EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness
By Stephen Dansiger, PsyD, MFT
Very early in my own recovery 28 years ago, I was brought to a Zen Buddhist monastery in the Catskill Mountains for an AA retreat. I received my first zazen (“sitting Zen”) lesson at that time, and I have never stopped practicing. The practice has brought me all over the world as a practitioner, and into many venues as a guide. It brought me to a year residency at that same monastery, and an ongoing sitting and teaching practice. It brought me then to Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, where I practice the path in the lineage of Jack Kornfield and Noah Levine. The end result is that I am deeply embedded in the 4 Noble Truths, the 8 Fold Path and the many other teachings of the Buddha…not just how to become more able to concentrate or be in the moment, but deepening the development of wisdom and compassion, ethical living, and dedicated mindfulness practices.
As I studied trauma as an MFT, I saw that EMDR was a mindfulness based therapy at its core. The first two phases require the development of a mindfulness practice in order to find enough of a ground to do this difficult work. The reprocessing phases of the therapy are built on the foundation of the development of mindfulness of those memories that had been relegated to the unconscious, the body, or the non-cognitive areas of the brain. Through mindfulness and through the mindful attention instigated by the 8-phase protocol, based on the 8 Fold Path, clients are able to achieve the beneficial effects of EMDR therapy described thoroughly and widely in the extensive research literature.
I have realized that EMDR therapy and Buddhist mindfulness should go hand in hand, that mindfulness is not just a technique, and neither is EMDR therapy. If we are to truly make a difference in clients’ lives as they recover, we need to find a way to genuinely help them through their trauma work. This will occur best using an agency wide and community based model utilizing the foundation of mindfulness and EMDR therapy.
Stephen Dansiger, PsyD, MFT is the Clinical Director and co-founder with Noah Levine of Refuge Recovery Centers, a Buddhist addictions treatment center in Los Angeles. He is the author of Clinical Dharma: A Path for Healers and Helpers (StartAgain), and EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness for Trauma Focused Care (Springer Books, August 2017).