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  • Writer's pictureEvi Donevan

The Difference between EMDR and AF-EMDR

EMDR works well with many clients, but it has its limitations.

And limitations with therapeutic modalities can be frustrating. Limitations stop a client from making significant progress. That is precisely why Dr. Laurel Parnell created Attachment-Focused EMDR (AF-EMDR): to push through the barriers holding clients back from fully healing when doing EMDR.

So, how are they different from one another? To fully understand what sets AF-EMDR apart from EMDR, first, you must understand the “AF” in AF-EMDR, which stands for “Attachment Focused,” referring to Attachment Theory.

What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory centers around the idea that early bonds with primary caregivers shape lifelong development. They provide safety and security, leading you to develop healthy relationships in adulthood.

Being unable to form secure attachments in childhood often leads to problems in personal relationships and any number of mental health conditions.

About EMDR and Its Limitations

EMDR is a proven effective technique in treating many types of trauma. It incorporates eye movements and bilateral stimulation (BLS) to integrate the mind-body-emotion connection and remove healing blocks so a client can feel safe and comfortable. EMDR works well for clients needing to resolve unconscious memories or traumatic events causing them distress.

EMDR allows clients to revisit challenging feelings, thoughts, and beliefs with less distress and activation.

However, EMDR doesn’t work well with clients who have developed an insecure attachment style stemming from chronic relational trauma such as childhood abuse, neglect, abandonment, or mistreatment. This is because:

  • They have a difficult time navigating the intense emotions that arise during EMDR.

  • EMDR requires clients to develop a strong bond with their therapist, which is difficult when they have insecure attachments.

How AF-EMDR Addresses Those Limitations

Attachment-Focused EMDR effectively addresses attachment issues caused by traumatic events occurring in early childhood. Abuse and trauma from their past affects brain development, causing gaps in neural networks and manifesting in anxiety, depression, and difficulty with emotional regulation.

The AF-EMDR process helps a client to develop new neural networks, overriding the gaps to alleviate pain, feelings of inadequacy, and loss. 

One of the most critical aspects of AF-EMDR is the importance of developing a strong, reparative therapeutic relationship and uses:

  • Resource Tapping: to strengthen clients and repair developmental deficits

  • EMDR: to process traumas

  • Talk Therapy: to integrate information from EMDR sessions and provide healing through client-therapist interactions

In summary, the primary difference between the two trauma-informed therapies is AF-EMDR’s focus on the importance of the therapeutic relationship, creating safety in the therapy, emphasizing attunement and adapting the work to the individual client’s needs, and repairing developmental deficits, which is necessary for many clients. 



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