EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

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Paul Anthony, modified 1 Year ago.

EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
Hi all, 

There have been a couple of discussions over the years on DO about EMDR, mostly related to efficacy in trauma treatment, the standard use. I was wondering if I could take the discussion in a different direction. EMDR is really a whole protocol for treating trauma and related issues, but what if we isolate the technique and look at it separately.  I won't describe the process in too much detail, as it's all on the wiki, as are the various disputed theories of efficacy.  But in simple terms, we could say that in the context of EMDR,  the internal object in question becomes more unstable and fluid. It also tends to become less personalized, and therefore not as intrusive and difficult. Noting the parallels here with insight practices - would it be reasonable to say that EMDR is actually an insight practice? 

My subjective understanding of EMDR is that it primes us to notice impermanence in a fairly mechanical way. You watch something wiggle for a few minutes and then look at something else and, surprise surprise, it wiggles too. This is *not* the account given by most EMDR practitioners, and of course it's just one perspective it doesn't preclude the official account (based on memory storage) or any account. Also, I realize my account might seem a bit trivializing but we are talking about trauma memory or something equally profound, so seeing it wiggle may be a bit like feeling the earth move. 

If you look at youtube videos of actual therapy sessions of EMDR (and I must stress that there is a lot more to it than the finger movements) it is interesting to consider that there might be an insight process going on (in the vipassana sense). Does anybody have any thoughts about this? Has anybody tried it? 

Kind regards, aul
Sleeping Buddha Syndrome, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 824 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
Yeah I have no idea. #waterbeds
Brian, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 93 Join Date: 1/21/19 Recent Posts
Hmm, I'm not really qualified to give an informed opinion about this, but I have some hunches. I think it probably does work as advertised (moving eyes in a certain way reduces the intensity/disturbingness of disturbing thoughts). Its origin story rings extremely true to me (somebody desperate for relief did some weird stuff and noticed a difference). But I think it might remain obscure why or how it helps, and we probably shouldn't call it insight practice.

I think the brain is always doing stuff like this, just knowing about hundreds or thousands of little buttons and levers and pedals it can manipulate to cause various things to happen. One place I've heard about stuff like this is in the book "The Mindbody Prescription", the fundamental theory of which (I think I'm explaining it right) is that to prevent certain thoughts from arising to the conscious mind, the brain has some things it can do, one of which is to mildly starve back muscles of oxygen. Not enough to cause damage, but enough to cause discomfort, which apparently is enough to cause the thought suppression.

So, when having memories of trauma, it sounds as if the eyes might move involuntarily. That is, they're hooked up to some electricity and are jumping around. Taking volitional control apparently reduces the suffering. It could be that some part of the brain that was lending itself to feeling the suffering of the memory got repurposed to control the eyes or something. Given enough other stuff to juggle, the suffering of the memory will definitely be lessened. But I consider this to be expected but somewhat weird. It seems to me like trying to turn down the wattage on your microwave by turning on all your electrical stuff in another part of the house in an effort to cause an electricity sag or something.

I think there's a more direct way, the one advocated by V. Vimalaramsi via David Johnson in the book "The Path to Nibbana": when a disturbing thought comes and bothers you, distracting you from your object of meditation (which for normal people is just whatever they happen to be doing), realize that this is happening, release the disturbing thought, release the tension (physical muscle tension) associated with the thought, smile, and go back to the object of meditation.

If we accept the idea that craving is associated with body tension, I think it makes sense that, when bothered by it, releasing the tension may be a way to reach back into the neural circuitry that generated it and tell it it wasn't appropriate. In my own practice, distractions do seem to be associated with tension in the body, and releasing the tension does seem to be associated with relief.

I would file the eye movement relief thing away as a very useful thing to have in cases where someone is too distressed at the moment to do other practices.
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Paul Anthony, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
That's interesting Brian, thank you. I also like the Vimalaramsi method, which in my interpretation is to basically cover the object with metta. Metta feels better, so there's possibly some counter-conditioning going on there. Reading your post, my thought was that a lot of what you said about eye-movements might also be said to apply to rapid noting, so what is the difference really? I guess that's my question. 

But I may have an idiosyncratic understanding of rapid noting which is confusing the matter.... For me what seems to happen when I note an object rapidly is that the noter and the noted start to share properties, so that the noted begins to seem more obviously vibratory and unstable and break down into frames, each frame being a note. I'm not sure if this is consistent with classical Mahasi practice - it's just what I've observed. There may well be a better way of puttiing it. 

But if this is more or less what happens then it suggests that the use of rapid mental pointing actions ("notes") may be only one way of uncovering the same experiential pattern of impermanence..... It might not even be the easiest way for the average person. One thing I notice about EMDR is that concentration is absolutely not necessary - the natural orienting response to movement means that the attention is automatically glued to the object. I would think this might be useful for people with lousy concentration. 
Brian, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 93 Join Date: 1/21/19 Recent Posts
I think if we ask most people who have never done any meditation or heard of noting, whether they're knowing a bunch of stuff at the same time, they'd say yes, of course. Everyone "knows" that they have panoramic awareness. I don't remember reading Mahasi Sayadaw say it explicitly, but I think the main point of noting, or at least one of the major points, is to help us see that it isn't true. When I'm really knowing the ground in front of me is moving by sight, I'm not hearing. When the voice of the bird hits my ear and I know it as a bird chirping, it's as if I temporarily go blind. My eyes are open, but I'm not seeing.

So experience actually happens in unbelievably brief information packets, and we kind of update a painting on the inside of our skulls, and look all around at that painting to know what's going on. But it's all old information already. It's like persistence of vision, for all the senses. It's not what's really happening.

Maybe in EMDR they end up doing something similar, something that helps the patient realize how momentary the thought that bother them really are. It's not really as if the thought comes and takes up residence in the head to torment them all day, it's as if the thought bothers them for a moment, and then the channel changes and they're feeling the pressure in their feet of standing, or they're feeling their tongue in their mouths, or they're hearing a phone ring, etc. The total time that the thought actually spends bothering them during a day might amount to one second, but they're looking at their inner painting rather than the current information feed. If EMDR is helping with stuff like that, I guess it really could be insight practice.
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Paul Anthony, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
Yes that's pretty much exactly where I was going. My own observation is that generally if this type of therapy works well for people then they will report that the object of concern (e.g. intrusive thoughts, imagery, emotion) is more impermanent, impersonal and incomplete than it was before the therapy.  And vice versa when it doesn't work so well. And it seems to me that the same observation applies for similar exposure types of therapies that don't use eye movements. Very loosely, the narrative of exposure therapy resembles a mini stages of insight cycle, complete with mini dark night. 

The implication is that there may not always be an absolute distinction between psychotherapeutic interventions and insight practices.  I find this pretty interesting!
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Dustin, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: EMDR, bilateral stimulation, insight practices

Posts: 103 Join Date: 12/28/17 Recent Posts
I have done EMDR and would say there is insight going on because once you get to a place of trauma that your working on you have an ah ha moment like in insight practice and you are able to see a situation clearer (gaining insight). The problem I see with gaining insight from it your depending on a therapist to get you to the right spot to have insight. In insight practice you depend on teachings of 2500 years, insight maps and your own mind that will show you the 3c's on top of major insights into reality over and over on a daily basis. Cost less too. Lol The other thing is most people with trauma and know freedom from it have a thousand thoughts go by without knowing it. An insight practioner who's done good practice has one thought go by and know all the characteristics of the thoughts. So what I did in EMDR never gained me as much insight. But doing good EMDR is about gaining insight. Hope that all makes sense. 

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