Learning EMDR is like learning how to dance Tango. When you learn Tango there is a system to learn, a set pattern of steps. The dance can look very simple from the outside, but actually doing it can be far more complex. In the beginning it can feel like it’s just steps and that you aren’t dancing. Once you learn the vocabulary then it becomes easier and the dance begins.
As an EMDR instructor, I teach therapists the foundational steps, the scripts and the procedure. But once the therapist is in the room with the client, something else has to happen. A dance between the client and therapist must emerge. If the therapist just sticks to the scripts, the work will become technical and non-responsive. The script is just a beginning and not the whole dance. When the script isn’t working, then the therapist must adapt and be present in the moment with the client – staying curious as to what the client will present next. This is the difference between being a technician and an artist. If the therapist listens to the client – both verbally and non-verbally – the therapist learns to respond to what is happening in the moment and adapt to dance with the client in the moment.
On the show “So You Think You Can Dance”, I witness this process every week. The choreographers who set an intention, see the dancers in the room they are working with, and respond to those dancers in the moment. The choreographer adapts their choreography to show off their dancers’ strengths. The choreographers who already have a dance choreographed, however, and expect the dancers to strictly adhere to it, miss out on the spontaneity of what can happen between the dancers in the moment, and might overlook the uniqueness of a particular movement or a dancer.
In EMDR therapy, it’s important to follow protocol and to have a strong vocabulary for the work. At the same time, it’s also important to pay attention to each client’s subtleties, verbally and non-verbally. Just as no two dancers are the same, no two clients are the same. It takes years of training, and mastering the protocols and scripts to learn how to eventually adapt to the needs of individual clients, turning this interaction into artistry.
Breathe life into it and let the client shine! Be present in the moment and stay very curious to what the next step will lead to. It sounds simple, but it’s really a difficult thing to learn. It is a practice of mindfulness and staying open to the “unexpected” all the time.