Letting steam out of the pressure cooker: The EMDR life stress protocol


The standard protocol of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been well established as an efficacious brief treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addressing past, present, and future aspects of a traumatizing event. This article provides instruction in the administration of the EMDR Life Stress Protocol, which targets a significant recent experience or a life scenario that is not necessarily remarkable as a stand-alone event (getting up every morning with dread, feeling anxious about leaving the house) and which causes distress and impaired function such as has been commonly reported during the COVID-19 crisis. This protocol involves minor but significant modifications within EMDR therapy’s standard procedures. It uses the present-day experience as the Target Memory while accessing briefly, the memory network of historical experiences that inform the client’s reactions to their present circumstances. Successful processing is immediately followed by a Future Template to generate an alternative pattern of response, optimizing the client’s capacity to respond adaptively to continued life demands. The EMDR Life Stress Protocol differs from EMDR’s various recent events protocols, which seek to reduce posttraumatic symptoms following a recent traumatic event or crisis. Those protocols focus on the critical incident and ancillary events, and typically do not intend to activate memory networks of related historical experiences. The article describes case conceptualization to offer a rationale for this approach and provides a detailed description of this protocol, illustrated with case examples, highlighting its application both as a psychotherapy approach and as a brief intervention.






Deany Laliotis

Original Work Citation

Laliotis, D. (2020). Letting steam out of the pressure cooker: The EMDR life stress protocol. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 14(3), 150-161. doi:10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00032



“Letting steam out of the pressure cooker: The EMDR life stress protocol,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 30, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/26542.

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