Highlights of the MINNEAPOLIS Annual EMDRIA Conference

  EMDRIA's 27th Annual Conference on Aug. 26-28, 2016 was in Minneapolis, close enough that many US Midwest/Iowa EMDR clinicians attended for the first time. While I cannot adequately represent all the wonderful things that were learned, below is a summer of highlights from the conference, including wonderful new books purchased (or in our Amazon carts). Though this was several years ago, it was one of the best I’ve attended, so I am leaving this post for your enjoyment!

      Plenary Speakers

     Francine Shapiro Ph.D typically has given the opening plenary address every other year. This would have been her year but she was not in attendance. Her inspiring passion for EMDR therapy and research was missed! In her place, Deany Laliotis LICSW gave the Opening Address Thursday evening, overviewing changes focused on EMDR as a comprehensive therapy. She discussed the EMDR connection with ACES studies and summarized progress to date, noting 30 randomized controlled research studies on EMDR therapy. An encouraging piece of news: the VA now has a new upper management director who is asking 'why are we not using EMDR therapy?'" Hopefully, this will allow increased access to EMDR therapy for more of our military and veterans, along with a brand new poster outside the VA in Washington D.C. The quote is something like: We are glad you're back from the war; don't bring the war back with you." We were excited and thrilled to see and hear more of EMDRIA's new marketing campaign, to be rolled out next year. Another ad that got an audience-wide laugh was an edgy one directed at therapists: "If you don't have EMDR therapy in your toolbox, you're all talk."

      The most enjoyable plenary speaker, by group consensus, was Gabor Maté, MD. He is an addictions specialist and Canadian physician who draws on a decade of experience working as a family doctor in downtown Eastside Vancouver’s low-income hotels, as shared in his 2009 book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction . Dr. Maté brings a unique perspective to drug-policy issues within the addictions community, one built on an open mind that understands the risks of drug use but also possible purposes and benefits. His passion is challenging those treating addictions to move past outdated frameworks for addiction treatment and recovery coming from past (US led) paradigms of 'Just say No' in the 80's & 90's 'War on Drugs' and the addictions disease model. Expanding on the results of the ACES studies, Dr. Maté strengthened our understanding of addictions as survival coping mechanisms from adverse life experiences. Though not a new perspective for the EMDR community, his conviction and supportive data further clarify past trauma being the foundation of addictions as well as physical diseases.

      Dr. Maté shared examples and excerpts of the stress-disease model drawn from his latest book When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection (2011).One illustration of the connection is the physical cost of' not saying no' for ALS sufferers. When physicians send patients for their initial diagnostic testing to confirm the disease, Dr. Maté reported that the technicians administering the tests consistently and accurately predict who has the disease by how 'nice' they are. Those that are 'very nice' have it and those that are 'not nice enough' do not. This really spoke to those of us who may be recovering from a culture of 'terminal niceness' (as I call it). He also shared excerpts from obituaries glorifying the deceased's dedication to their profession at the expense of health. One was a woman dying of stage 4 cancer who was praised for working up to the last few days of her death. He continued to open our eyes to the powerful mind/body connection that our culture(s) deny at great cost.

     Dr. Maté's own background as a survivor of World War 2 in Budapest is another powerful illustration of past adverse childhood experiences impacting present functioning. Budapest was the last country to be invaded by the Nazis, occurring when he was 2 months old. Following their arrival, a mass slaughter of Jews all around him and his family occurred within a few months, an extreme stress upon his mother. Dr. Maté's 'body remembered' with a recent visit to his mother. Recovering from minor knee surgery, he was limping until he got to his mother's room. His limp (subconsciously) disappeared while with his mother. He apparently still believed he needed to protect his very resilient mother from the stress of seeing her eldest with a limp–his very resilient mother, that is, who survived the Nazi invasion, significant traumatic loss of loved ones, immigration to another country and many other adversities in her life. My overall favorite line from Dr. Maté's presentation, however, is what he has prepared for his own epitaph: "It was much more difficult than I had anticipated."

      Workshop Presenters

     Esly Regina Carvalho Ph.D's short workshop was a very complimentary presentation to Dr. Mate's, taken from her book Heal your Brain, Heal your Body: How EMDR Therapy Can Heal Your Body by Healing Your Brain (2015). She presented clinical strategies for addressing pain and disease, stating "I have learned that the body does not like to be cut open!" One clinical strategy uses a drawing protocol similar to Mark Grant's pain protocol. Her case illustration is of a woman having unexplained post surgical pain following successful surgery for endometriosis, The target drawing shows her perception of trash in her uterus/abdomen, with the pain resolved wth one processing session.

     The most valuable clinical segment, however, was her 'Interviewing the Body with Role-Reversal' protocol. Applying interventions from her early psychodrama training along with ego state and EMDR therapy, she directs the person to become their pain or disease through role play. While processing, she asks a series of questions directly to the pain or disease. These skillful questions, such as "when did you first come to [client’s] body? What is your purpose? What will it take for you to go away?" reach the subconscious in a way that goes beyond the client's typical intake information or explicit memory. She also does 100-200 passes of BLS, as she finds more frequent check-in's interrupt the flow of the client's processing. In using this process with a client, I found it to be a powerful way to help the client get unstuck from the hopelessness of chronic pain. These questions are solution-focused, looking at the purpose of the symptom in a gentle and accepting way. It is interesting that this particular client has always needed longer sets of BLS (38 or more) and took very well to the 100+ I used per Dr. Carvalho's recommendation.

      This protocol seems to be an extension of what we use as an interweave with stuck body sensations that do not clear, such as "if that part of your body could talk, what would it say?" This role reversal protocol, however, results in an entire informative conversation that moves the client's processing by offering new information as to the purpose or source of the present pain, disease, or other chronic distress. If you would like to learn more from Dr. Carvalho, known as the 'grandmother of EMDR' in Brazil, she will be presenting a workshop in Minnesota in January of 2017 called  Creative Protocols for EMDR Therapy (see post on this website)>


    New books seen and/or purchased at the conference include Robbie Adler Tapia and Carolyn Settle's exciting second edition update to their book and manual on EMDR therapy with children. EMDR and the Art of Psychotherapy with Children, Second Edition: Infants to Adolescents and EMDR and the Art of Psychotherapy with Children, Second Edition: Infants to Adolescents Treatment Manual (both August 2016) have valuable updated sections on treating the youngest and oldest of the traumatized child population. Dr. Esly Carvalho's book Healing the Folks Who Live Inside: How EMDR Can Heal Our Inner Gallery of Roles (2013) is a slim volume addressing parts work in a clear and understandable way for clients to understand this healing process.

      Robin Shapiro LICSW, author of the highly recommended EMDR Solutions: Pathways to Healing (2005) and EMDR Solutions II , has another fabulous book to share with us: Easy Ego State Interventions: Strategies for Working with Parts (Feb. 2016). We had the privilege of hosting her two day workshop on this topic in 2018. It was incredible and we look forward to having her back to teach us again!

Bonnie Mikelson LISW

Director, EMDR & Beyond

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