Conventional talk therapy is good for some things, but sorely lacking in my opinion in that it engages the left, logical brain and not the emotional, fight or flight brain that is the province of PTSD. EMDR was the first therapy to make use of horizontal eye movements, although some would argue that it started 150 years ago with the stereotypical swinging of a watch to induce hypnosis. Waji’s use of eye movements is borrowed from EMDR, but it uses them much more strategically to interface directly with the right side of the brain. I believe that EMDR misses golden opportunities to have great results because it lacks focus and is too preoccupied with the left side of the brain.
I did 26 years of talk therapy as a patient, with little results. That is ridiculous. Therapy should work much better than that. I count the last four years of EMDR among the conventional therapy I did because there wasn’t much difference in the end. My EMDR therapy was with two clinicians who were extensively trained at the highest level of certification, and for 90 minute sessions each time. EMDR does not get much better than that. But the treatment was excruciating. I would have to schedule time to go for long walks because I knew that I would be too distraught to drive a car afterwards. I still can’t believe that therapists regularly send their patients out the door like that. For me personally, EMDR was even more painful than the 22 years of talk therapy that preceded it, with a negligible increase in healing. This may sound harsh but I see EMDR as a method of conventional talk therapy with eye movements tacked on.
The problems that I have with EMDR are basically the same as those I have with talk therapy. First, it is based on the assumption made by Sigmund Freud in the 1880’s that sharing one’s pain equals releasing one’s pain, and the more one does that, the better. I believe that after a certain point very early in the process it equates to rehearsing one’s pain. Whatever one focuses on, one magnifies. Second, while eye movements do open the door to interfacing with the correct part of the brain regarding trauma, EMDR fails to make use of them by focusing on left brain phenomena such as memory, story, sequence, speech, and cognition. I argue that none of these have anything to do with trauma (you can read about it in my Waji Theory blog). The most that EMDR clinicians stick their toes in the water of their patients’ unconscious mind (right brain) is by asking them to use their left brains to describe feelings and phenomena that are non-verbal or preverbal. Third, EMDR is preoccupied with altering cognition and ignores that fact that when someone is triggered or threatened or stressed out, the logical brain is designed to go offline and therefore thinking and logic become immaterial.
Anyone who participates in EMDR will be familiar with the phrase, “Go with that.” Patients are made to recreate the worst moments of their lives while moving their eyes, and then to describe what they felt and thought about. The clinician instructs them to “Go with that.” again and again, sometimes pausing to discuss the patient’s irrational beliefs and their internal narrative (the story of your life that you tell yourself). Again, these are properties of the incorrect side of the brain when it comes to trauma.
I am grateful to EMDR for propagating the use of eye movements. They are thought to interface with the correct part of the user’s brain in four possible ways: First, horizontal eye movements get both brain systems to communicate with each other, or “integrate.” They also may replicate Rapid Eye Movement, which occurs while someone dreams, and dreams are right-brained phenomena. We propose that like hypnosis, Waji invites people to use the creative, transformative power of dreams for healing but much more reliably and without all the attendant downsides. Third, Eye movements may serve to distract the left brain in order to suspend critical thinking and allow unconscious processes to enter the foreground. Fourth, instead of the brain thinking in a linear fashion, making all the usual neural connections, the Default Mode Network becomes suppressed, which allows for lateral thinking, i.e., creativity. Taking familiar things and combining them in a novel way. Connecting parts of the brain in ways that don’t normally relate to one another.
The end result of EMDR and other talk therapies is usually insight. Clinicians assist patients to write the stories of their lives in ways that make sense to them. However, defining yourself by your unchangeable past and casting yourself as a victim is questionable in terms of improving mental health. And once again, EMDR is preoccupied with left brain phenomena whereas what is needed is the type of real change that Waji provides. You could talk to your mechanic all day about how your brake pads wore down, but it won’t help you stop.
WAJI is meant to treat only PTSD, trauma and phobias. EMDR therapists may attempt to address literally every problem a person can have. A course of treatment involves identification and discussion of all traumas in a person’s life over many sessions, in order to outline a plan to reprocess all of them. WAJI adheres to the hypnotic principle that whatever one focuses on, one modifies. There is no need for prolonged, agonizing, intellectualizing back-looking into the past.
EMDR often achieves bilateral stimulation by having the patient hold “tappers” in each hand that vibrate. Waji does not utilize them because I believe that stimulating the visual cortex is much more effective in terms of reducing PTSD symptoms.
WAJI encourages patients to jump right in and get the most difficult part of treatment out of the way. Patients are taught that abreactions are very rare and to trust in the power of their own brains to use eye movements. With EMDR patients are continually reminded that they can stop or delay the painful process of trauma recollection. That serves as a hypnotic suggestion that they are experiencing pain, and as I have written, whatever you focus on you magnify.
WAJI borrows from Internal Family Systems Therapy by using its signature protector dynamic. However, this dynamic is modified. Instead of identifying multiple protectors, patients are asked to personify their actual PTSD symptoms as being an over-active protector. Patients see their symptoms not as something bad that is to be eliminated but as well-intentioned yet flawed. Embracing their maladaptive protectionary dynamics allows patients to better contextualize them and therefore let go of them naturally. EMDR focuses too much on the pain without doing much to ease it. It also focuses specifically on cognition where WAJI sees cognition as only in the way.