The COVID-19 Pandemic forced EMDR therapists to find new ways to connect with their clients. How can an EMDR therapist provide EMDR therapy virtually? Is it as effective? How can you secure the client’s health information because of HIPPA? Sharon Rollins, EMDR-certified therapist, trainer, and consultant, details how she implemented virtual therapy with her clients and why it works well for many.
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Musical soundtrack, Acoustic Motivation 11290, supplied royalty-free by Pixabay.
Produced by Kim Howard, CAE.
Kim Howard 00:04
Welcome to the Let’s Talk EMDR podcast brought to you by the EMDR International Association or EMDRIA. I’m your host Kim Howard. In this episode we are talking about EMDR, certified therapist, trainer and consultant, Sharon Rollins about virtual EMDR therapy. Sharon is located in Waco, Texas. Let’s get started. Today we are speaking with EMDR certified therapist, trainer and consultant Sharon Rollins about EMDR virtual therapy. Thank you, Sharon, for being here today. We are so happy that you said yes.
Sharon Rollins 00:35
Absolutely. I’m pleased to do it.
Kim Howard 00:37
So Sharon, tell us a little bit about how you became an EMDR therapist.
Sharon Rollins 00:41
Well, I actually came into it quite accidentally, I was pretty skeptical about any sort of therapy that seemed like snake oil. And I had been doing talk therapy for about five years fresh out of school. But my mother suddenly died. And I began to have PTSD symptoms after that. And I finally gave in and decided to try it out. I’d been doing supportive talk therapy and grief work for about a year and a half with a therapist and the CBT. And the psychodynamic therapy hadn’t been very helpful. So I resorted to EMDR therapy, and had to drive down to Austin from Waco, which is about a 90 minute drive to actually find a therapist at the time who did EMDR therapy, it works pretty effectively and efficiently right off the bat. It resolved the PTSD symptoms and my panic symptoms, but it didn’t resolve the loss, of course, because you can’t take away the person that’s missing. But all of those guilty, irrational thoughts, the panic, the insomnia, the flashbacks, just resolved immediately after the session. And after that, I decided it would be unethical for me to continue practicing therapy without knowing how to use EMDR. effectively. So I went and got the training. That was in 2000.
Kim Howard 01:56
Well, you’re not the first person on this podcast to say that they heard about it through a colleague or they discovered it in grad school, and they thought it does kind of stuff. Yes. Let me find out more. And then they were like, No, I’m not sure. And then they got into a training and they were like, wow, but at the training they were sold.
Sharon Rollins 02:14
So yes, it was necessity. Absolutely.
Kim Howard 02:17
What’s your favorite part of working with EMDR?
Sharon Rollins 02:21
I love how it sort of taps into the client’s own innate system of healing. Back when I was only doing talk therapy, I would worry about people. I’d lie awake at night worrying about how to help them. And I’d hear their horrific stories. And I just be sitting there trying to figure out some kind of solution. But with EMDR, they’re their own brains are the ones that do the work. And they come up with these really incredibly insightful and creative solutions. And those solutions fit better for them than anything I could have drugged up on their behalf. I simply get to facilitate and witnessed the healing by following the protocol and being attuned as another human being. I found that when people share their horrific experiences, I don’t feel as stressed or lay awake at night worrying about how to help them, because I trust that we’re going to be able to find a way together. And in that sense, I suffer far less from vicarious traumatization than I did as a talk therapist who had to come up with something brilliant to try to fix people’s ways of thinking their brains did it all on their own.
Kim Howard 03:30
Yeah, that’s what we get from other guests too, is that I just recently interviewed somebody and asked him how he managed his self care. And he said, ‘Well, you know, because of the nature of EMDR therapy, we, we do listen to the information, but we’re don’t contain it in ourselves as much as we used to with traditional methods. So although I do need self care, it’s not as intense as a need as before.’ And so that’s good to know. Because I can’t imagine a world without therapists, right? I can’t imagine a world where you couldn’t go talk to a neutral party, about what’s bothering you and get some kind of solution for your life.
