difficulties. It has the ability to break through the trauma and get to the difficult memories to help you process them in a healthy way, creating a positive emotional state. For instance, if you lack self-esteem, don’t trust your own abilities, or don’t feel safe in certain situations, AF-EMDR can help you function with more confidence and assurance. It doesn’t just reframe emotional pain, either—it actually heals it. And that kind of deep healing can endow you with a feeling of joy, acceptance, and connection in your life.
Attachment-Focused EMDR sessions give priority to the importance of your interaction and relationship with your therapist to create empathy, safety, and trust. In sessions, I typically use a combination of talk therapy and various aspects of EMDR. With the help of AF-EMDR, you’ll be able to finally step outside the trauma box and feel real emotional freedom. What happened to you isn’t erased, but you no longer function from that emotionally painful and conflicting place. Instead, you have access to who you are. Ideally, you will be able to tap into your inert healing ability and move from feeling stuck in “this is what happened to ME” to seeing the experience as “something that happened in the past.”
When Trauma Blocks Access To Your Abilities and Talents
A very unique group of individuals suffering from relational or developmental trauma are those involved in the creative arts—performers, musicians, artists, screenwriters. The high-pressure environment of their careers is difficult to manage as they frequently deal with rejection, abandonment, and more.
Perhaps you’re a creative who has experienced physical/emotional abuse or neglect during your developmental years, and the trauma this created is affecting your ability to function as an adult now. Maybe you have depression, performance anxiety, or a creative block. Or you may be dealing with feelings of shame about your trauma, which often gets triggered by rejection.
I’ve made it my special focus to help those in creative and artistic careers to move past complex emotional and developmental trauma. I’m particularly drawn to “true artists”—people who don’t see artistic expressions as just a job, but it’s their life energy; they have to create to feel alive!
Throughout my 18 years of practicing psychotherapy, my deep appreciation for my clients’ creative energy has helped me to relate and connect with them on an intimate level so that they felt safe and comfortable bringing up anything they needed during treatment sessions. By utilizing AF-EMDR therapy, I’ve been able to help these clients reach a place where anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, and creative blocks no longer negatively affect their careers. Once their trauma was processed in a healthy way, they could finally access who they truly are and showcase their abilities and talents with confidence to increase career opportunities and success. I would like to help you do the same.
My Personalized Approach To AF-EMDR Therapy
While my goals change according to your individual needs, I always approach therapy with the idea of making it an in-depth, rich, emotional experience that helps you thrive in the long-term.
Perhaps you need help with functioning through anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, or removing a creative block. Or maybe you simply don’t feel happy with your life or career and you feel a lingering sense of emptiness, like something isn’t working. I will adapt my approach and goals to your unique journey as we identify what’s not working in your life, get to the root of the problem, and break through what is keeping you stuck.
I’ve been trained in attachment-focused EMDR techniques at the Parnell Institute, where I developed an appreciation for just how amazingly powerful the AF-EMDR therapy method is in trauma treatment. As I worked with a variety of clients, I was able to see first-hand that EMDR can even help those people who were getting stuck when using other modalities. And I realized this training would give me the ability to add an extra layer to my treatment method, which could help my clients even faster and more effectively than my previously established approach.
In our sessions, I may blend AF-EMDR techniques with other methods. Most likely, we will start with a more traditional therapeutic approach, and we’ll incorporate EMDR therapy if we hit a plateau. Depending on your situation, though, I may decide to include EMDR much earlier in the treatment process.
The more traditional approaches I use—such as psychodynamic psychoanalytic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques—are all based on the neuroscience of psychotherapy. I found that these modalities can work very powerfully together with EMDR.
The psychodynamic psychoanalytic approach is very useful in creating the healing client-therapist relationship that lies at the base of AF-EMDR treatment. It can also get to the root of your trauma and help motivate long-term, stable changes. However, sometimes, achieving changes with this modality alone can take too long; bringing EMDR into the mix really speeds up the process. CBT, on the other hand, is a more direct method, giving you concrete tools you can use to cope with trauma symptoms in the present moment.
Finally, while I can refer you for a medication evaluation if one is needed, my aim is to help you heal without the use of medical drugs. In rare cases, taking medication early on can help alleviate the most distressing symptoms of trauma, but I generally reserve pharmaceuticals as a last resort.
Find Lasting Healing From Relational Trauma
If you’re ready to break free from the limitations chronic relational or developmental trauma has placed on your career as a creative artist or performer, please contact me to find out what AF-EMDR therapy can do for you.
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