When to Use Attachment-Focused EMDR Therapy


When to Use Attachment-Focused EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a clinically proven study which utilizes Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) to help patients overcome previous trauma. Francine Shapiro initially developed the therapy to treat PTSD patients - since its beginnings, EMDR has progressed to also have high efficacy rates for depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. In this article, we will be focusing on a subtype of EMDR called attachment-focused EMDR and how it can be utilized for patients with attachment difficulties.

What is an Attachment Disorder?

Attachment disorders are developed throughout a person’s childhood and are caused by some form of childhood trauma – this could be neglect, physical or emotional abuse or even sexual abuse. The consequences of these past experiences can cause a patient to become depressed, have difficulty within their relationships, and problems at work.

These patients may also have issues with disassociation and may experience feelings of not ‘feeling real’ – consequently, these effects may impact their sense of safety and capacity. Other symptoms of attachment-related disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Guilt, self-hatred, and low self-esteem
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Feeling not good enough, like a bad or broken person
  • Compulsive and obsessive behaviors
  • Emotional numbness
  • Frightening thoughts and excessive worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia, sleep disturbances
  • Hypervigilance
Those with attachment disorders are also more likely to succumb to other illnesses such as addiction, eating disorders and alexithymia.

What is Attachment-Focused EMDR?

Attachment-focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) utilizes the same framework of EMDR psychotherapy with an added attachment-repair focus. This method is better suited for clients who are less responsive to conventional EMDR protocols, due to acute or chronic relational trauma and attachment deficits. EMDR is thought to be effective for attachment disorders, as studies show that they may have an effect on a neuronal basis - studies have shown that disordered attachment during infancy has been associated with an increase in amygdala volumes in adulthood. The amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation, memory and rewards.

Attachment-focused therapy prioritizes establishing a strong and solid relationship between therapist and patient. It is a non-directive type of counseling that is very gentle and focuses on exploring feelings, earlier experiences, thoughts, and behaviors in a compassionate and non-threatening manner. AF-EMDR was developed by Dr. Parnell in 2008, when she began incorporating attachment-repair orientation to all phases of EMDR work. The method still utilizes resourcing, tapping, and bilateral stimulation (BLS).

However, with AF-EMDR there is an added element of visualization – this is when patients are encouraged to internalize a peaceful setting or safe space. This aids the client to feel more soothed and less anxious – the process aims to aid the patient with internal regulation which will, in turn, positively affect their relationships. With traditional EMDR, the aspect of visualization is not added within the framework – instead, patients are reliant on the BLS whilst reprocessing their traumatic memories.

Efficacy of AF-EMDR

In a clinical study analyzing the efficacy of EMDR within adults and children with attachment issues, the study showed promising results. After a few sessions of adapted EMDR – children showed a decrease in their attachment-issue symptoms and were better at emotionally regulating themselves. Similarly, the adults in this study showed equally positive effects.

Despite these positive results, it is important to note that more research can be done into the study of EMDR and attachment-focused issues to better determine the effectiveness of the practice.

If you are interested in knowing more about EMDR therapy, learn more with our range of online resources. For more information about our therapy courses, do not hesitate to contact our helpful team.

EMDR Online Courses

EMDR Step-by-Step PLUS: Your Start to Finish Guide to Safe and Successful EMDR Therapy

The Integrated Trauma Therapist: Incorporating IFS with EMDR, SP, CPT, AEDP, DBT, and Psychedelic Medicines for Treating Complex Trauma and PTSD

Topic: Attachment | Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) | Trauma

Tags: EMDR | Laurel Parnell, Ph.D. | Trauma | Trauma Treatment | Wisdom

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