By Susanna Kaufman, MA
The messages EMDR therapists communicate about EMDR therapy matter. They are the first opportunity to get those dealing with trauma the help they need. How can we create simple, effective, and genuine messaging for EMDR?
Why Does Messaging Matter in EMDR Therapy?
Clear messaging in EMDR therapy creates transparency. It allows clients to understand what they are getting into easily and helps clarify how EMDR therapy helps people feel better. Here are six tips for EMDR therapy messaging.
1. Know Your Audience
Effective messaging includes knowing what type of message your listener needs to hear (Osgood, 2018). A client may need a different message than a colleague. One client or colleague may be more familiar with language around trauma or EMDR therapy than another. Tailor your approach to target your audience’s needs.
Clients often need information about trauma and how it affects our brains, bodies, and nervous systems. Explain how trauma can affect someone, especially those developmental years, and how we can heal or make meaning from our trauma. The ACEs study and ACEs-affiliated resources like Nadine Burke Harris’s Ted Talk can be helpful, as well as building a solid relationship, building phase 2 resourcing, and building knowledge on nervous system responses, such as Deb Dana’s Resources on Polyvagal Theory. Have one or two go-to resources regarding the efficacy and research base of EMDR therapy to give to clients. Share (confidential) examples of ways you have seen other clients benefit from EMDR therapy. And be prepared for clients who have done their homework too.
A professional colleague likely needs less information about trauma and more information on the research base that grounds EMDR therapy, as well as an outline of the AIP theory that guides it. Digging into related coherence theories like Ecker’s memory reconsolidation that emerge in the field can be helpful – each modality can help us learn more about the others. Other professionals will likely be interested in hearing how you’ve seen clients benefit from EMDR therapy and if EMDR has affected your therapy outcomes as a clinician.
2. Keep Messages Simple and Authentic
The nature of messaging is changing. Clarity, authenticity, and intention are now valued in communication over jargon. Decades of consumerism have led to a marketplace saturated with options and opinions while creating a consumer with a radar for false intentions and scams. Clear and authentic language stands out in an overwhelming array of promises and choices. Steer clear of biased over-selling language or vague magical innuendos, as they can be viewed with less credibility. For instance, instead of “This therapy may sound like hocus pocus, but it works,” try “EMDR therapy activates our natural healing process and can help people recover from traumatic events.”
3. Stay Relatable
Similarly, plain language allows for better comprehension. At the policy level, there is a systemic trend toward creating an accessible language for the public, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) demonstrates here – Our Promise To You: Writing You Can Understand. Audiences find services more credible when they understand the message. In a therapy relationship, this is most clearly demonstrated in clear, informed consent.
One tool that helps keep language simple is the Gunning Fox Index. The Fog index compares syllables and sentence lengths to estimate the education level a reader would likely need to undergo to understand the text. One example:
- Statement A has a Fog score of 25.6 (postdoctoral degree earner): EMDR therapy is an integrative psychotherapeutic modality for those with abreactions to traumatic experiences.
- Statement B has a Fog score of 11.5 (high school junior): EMDR is a form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences.
Clear messaging keeps you relevant and might even help your social media account, as simple and authentic messaging is key for a digital presence. Short, clear messages are great meme material, which can keep on giving by educating your sphere of influence or that of your client.
4. Be Transparent
Transparency around trauma and the EMDR therapy process is important. Trauma can impact everyone, and EMDR therapy resolves trauma. Clients want to know why they are having difficulties and how this therapy will affect them. With increased attention to trauma and trauma-informed care in our culture, clients are likely familiar with the idea that trauma creates uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Be well-informed and willing to talk about trauma and its effects. Clinicians can find information in many places and training programs, including SAMHSA’s comprehensive Tip 57: Treatment Improvement Protocol: Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Ongoing Adverse Childhood Experiences research has shown us how common trauma can be: 61 percent of adults have experienced a traumatic experience by age 18. Listen, believe, and validate the impact of trauma. Share how trauma impacts our nervous systems, felt sense, relationships, and ways of interacting.
