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  • Writer's pictureHannah Hamilton

The Importance of Standard Protocol (and all the reasons it is not a god)

When people first learn Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, it can feel both exciting and overwhelming. Therapy is considered an blend of art and science, with practitioners tending to lean more heavily on either the art or the science side of it. Those that are focused on their intuition in session and the flow of the therapy can find EMDR Therapy to be rigid and cumbersome to implement the phases. Those that focus more on the science-side and feel comfortable with the linear aspects of EMDR Therapy can lose the importance of the therapeutic rapport during EMDR. As is true with most things in life, the answer to confidently and effectively practicing EMDR Therapy lies in the mix of the two.


Before you can start to really appreciate the art of EMDR Therapy, you have to first understand the science behind the process. For me, it is similar to learning how to lift weights. When I first started out, I couldn’t do complicated maneuvers called complexes nor could I lift heavy weights. I had to start out with the basics and use lighter weights. Once I understood the mechanics of a movement (my posture, my breath, the movement itself), then I could move to combining exercises or lifting heavy. Learning how to do the exercise and they ‘why’ behind the exercise allowed me to progress and lift in a way that fit me. Learning EMDR Therapy is a similar practice.


Standard Protocol is the basis for EMDR Therapy and is the form of EMDR that is studied and has become evidenced-based. It also has its downfalls as it doesn’t work well in its rigid form for all populations or all cultures. That is where clinical intuition, modifications, and flexibility come in. But just as with weightlifting, until you understand the how and why of the phases, you can’t move on to making them your own. Learning EMDR Therapy doesn’t mean you lose yourself as a clinician (as can happen if you focus too rigidly on the phases) but it also doesn’t mean it is effective if you only use some of the phases or don’t understand the phases (as can happen if you focus on BLS only or EMDR as a technique instead of a therapy).


My approach as an EMDR practitioner and consultant is focused on Standard Protocol first, but not at the expense of those I am serving. Consultation can be an essential part of learning EMDR Therapy as it provides feedback on your use and understanding of the Standard Protocol. Additionally, as you begin to understand the foundation, your consultant can help you learn how to modify and apply EMDR Therapy using your clinical intuition and with cultural humility.


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