EMDR:  Targeting the repetition compulsion in couples therapy


EMDR constitutes a valuable tool for couples therapists when one or both partners are stuck in repetitive, reactive cycles. This workshop describes the circumstances in which EMDR is most likely to be helpful in couples therapy. It examines the benefits of EMDR through the lens of the repetition compulsion, with pariicular emphasis on common - and often intractable - impasses in in the treatment of couples. The origins of the repetition compulsion in early failures of attunement are described, as in the re-enactment of these experiences in the adult couples relationship. Working with EMDR is nested within the context of a resource-based approach to couples therapy, emphasizing how emotional reactivity and defensive withdrawal impede the expression of empathy, trustworthiness, intimacy and repair in the couples relationship. Different formats for conducting EMDR (separately with one partner; separately with both partners; conjointly with both partners; or adjunctively with another therapist) are presented, along with indicators, advantages and disadvantages of each format. Special considerations (such as when to introduce EMDR, balancing alliances, sequencing sessions and instructions to an observing partner) and modifications of the standard protocol when EMDR is used in the context of couples treatment are also clarified. Finally, circumstances in which EMDR is unlikely to be helpful or in which it is contraindicated are examined.






Mark A. Karpel

Original Work Citation

Karpel, M. A. (2006, September). EMDR: Targeting the repetition compulsion in couples therapy. Presentation at the 11th EMDR International Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA



“EMDR:  Targeting the repetition compulsion in couples therapy,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 24, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/16617.

Output Formats