In addition, bring the client in on the EMDR process. Share the EMDR phases and what occurs during each phase as a way to educate and inform clients. Some EMDRIA resources that can help:
- EMDRIA: Introduction to EMDR therapy
- EMDR Therapy’s 8 Phases Infographic
- EMDR Therapy’s 8 Phases Blog Post
5. Point to the Evidence Base
EMDR therapy has an extensive research base established over the last 30+ years. This is a good thing in a mental health landscape where legitimacy is often *only* validated in a rigorous research process with published treatment outcomes. However, this vast EMDR therapy research landscape can get overwhelming quickly. In addition, not all research is good, and not all is open access or available.
- Treatment Guidelines. EMDR therapy is listed as a treatment for PTSD and other trauma and stressor disorders by well-known and influential organizations. These treatment guidelines are based on reviews that evaluate the research of established evidence-based mental health treatments.
- Journal of EMDR Practice and Research. The EMDR field has a dedicated journal. All except the last four issues of JEMDR articles and issues are open access. EMDRIA members have access to the latest four issues of the JEMDR.
- Frontiers of Psychotherapy Open Access articles on EMDR. Significant studies have been published as part of these open-access research collections on EMDR therapy.
- Most recent EMDR Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews. Meta-analyses analyze evidence-based research and are often used for data in treatment guidelines for standardized care. Systematic reviews summarize research on a specific question or topic. In medical or healthcare, these studies often assess the strength of evidence present in treatment in the field.
6. Share Your EMDR Therapy Success Stories
EMDR therapists’ clinical experience will speak volumes. Sharing messaging based on direct experience is authentic and compelling. Speak from the heart. Be willing to share why you chose to pursue EMDR therapy training, what benefits you’ve found as a therapist, and what rewards your clients have seen since you’ve begun implementing EMDR therapy in your practice. Be true to who you are as a therapist. Sharing your enthusiasm for EMDR therapy creates connection and meaning.
Creating clear, genuine messaging regarding EMDR therapy will help instill confidence and build an informed understanding of the therapy.
Ms. Kaufman works with content at EMDRIA, spearheading the Focal Point blog posts while working toward her full LPC licensure in Texas. This post is adapted from a previously written article in Go With That Magazine, 24(3), 2019.
CDC. About the CDC-Kaiser ACE study. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html
Cotraccia, A. J. (2022). Trauma as absence: A biopsychosocial-AIP definition of trauma and its treatment in EMDR. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 16(3), 1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-2022-0011
de Jongh, A., Amann, B. L., Hofmann, A., Lee, C. W., & Farrell, D. (2019). Status of EMDR therapy in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder 30 years after its introduction. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 13(4), 261-269. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3188.8.131.521
Ecker, B. (2015). Memory reconsolidation understood and misunderstood. International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy, 3(1), 2-36. doi:10.12744/ijnpt.2015.0002-0046 https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/memory-reconsolidation-understood-and-misunderstood/
EMDRIA. Treatment Guidelines. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/emdr-and-ptsd/
Grimmet, J. & Galvin, M. D. (2015). Clinician experiences with EMDR: Factors influencing continued use. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 9(1), 3-16. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3184.108.40.206
Lipke, H. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): A quantitative study of clinician impressions of effects and training requirements. In F. Shapiro (Ed.), Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures (pp. 376-386). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
London Trauma Specialists. (2016). Brain model of PTSD – Psychoeducation video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb1yBva3Xas&list=PLsggux27JbAbngOm7bKhRDkPdCXAVS4or&index=3
MediaCo-op. (2015). Trauma and the brain. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-tcKYx24aA&t=9s
Osgood, C. (2018, July 10). Communicating with impact: Ten elements of effective messaging. Forbes Women. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2018/07/10/communicating-with-impact-ten-elements-of-effective-messaging/?sh=6070e3541805
Solomon, R. M., & Shapiro, F. (2008). EMDR and the adaptive information processing model: Potential mechanisms of change. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2(4). Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3220.127.116.115
SAMHSA. (2014). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 57. https://www.samhsa.gov/resource/ebp/tip-57-trauma-informed-care-behavioral-health-services
TEDMED Talk. (2014). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime?language=en
VEN EMDR. (2016). How EMDR works? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKrfH43srg8&list=PLsggux27JbAbngOm7bKhRDkPdCXAVS4or&index=8
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