Sharon Rollins 04:08
Yeah, and I find that the stories are, I mean, they’re still vivid and horrific. But when I know that there’s a hope and a solution and healing that’s coming, I can sort of just trust the process and allow it to unfold and I have a sense of hope. And so the images don’t seem to stick as much in my mind, as they did when I was just listening and hoping for the best.
Kim Howard 04:33
Right. Now, let’s talk get into why you’re here today.
Sharon Rollins 04:36
Kim Howard 04:37
Let’s talk about virtual therapy. So what successes have you seen using EMDR therapy virtually?
Sharon Rollins 04:44
I’ve had quite a lot thanks to the pandemic. You know, I’ll say that it’s not for everyone. And many people are reluctant to try it for fear that they won’t be able to build the same report. I found however, that EMDR can be quite effective. And really, it’s just a incredible process for people when they are brave enough to try it virtually, I have found that as long as the client has a private space, and a sufficient device with the sufficient internet bandwidth, that they’re able to reprocess the experiences just as easily as if they were here in my office. I’ve had several clients tell me that they feel they have added privacy due to being in the comfort of their own home and space. And they aren’t as distracted by noises or people coming and going like they are in my office. I work in a clinic with quite a few people coming up and down the hallway and overhead announcements out in the hallway. And here, they’re able to put on their headphones and to zone in on the session with me with the comfort and privacy of their own home. And to not have so many distractions, you know, there’s an occasional lawnmower outside, but that happens here as well. And when administering the eye movements, I moved myself mostly out of the screen, maybe I’m peeking in just a little bit from the side, but I moved my hand back and forth in front of the camera. And then I moved myself back into the screen to check in with them between sets. And so it allows them just to clearly focused on those eye movements. And then to hear my voice and see my eyes attuned to them when they check in. If they use either auditory or tactile stimulation, then they can do the stimulation with their eyes closed if they need to, and move into their own space personally like that, and then open their eyes again, at the end to connect with me, I make sure I put my camera close to the space where I’m looking on my screen, so that the eye contact is established as closely as it would be in my office space. And I think one of the things that they like about the virtual therapy is my face is right there for them to see. And it’s so much closer than it would be in an office space where we’re sitting across the room from each other. And so we can see each other’s faces very clearly. And the effect and the body language there is really more visible than I ever would have thought it was. I had one client in particular that tended to find other things to talk about when she came into the office in person prior to the pandemic. And the pandemic forced us online. And so we log on now and I asked my telehealth consent questions, and we pick up where we left off with very little introductory small talk that we would have in the office as we were coming down the hallway. And so we are able to get the target established to pick up where we were at the last session, I use my fingers to perform the eye movements in front of camera, she tracks the movements on her computer screen. And she has commented several times that she would avoid the work when she was in my office. But when she’s on the screen, she seems to just feel so much more comfortable in the privacy of her own home to sink into the deep work that we’re doing. So she actually prefers to do online work and has commented that it seems to move her through the processing much more effectively. When we’re online. Together, she’s able to focus on the target, to shift without feeling the need to explain herself. And she’s asked me why that I think this is her she thinks this is so much better for her. And I suspect there’s a number of factors at play here. I think that including the eye movements being more vivid, making the image actually less vivid, which is what the research has shown that’s been so much more robust for her. And I think she may have been avoiding a little bit when she was using the tactile equipment and stopping to talk a lot with the eye movements, she’s able to focus on the presenting issues and the anxiety and panic along with other chronic health conditions. And being able to do the work from home allows her to be in the comfort of her home without having to be in a place where she didn’t feel comfortable. She was having more movement challenges, which is part of her chronic illness. And it was just so much more practical for her to stay at home and connect from there. So we’ve had a lot of success. I’ve also had children who enjoy being online with all the technology and they have their own toys at home and they can bring their toys to the session. And we can do all sorts of resourcing and processing with their own things that they like to play with. That’s been very helpful as well.
Kim Howard 09:32
Yeah, there’s good stories, good examples. I feel like it’s very similar to going into an office. You know, by the time you get to a physical office, you’ve been so distracted by your commute in and your walk into the office.
