Preparing EMDR Clients for the Holiday Season

"Holiday fire safety - Power strip overloaded" by State Farm (CCO)The holiday season is supposed to be a time of family, friends, and lots of parties and fun. Unfortunately, for some of our clients that have experienced trauma, this time of the year can be anything but feeling good. It can be a time of pain, suffering and isolation. As EMDR therapists, it is helpful to track what could be triggers for our clients such as:

  • Family gatherings that are not fun
  • Feeling isolated – left out
  • Having a long “to do” list to make others happy
  • Having lost a loved one and missing them
  • Work overload
  • Expectations that are hard to meet
  • Being around others that drink and do drugs

During this hectic time of the year, it is a good idea to think about helping clients feel ready and able to face whatever fears or anxieties they might be anticipating. Ask your clients:

  • How are the holidays going to be this year? See what kind of response you get.

If they say “good”, then use some future movies while adding bilateral stimulation (BLS) to increase the good feelings associated with the imagined future event.

If they say, “awful”, find out what will be awful, and begin to help the client find resources that will help them feel more capable of handling the situation.

Let’s look at an example. The client is anxious about spending Thanksgiving with her mother and she says, “My mom always criticizes me and I just can’t take it anymore”

Help the client with the following:

  • How would you like to handle this in a different way then in the past?
  • How would you be behaving?
  • What would you like to be saying to yourself?
  • What do you want to be able to say to Mom?
  • What is your self-care plan?
  • Do you need any help from some allies?

Remember, don’t change the other people in the movie to be how the client would like them to be; change the client’s interaction in how they would like to feel in relationship to the other person.

Once the client can verbalize a scenario that feels good to them, have the client make a mental movie of the scene including all the new pieces that they found in your earlier exploration. Have the client run the mental movie in their minds eye while adding some type of bilateral stimulation. Run the mental movie at least 3 to 5 times, each time watching the client become more confident and capable to face their challenge. Take note of any areas of distress that can be worked on with EMDR when the client is not in time of stress.

The above scenario is just an example.  What is important is that therapists be mindful of how the holidays might affect their clients, and provide resources that are appropriate for their specific clients.

Helping clients feel more confident can really help build trust in the therapist/client relationship, empower the client to face challenges in their life, and keep the feeling that the holidays just might be different for them this year.


Image Source: “Holiday fire safety – Power strip overloaded” by State Farm (CC0)