Guest Blog Post by Andie Bernard, MA, LPCC
The suspense, appropriate skepticism, and excitement that I felt as I sat at the table on the first day of my EMDR training was enormous. Before signing up, I thoroughly read about EMDR’s beginnings with Dr. Francine Shapiro. I read journals and psychotherapy magazines. I watched YouTube® videos of masterful and not-so-masterful EMDR therapy sessions and consumed healing stories from EMDR clients sharing how much it changed their lives. I was all in.
Then it started…
The heavy and constant flow of information included a complete glossary of new terms, SUD, VoC, BLS, DAS, “Back to Target,” Float Back, Phases, Stages, and Protocols. Let’s not forget all of the necessary neurobiology terms needed to understand what we would be doing to our client’s brain, body, and memory systems. Yep, AIP, the window of tolerance, memory forming, memory retrieval, memory consolidation…for those of you who have been through it…you know this list could go on and on. It was a new language that the trainer was speaking, and I was not fluent.
There I sat on a train going 150 miles per hour, only one hour into what would be a two-part, six-day training split over five weeks. I felt like a wholly competent and informed therapist one hour prior, and now I am drowning in a sea of intense focus, frantic notetaking, self-doubt, and my nervous system toggle between freeze and fight to stay engaged and cognitively online.
If you have been through it, too, I know you can relate. Now that I have activated you breathe in with four and out with seven. We made it through.
There are some definite things I wish that the EMDR fairy would have whispered in my ear in the lobby before I sat down to embark on the intense and life-changing road I was about to take.
If you have just signed up or just finished your EMDR training, here are five things I wish I knew:
- It is new for every trainee in the room. Look around; they are all terrified too. That’s right. As an EMDR training coach, I can tell you that every person in the EMDR training room, regardless of their degrees, licensure, or years in practice, feels exactly like you do. No exceptions.
- “It’s a process.” It is not only a staged approach to deliver EMDR; it is also a staged approach to learn EMDR. Be gentle with yourself, and work to keep a beginner mind. You will have time to be the “expert” once you practice and get the hang of it. The truth is once you become familiar with the 8 Phase protocol and have strong client attunement, clients and referrals will flock to you. If you can be patient and commit to enjoying the learning process, the professional benefits are sure to follow.
- Take a risk and make a few friends in your training consultation groups. EMDR delivery is protocol-based but is an Art to deliver. Learning to take EMDR “off the page” and “into the world” is the skill and ultimate super-power we seek. But we must commit first to having some fun, curiosity, and practice with others in “low-risk” situations. Connection to fellow EMDR beginners can offer you that for introverts and extroverts alike. I met a small group in my training. We ate lunches together and shared phone numbers and texts through the process. Despite having three states between us and years that have passed, we are as close today as ever. They were and remained a significant part of my EMDR story and success. Having a familiar group to talk about your learning curve, usage in “your rooms,” and the mistakes and new ideas you will inevitably create for your clients keep playfulness and creativity a part of the equation. This is essential for calming your nervous system and staying engaged in the learning process rather than the perfection process.
- Sign up early and often for consultation. EMDR is so intimidating in the beginning. The protocols and language seem so rigid compared to the fluidity of play or talk therapies that you are used to. I remember thinking (and many of my consultees also say), “How do I explain it to my clients?” or “How do I explain it to my clinical director, co-workers, etc.?” All great and developmentally appropriate questions have been asked and answered by all of us at one point or another in our beginning journey with EMDR. The power of being with others who have stood where you are standing now is what makes the community so important. Consultations early on keep our new knowledge open and sponge-like while also connecting us to the vibrant EMDR community that already exists. You are now a part of that vibrancy. Consultation is both your conduit for learning and the bridge for you to make your important impact in the larger global EMDR community. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers: The Story of Success, “The more early engagement, the deeper the knowledge-base will root.”
- Confidence over competence: Above all, confidence is all that your EMDR trainer, coaches, and consultants want you to feel and embody in the beginning. Competence, including specialty with the standard protocol or specialty populations (e.g., play, addictions, or attachment), will come later for most, if not all, of you because EMDR is that powerful of a healing tool. In the meantime, find strategies to help you stay committed and attuned to what makes you feel more and less. If you find yourself more anxious, self-doubting, or avoidant to use it initially, take action to pivot back to the mindset of confidence (trusting the process) over competence (I need to be good).
My passion for the early learning stages of EMDR has no bounds. It is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Do yourself the favor of slowing down, taking it all in, building some connections, and letting PLAY be a part of your learning process—best wishes, from my room to yours.
About the Author:
Andie Bernard, MA, LPCC, NCC, is an EMDRIA certified therapist and EMDRIA consultant in training. She integrates real-world mindfulness, somatic/body tools, and attachment and developmental integration of EMDR. Andie has experience delivering EMDR in complex settings, including schools for students with complex trauma. Additionally, Andie has a passion for healing trauma associated with severe complex and developmental attachment and gun violence in marginalized populations.