Sharon Rollins 09:44
Kim Howard 09:45
Something that you saw on the way there and so I can see how simply walking into your bedroom or your home office or wherever you’re doing your therapy is a lot less busy getting to a physical office at someone;s having therapy session. And, so yeah.
Sharon Rollins 09:47
I also work with a lot of working class clients and they can not miss work or they’ll be fired. And so they’re struggling to make ends meet as it is they can’t afford gas across town. But if they meet with me on a lunch hour or a break, then we can just login from white where they are either in their car and a private room off to the side. And they’re able to get enough time away from work that they don’t have to spend 30 minutes driving here and there and have a shortened session. And so they can have their full session time in that private space. And they’re able to make much more progress. I don’t have to titrate the work into smaller chunks as much as I would if I only had them here for say 20 or 30 minutes on a lunch hour, and it saves them money through that situation like that, to be able to come virtually.
Kim Howard 10:52
Sharon, are there any myths that you would like to bust about EMDR virtual therapy?
Sharon Rollins 10:54
I think that the one of the biggest worries is that people will not be able to build the same level of rapport. And I was pretty skeptical about that, in the beginning of the pandemic, I knew that it was possible to do it. And there were EMDR therapists who were doing EMDR, virtually, but I just felt like there was so it was so important to have people in the room with me, so that we can build that relationship. And what I have found through the pandemic is that when I put my headset on and I attuned to them, I close my office door, I have all my other browsers closed, and I am fully online with that person, we find a rhythm. And it really does become as if they are right here in my office with me. And we’re able to minimize the distractions and stay at tune. So I haven’t found that to be a problem. I think the other myth that I hear a lot is that I won’t be able to respond if there’s a crisis. What do you do when a person is you know, possibly miles away, and they’re connecting online and they go into a crisis mode. And to me, this is no different than if they were here in my office. As long as I’ve prepared correctly. If I have a client have a crisis in my office, I have no guarantee that they won’t run out of my office door and go somewhere. And I don’t have any idea where they are, they could be on their way home and get into a car accident. And if I’ve done my preparation correctly, I have all of the necessary emergency information, I can help them every bit as much as I can, if they were in my office, if they begin to dissociate, we also have a plan for how to help them reconnect and ground themselves. I can ask them to find five things in my background, just like I can, if they were in my office, I can ask them to pick up some lotion, or peppermint or things that if I prepared them correctly, they have right there at their disposal virtually, so that they can pick it up and get grounded right there in their own home, they can bring their favorite little stuffed animal to the appointment with them, and be able to hold it without the embarrassment of walking into my office with it. And so I’ve found that I can, as long as I’m prepared and I know what to do, it’s no different than if a tornado warning went off here in Waco, Texas. And we all had to run downstairs we would just need to be prepared. And to regroup. I also have found that it’s helpful as far as the connection to make sure that I’m fully connected with an old timey Ethernet cable hardwired into my internet so that I’m not depending on the WiFi. And I close all the other programs and browsers so that I don’t have my computer trying to think about too many things at once. And if I do that, and my client does that, that lowers the technology, glitches that we can sometimes how when stormy weather or the you know something else is going on and making the connection.
Kim Howard 14:04
That’s a good segue to my next question, which is are there any specific complexities or difficulties with using EMDR therapy virtually you just named on them if your yes out or something happens like that?
Sharon Rollins 14:18
Yes, and humorously enough, as I was doing my preparation for this work last week, I was sitting down at my computer and I was about to connect virtually with one of my clients and our entire city downtown area, the internet shut off.
