Integrating EMDR into couples therapy



This protocol connects a trauma model of relationships to Bowen’s concept of differentiation (D’Antonio, 1997). In addition to those couples where a traumatic episode, prior to or during the relationship, has had a clear impact on the relationship (e.g., history of childhood sexual abuse, infidelity, death of child, etc.), highly reactive couples are those who profit most from integrating EMDR into their couples work. Reactivity in couples typically includes a rapid escalation in negative emotion, accompanied by escalation in overt conflict, withdrawal-pursuit, conflict-avoidance, or dominance-submission. EMDR can play an important role when reactivity in sessions blocks therapist interventions or resists routine interventions; when one or both partners are so reactive as to be abusive, coercive, or destructive; or when one or both partners are emotionally shut down or phobic about emotional engagement. Treatment Goals: When EMDR is used to treat trauma, therapists generally look for treatment change specific to the trauma and its PTSD-like symptoms. In couples therapy, the desired outcomes are more the generalized effects of EMDR and those we might expect from EMDR performance enhancement. Therapists look for the partners to become better differentiated and relationally more competent so that they become less defensive and reactive; they develop a greater ability to identify their own thoughts, feelings, and desires; they become more assertive without becoming aggressive; they develop greater empathy for themselves and one another; and they are open to greater emotional and physical intimacy.


Book Section




Michael D'Antonio

Original Work Citation



“Integrating EMDR into couples therapy,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 25, 2020,

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