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Attachment-Focused EMDR: Healing Relational Trauma

“Tapping resources” has a second meaning in EMDR therapy. In Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, you literally tap them in — maybe on your knees, maybe on your shoulders. The movement is sometimes called “installing resources,” but as author Laurel Parnell states, installing “can sound like mind control — or machine repair.” Tapping is a much more relatable and descriptive phrase.

I was very familiar with attachment theory before I read this book and somewhat familiar with EMDR. I had attended a couple of brief workshops on the treatment, and found the process to be a bit overly complicated and requiring of equipment I do not have. It was also not clear to me exactly how it worked.

Luckily, this book is exceptionally well written and answered many of my questions. Parnell has taken the original model and made it significantly more accessible within the framework of attachment repair and healing trauma. Her descriptions of Attachment-Focused EMDR intrigued me enough that I searched for her work online to see videos of how she conducts this type of therapy.

And whether you use EMDR or not, there are plenty of useful methods to learn here. Parnell helps clients visualize and internalize a safe or peaceful place to tap in right at the beginning of therapy. She then helps the person visualize and internalize a so-called resource team to help support them in dealing with whatever brought them into therapy. The team of inner helpers has nurturing, protecting, and inner-wisdom figures who are also tapped in.

What I found surprising is that guided eye movement is not integral to the process, at least not in the sense of the clients following a moving finger or light during a visualization exercise. Though this may be what EMDR is known for, Parnell explains that the therapeutic framework includes bilateral stimulation (BLS) and can occur not only with the eyes but also with sound or touch. She typically taps the person’s knees, first right then left, but the client can cross arms and tap their own shoulders to “tap in” the resource.

Once the resources are in place and secure, the trauma work can begin — but what is remarkable is that sometimes the “tapping in” of resources is enough.

Clients can also heal by rewriting their narrative. Individuals who had severe deficits in their family of origin can tap in an ideal parent. In other words, in your mind, you can create, experience, and internalize the mother or father you wish you had.

Throughout the book are dialogues with clients who have a variety of issues. The examples teach the skills of AF-EMDR, but also how to foster the clinical relationship that is so crucial to creative growth and change. Parnell demonstrates safety, boundaries, timing, and the use of interweaves during talk to help stay on target and to reinforce the effectiveness of tapping.

Some of the methods are particularly interesting. For example, a person may be asked to visualize all the way back to conception, and then how he or she was treated at birth. They are then guided through the developmental stages of life to create positive, healthy attachments that in reality were lacking. This relates to one theory as to how EMDR works: that the rhythm of the bilateral stimulation may harken back to our hearing our mother’s heartbeat in the womb.

Picturing one’s origins as a sperm and an egg seems like a difficult task for a client. But something that comes through again and again in the text is that Parnell figuratively and sometimes literally holds the hands of her clients on their path to healing. She comes across as a very powerful, empowering, and empathic person on the client’s resource team.

Indeed, one of the nice things about this type of therapy is that it addresses the whole person: emotions, thoughts, and beliefs about oneself; even the physical feelings in the client’s body both before and after the bilateral stimulation. (A body scan helps to evaluate if change is occurring, and the feedback is used to help adjust the visualization and the BLS.)

One chapter that all therapists (and those seeking a good therapist) would do well to read is “Therapist Characteristics and Skills for Attachment Repair.” From the cases presented, it is clear that Parnell has these characteristics. What she also has is the ability to write in a clear, organized, and thoughtful way. I will be reading her book again and sharing it with my colleagues.

Attachment-Focused EMDR: Healing Relational Trauma

W. W. Norton and Company, October, 2013

Hardcover, 416 pages


Attachment-Focused EMDR: Healing Relational Trauma

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APA Reference
Reviews, B. (2016). Attachment-Focused EMDR: Healing Relational Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
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Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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