Kim Howard 14:33
Sharon Rollins 14:34
And everyone in town was scrambling to try to get reconnected and we were unable to call our clients by phone. I was unable to connect by videos. We had to reschedule all those appointments, the minute it came back online. But yes, that can happen. Technology can shut down, and you’re stuck. And that’s a challenge. I think the same problem can happen if there’s a power outage in our building. And we can’t see clients because everything is done for us on electronic medical charts. And so we’re just kind of crippled at that point in person as well as virtual. It was really interesting though, that when we had an ice storm recently, which Texas does, and when there’s an ice storm in Texas, no one can or should drive. And so we’re all stuck at home, but we had power. And so we were able to see as many virtual clients as our medical side was by doing telehealth, and I was able to carry on doing my EMDR sessions from home with my clients at their home. And so really, technology can shut down or roads can shut down, anything can happen. And I find it interesting that I’m still able to connect and do my counseling visits in those circumstances because of virtual therapy. One of the other challenges I didn’t mention yet is doing EMDR therapy over the phone. We do a few phone visits here. And I find it incredibly challenging to successfully be able to treat a person with EMDR therapy through telephone therapy, I think the hardest thing is I can’t see their reactions. And so I’m asking them to do a set of eye movements or taps and they there’s no way for me to know what they’re doing how they’re doing. Are they dissociating? Are they there with me when I’m at least on video, I can see them. But when we’re on telephone, there’s no way for me to know how it’s going. I’ve done it a few times, especially the preparation phases where I’m doing safe, comfortable place or building resources by phone when necessary, especially during the pandemic. I also have done processing with clients that I know Absolutely. We’ve done EMDR before either virtually or in person. And so I know their pace, and we have signals worked out ahead of time so that I know where they are in the processing. But that is certainly not my first choice. It’s really a challenge to do any kind of teletherapy especially with EMDR therapy on the telephone.
Kim Howard 17:05
Yeah, I can imagine that because you do need to see. Yes. That other person’s response.
Sharon Rollins 17:10
Yes, yeah, absolutely. I can hear a little bit in their tone of voice but not ideal. And I think it’s risky.
Kim Howard 17:18
That’s a good example. Thank you. Sharon, h ow do you practice cultural humility as an EMDR therapist?
Sharon Rollins 17:23
To begin with a broaching statement. And I acknowledge that I’m a human being, I’m coming to the table with my own experiences, my own biases, my quirks that I have. And I asked folks to recognize this with me, and to know that we’re all different. While it’s not my client’s job to educate me, we both need to be open to learning and growing together from these differences and around these differences. And so I truly want to know if I’m missing something my broaching statements are designed to ask them to please make this journey with me to let me know if I’m committing microaggressions to let me know if I am crossing some sort of boundary of any sort, or misunderstanding. And if something’s amiss because of the use of technology, and that is a either a cultural issue or if there is an ability issue with regard to using the internet, or video, then I want them to share about that with me from their own perspective so that I can adjust and learn and grow and we can work together according to our different perspectives, and biases.
Kim Howard 18:43
Sharon, do you have a favorite free EMDR related resource that you would suggest either for the public or other EMDR therapists?
Sharon Rollins 18:52
Well, my main resource is my arm, because I use my arm to put my fingers in front of the camera and do the stimulation. So that was free, thank goodness, until I guess I burned out my shoulder. But when the pandemic first hit, I found some YouTube videos one by Jennifer Marchand that were telling me how to do the EMDR movements and the stimulation online. And it was a free video that was very helpful in the beginning. I think nowadays there are tons of things out there. There are informational brochures on the EMDRIA website that I make sure people have seen there are the guidelines for using EMDR virtually, that we develop just prior to the pandemic is fortune would have it those came out right before the pandemic hit. So those are really important resources to use that are available for EMDR therapists especially. And I think that there are different and I don’t have any specific favorites, but there are some different programs out there that are free, some are for fees that will make little dots go across the screen, and you can change the color. And so there’s all kinds of things. But I think that, for me, I use the same equipment I used when people were in my office. And so I will pull out a little wand of some sort, or ask people even just to move their eyes from one corner of their computer screen to the other, if something’s happening, where they can’t see my hand moving back and forth. So, so many ways to administer EMDR therapy in the bilateral stimulation without having to go out and buy expensive equipment.
Kim Howard 20:40
Great suggestion. Thank you. What would you like people outside of the EMDR community to know about EMDR virtual therapy?
