I am an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist.  I am thinking that using alternating bilateral stimulation during the guided imagery would intensify the positive effect.  Do you have any anecdotal clinical experience or research to support this idea?

Roger P.

Dear Roger,

This is a great idea and I’m delighted to get this question and post it.  

Just to back up and explain to those who aren’t familiar with it, EMDR is a protocol created by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro that promotes internal change by having people focus on images or memories while engaging in some sort of bilateral stimulation - either following the therapist’s finger or a light bar with the eyes, back and forth across the midline of the body; or tapping alternate arms and legs; or having mechanical buzzers go off alternately in each hand; or alternating tones through a headset in each ear.  It’s not clear exactly why it works, but it does seem to help some people quite a bit, with things like getting rid of disturbing memories or shifting attitudes or managing anxiety.  It’s a technique that’s been researched pretty heavily and has gained legitimacy in most therapeutic quarters.

And although I’m not aware of any research that compares imagery plus bilateral stimulation with imagery alone, bilateral stimulation alone or imagery plus some other control condition, I have indeed heard enthusiastic clinical feedback on this combination.
Other therapists have had the same creative idea that you did, have given it a try and, at least in their judgment, felt it enhanced the efficacy of the imagery.  One social worker reported using this combo with traumatized firefighters from Ground Zero, and was very excited about the results.  So give it a try!  It can’t hurt and it might help. And please report back to us what you discover.
Thanks much for writing.