Healing Dissociation with EMDR Therapy: A Practical Workshop with Dr Jamie Marich. Ely, Saturday Feb 9, 2019.

By Ushma Patel

The EMDR Association’s East Anglia Regional Group was delighted on Saturday 9th February 2019 to welcome Dr Jamie Marich back to the UK on a further training visit since her last visit to us in April 2017 where she inspired us in Norwich with a day on Making EMDR Simple.

Jamie is rapidly establishing a reputation as one of EMDR’s leading international trainers. This time we were lucky to experience a brand-new workshop debunking myths around dissociation and giving us a practical and sensitive orientation to how the dissociative mind works.

The plan for the day was to participate in a highly interactive workshop that would give us a primer on working with grounding skills in the stabilisation and preparation phases of EMDR, with special attention given to using expressive arts and mindfulness-focused strategies.

We were given the opportunity to our own dissociative profile and internal system of parts as an illustration of the theory of structural dissociation.

Feedback on the day was fantastic:

Excellent, informative but the practical side was really good and being able to focus of aspects of ourselves.

As always, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and inclusive, not always easy to achieve for training events.

One of the best training days I have attended. Full of useful information and Jamie is a fantastic presenter.

Jamie left a lasting impression of human connection in my EMDR soul.  The time spend in small group was especially helpful, both in consolidating the learning, and in making contact with people with similar enthusiasms and experiences. Just fabulous.

We began the workshop with a mindful body scan, which left us ready to engage and be present – a great way to start the morning and we were brought back to the room with the sound of soothing temple bells. The experience helped us understand Jamie’s point that “grounding is using all of our available senses to come in to the here and now.”

Some time was spent discussing what our biggest challenges were when working with dissociation. It was helpful when we looked at the definition of dissociation, which comes from the Latin to divide or separate.

We understood that dissociation can be experienced at a young age associated with trauma and is the separation from the present moment or parts of the self. Jamie described dissociation as ‘God’s gift to traumatised children”.

Jamie kindly talked about her own personal experience of dissociation to help us see disconnection in context. The key learning from this was that we all dissociate and we all have parts comprised within the self.

We then engaged in conversations in small groups to discuss what we personally do to ‘check out’ from reality and what parts we have that come in to play.

This was a discussion enjoyed by everyone, as we were able to see the simplicity and complexity of dissociation using ourselves as examples.

Through hearing Jamie’s personal journey with dissociation and discussing our own ability to ‘check out’, Jamie was keen for us to understand the stigma around dissociation and the importance of normalisation as trauma is evident in most conditions and in general life.

We began to understand that we could use EMDR to help our clients, not to ignore the various parts of self they have but rather, foster communication and cooperation of the parts, to avoid them all sabotaging the whole person.

It was interesting to discuss the myths, misconceptions and horror stories around dissociation – what an eye opener!

Jamie spoke passionately about encouraging a marriage between mindfulness and EMDR as a powerful healing strategy for those who dissociate.

She described how the lightstream and grounding tree techniques are really useful resources that can be used in phase two of EMDR, to help clients manage themselves while working within therapy.

Our attention was also brought to the following quote about how EMDR can be helpful to reunite these separate parts.

“The rising tide of trauma and dissociation has created a sea change in the way we think about psychopathology. Chronic trauma that occurs early in life has profound effects on personality development and can lead to the development of dissociative identity disorder (DID), other dissociative disorders, personality disorders, psychotic thinking and a host of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse. In my view, DID is simply an extreme version of the dissociative structure of the psyche that characterises us all. Dissociation, in a general sense, refers to the rigid separation of parts experience, including somatic experience, consciousness, affects, perception, identity and memory.”

Elizabeth Howell (2008)

We revisited the usefulness of installing a container using EMDR to hold experiences and memories and reopen as appropriate. This exercise prompted plenty of discussion and feedback about how the different parts of self may choose different containers. One size does not fit all!

We thoroughly enjoyed discovering our own dissociative styles and then looked at various metaphors to see which one would use to place our various parts.

Metaphors such as Fraser’s conference table, a school bus or a doll’s house were fascinating to explore.

We found that the variety of metaphors meant that they could be sophisticated to be more client-centred, rather than only using a conference table, which may not suit the client or the parts of the client.

Those artistically influenced in the room chose to draw out their own personal metaphors to map out their parts, and it was great to see the workings out visually and to see how this would be a brilliant exercise to use with clients.

There was a lovely buffet lunch hosted by the Ely Beet Social Club, with an abundance of food including some particularly lovely desserts.

AS ever with our regional events, and with more than 80 colleagues in attendance, the day was also an opportunity to network and talk amongst ourselves. It was wonderful to hear that some delegates had travelled from as far as Birmingham and York to attend the workshop, which was quite clearly a credit to Jamie’s work and reputation.

The afternoon got off to a great start with experiential learning of grounding techniques and mindfulness practices.

It was interesting to discuss how different parts may need different resources or attachment figures and how to be aware of this within our EMDR practice.

Jamie really stressed the point that preparation is more than just safe place. Through our experiential learning we were able to see how we can apply various grounding/mindfulness techniques to Phase 2 to 7 in EMDR and within interweave strategies or when handling abreactions.

The key learning was that we have to adapt our EMDR practice to ensure all needs are being met for all parts.  

At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable day, we had developed a deeper insight into dissociation from a trauma-focused approach.

We understood the five common myths about working with dissociative clients, of which three were specific to EMDR therapy.

We also learnt how to implement strategies from expressive arts therapy and mindfulness-informed approaches into EMDR’s early phases (stabilisation / preparation), particularly for grounding and building awareness and for safely concluding EMDR therapy sessions.

The EMDR Association East Anglia Regional Group would like to thank Jamie Marich for coming all the way from the USA to enlighten us and enhance our practice as well as all of the delegates who attended and contributed making the day a success.

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