Sharon Rollins 20:48
People are surprised when I’m talking to them about doing EMDR therapy and doing it virtually they usually say, Wait, I didn’t think you could do that virtually Yes, you can. It’s not impossible to receive EMDR virtual therapy with a trained clinician. Now there are some websites out there that have do it yourself sort of virtual EMDR. And you can just log on and magically receive EMDR without another person on the other end. And I would caution people with extreme caution against that, I think you need to have an actual EMDR trained human being on the other side of that screen in order to guide the process to make it safe and effective. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do therapy on their own anyway, whether it was in person with themselves or virtually, I think it’s so important to have that person there with you to witness and to take that journey. So you want to prepare for a quiet space, a private space free from distraction doesn’t work to do any kind of therapy, much less EMDR therapy in the coffee shop with lots of people wandering around or at the Home Depot. So you make sure that your Internet Service has a high enough bandwidth to keep the technology at its best. So you don’t have glitches. But even then, if you’re doing eye movements and the telehealth or the technology gets glitchy, you can keep moving your eye movements, whether you’re tracking my hand or not. So there’s still a possibility to be able to do that. Even if the service is bored. You can use a full screen or a large enough tablet, to make it even better using it on the phone doing trying to do AI movements on the phone is difficult. And again, you can bring all your resources with you to the session, you’ve got your coffee, you’ve got your cat, you’ve got your stuffed animal, you can have your lotions and all of your comforts right there with you in the privacy of your own home. But you do want to have a private space to be able to do it.
Kim Howard 22:49
Yeah, I think that’s key. I mean, that’s I think one of the things that happened during the pandemic is people who were going to therapy might have been in a situation in their home life that they were trying to get out of, which is yeah, we’re going to therapy, and then it’s all kind of happening. They’re they’re trying to go seek a private space, and they would do it in their car or whatever. And so yeah, yes, hopefully that has changed.
Sharon Rollins 23:12
That does make it a challenge. And I have one client who likes to do it virtually. But she’s not about to do it while her partner is home. And so we schedule it during the time when the partners at work so that we can have that private space together. And if something happens, and they’re off that day, then they call and reschedule and we get it resorted because she needs to have that privacy. And I would also say that the guidelines are really pretty important because the the guidelines that were published back in 2020, February, I think we’re there probably need some updates. But I think that overall, they talk about things like having a HIPAA compliant platform to call in like with those zoom professional account or some other company that does telehealth so that you can make sure that you have that privacy is protected and you’re not opening up your clients information to everyone in the world. I think also it talks about how to have a business, business associates agreement and confidentiality and how to protect things like that what to do in emergencies. And so be sure to look at those guidelines. If you’re an EMDR therapist who has not done telehealth and you’re considering starting it, make sure that you have all those bases covered and compliant platform.
Kim Howard 24:35
I’ll include a link to those virtual standards and all the other things that we’ve talked about in the description of the podcast so people can find exploration. Thank you, Sharon. If you weren’t an EMDR therapist, what would you be?
Sharon Rollins 24:48
I would probably be a scuba diver instructor in the Grand Caymans. Or maybe a scenic photographer. I love to travel and go all over the place but which the pandemic put a damper on that for a while, but just recently got to travel again, overseas and I love taking photos of beautiful places and meeting people from all over the world and having those experiences.
Kim Howard 25:14
That will be a fun job, I think. Yeah, unless the pandemic hinders the travel.
Sharon Rollins 25:18
Kim Howard 25:21
Is there anything else you want to add?
Sharon Rollins 25:23
I think don’t be afraid of, of trying out the virtual therapy. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people prefer being in person. So I do that now that we’re not pandemic bound. But I think that being able to have that as an option extends services to people who wouldn’t get out of their homes and be able to do it otherwise, so don’t be afraid of it.
Kim Howard 25:46
Great way to end the podcast. Thank you. Thank you. This has been the Let’s Talk EMDR podcast with our guest, Sharon Rollins. Visit www.emdria.org for more information about EMDR therapy, or to use our fine and EMDR therapists directory, with more than 14,000 therapists available. Like what you hear? Make sure you subscribe to this free podcast wherever you listen. Thanks for listening.
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Howard, K. (Host). (2023, August 15). Virtual EMDR Therapy with Sharon Rollins (Season 2, No. 16) [Audio podcast episode]. In Let’s Talk EMDR podcast. EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/letstalkemdrpodcast/
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