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EMDR Therapy, Demystified

Discover the profound impact of healing early traumas in the latest episode of Kate White's "A More Beautiful Life Podcast" with our own renowned expert on the subject, Dr. Mara Tesler Stein, as they share valuable insights into trauma-focused care, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and the significance of recognizing and integrating earliest life experiences.

The following Q&As from the interview are an abridgment. To view the whole interview, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Q: What gaps have you seen in mental health care for mothers and families?

When I was in the hospital in the first six months after my girls came home, I grew increasingly depressed and appalled at the lack of emotional awareness and support for what I had just been through, which was altogether 16 weeks of hospitalization - six and a half for me and my girls for ten.

They came home with oxygen and apnea monitors and it wasn't over. It was then that I realized, well, if nobody is filling that gap, then I need to. So, that's how the development of the book project started.

Image of the book "Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child: The Emotional Journey" by Deborah L. Davis and Dr. Mara Tesler Stein. The book is placed on a wooden nightstand next to a small, green succulent in a white pot. The cover of the book is visible, featuring a soft, pastel color scheme.

Similarly, I was working with clients and was still very much in my own cave in a way. I was social at that point, but there was no social media, you know? I connected with Debbie [Davis] and we started doing our work, but I was starting to see where I was getting stuck. So, I got trained in EMDR. And then, I got trained in several kinds of gold standard models of couples therapy, and over time, got trained in hypnotherapy and Brainspotting. So, I saw the gaps personally that I needed to fill because I wasn't providing what my clients' needed. I was also raising my kids and doing my thing - life was happening - doing EMDR and therapy, and a lot of this.

As my kids got older - high school, college - I popped my head up. Social media was everywhere! And I didn't know what was happening. I was looking beyond my little space and collaborating with colleagues, but I wasn't oriented to the larger perinatal space. So, I started talking with other perinatal specialists, which was incredibly exciting. Historically, I've been the only one of my kind when I would go to a specialized training and they would look at me like, "there's trauma there? What kind of trauma are you talking about?"

Q: What is perinatal trauma and how do you work with it?

What I saw was that in the world of trauma-focused therapists, EMDR therapists in particular, people did not know much, if anything, about perinatal specific trauma.

When people think about perinatal trauma, they immediately go to trauma during birthing; maybe they think about perinatal bereavement, when a fetus dies or when a baby dies. But one of the things I wanted to help people see was all of the other places where trauma lives in the perinatal period - where the vulnerabilities are, where the ruptures can happen - and they can happen across so many dimensions.

Now I have a three-day course, because how you work with it is so much about all of these layers, interactions, and intersections. How do you find the rupture? And then, how do you attend to that rupture? So, I often teach from an EMDR perspective, but I also teach in a more general sense, because there are so many levels of what we need to do for families that fits into the EMDR model beautifully. But, you don't have to be an EMDR practitioner to benefit from that same body of information.

Q: Can you demystify EMDR therapy?

What we're doing in EMDR therapy is inducing a state of dual attention, where the client has one foot in the past and one in the present. We do this through alternating bilateral stimulation, which can involve rapid eye movements, tapping, sounds, or a combination of these.

Image of a quote graphic featuring a statement by Dr. Mara Tesler Stein. The quote reads: "[Through EMDR], we can help unlock, untangle, and metabolize lots of ways to think about the traumatic memory, allowing the nervous system to start doing what it knows how to do."

Foundational to this therapy model is the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. It's the organic idea that our bodies know how to heal if given what it needs and isn't hampered by other problems. When trauma occurs, that natural process is disrupted; and instead of the nervous system being able to heal, it creates a barrier or a block. The trauma memory is held differently in the nervous system and doesn't integrate or move into long-term memory.

So, when people are activated by something in the present moment, it feels like they're falling back into the memory - almost like a part of their nervous system is still experiencing the trauma. In EMDR, we directly target this information in the brain using a specific method. This way, we can help unlock, untangle, and metabolize lots of ways to think about the traumatic memory, allowing the nervous system to start doing what it knows how to do. It moves it out of the stuck place and into long-term memory, keeping only the important details and transforming the whole experience.

It's such a cool method. I always say to clients, "You will understand this so much better after the first time we do it."

I know it sounds like I'm talking about EMDR like it is magic, but we see the shift in brain function on functional MRIs, in physiological function, and trauma activation before and after therapy.


This is just a glimpse into the transformative power of EMDR and the importance of recognizing and addressing perinatal trauma. Watch the full interview below to gain a deeper understanding of the profound impact EMDR can have for your clients.

Interested in adding EMDR to your therapeutic practice?

Join us for Mara's upcoming Foundational EMDR Therapy Training!

Image of a graphic displaying the dates for the Foundational EMDR Therapy Training with Dr. Mara Tesler Stein. The dates are divided into two parts: Part I is from July 30 to August 1, and Part II is from October 22 to 24.


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