I say “go with that” quite a bit in my clinical and teaching life. In EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, “go with that” is a commonly used phrase. The invitation encourages clients to notice what they are experiencing—without judgment—and allow the process to move forward. As an expressive arts therapist, facilitator, and trainer, I invite people to approach their creativity in a similar fashion. In both EMDR therapy and expressive arts therapy, outcomes are not forced. Rather, being in process in as mindful and as intentional way as possible, more can be revealed along the healing path.
When I mention that I am both an EMDR therapist/trainer and an expressive arts therapist/trainer and that my passion is to blend the two modalities, I get some puzzled faces in response. For me, the fusion of the two approaches is natural due to the power of process. In graduate school I was struggling to manage empathy and feelings of being overwhelmed when working with young people I viewed as mistreated by the system. The same young people were my first clinical expressive arts students, and one of the many jobs I had during my graduate training was as a performing singer-songwriter. It’s no wonder that when I began my first round as an EMDR client, I ended up writing an album of new material! Cleaning traumatic blockages in the manner that EMDR therapy facilitates cracked open my expressive process.
Many clinicians trained in EMDR are technical purists, only having experienced or heard of the strict “protocol” that EMDR therapists must learn in training, are surprised to hear that the work I do is even possible. Yet the founder of EMDR therapy, Dr. Francine Shapiro gives more permission than ever for the fusion of expressive modalities in the latest (2018) version of her core textbook, especially when they are well-trained to use them. In EMDR if a client gets stuck in the traditional flow of applying eye movements or other bilateral/dual attention stimulus like audio tones or tactile sensations, clinicians are allow to use prompting questions, often called cognitive interweaves, to move the processing along in as natural a way as possible. These can also be perfect opportunities to use gush art with materials available or invitations to movement to literally move the stuck energy through when a client is blocked or otherwise has difficulty processing. Once the expressive art reaches a natural completion or seems to have gotten the energy moving, the transition back into the standard EMDR protocol can be seamless.
Training clients in expressive arts practices of all kinds as part of their preparation in affect tolerance for the wider range of emotions and experiences that EMDR therapy can open up in later phases is also an option. Shapiro has written quite a bit in her book about the importance of keeping a log in between sessions to help clients track their progress and make notes about shifting experiences for their clinician. Although traditional journaling can work for this process, I’ve invited and witnessed beautiful extensions in the form of poetry writing and short stories. Art journaling allows clients to take this work to a visual place if needed, and making playlists (for listening or for moving) in between sessions are also beautiful options.
To read more about my work in both EMDR therapy (plenty of demo videos available) and expressive arts therapy, please go to the website of the Institute for Creative Mindfulness.