Compassion-Focused EMDR

Compassion-Focused EMDR


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Part 1

In our sister blog  The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism  one of our contributors has been charting his progress through EMDR therapy for complex post traumatic stress disorder in the following blogs starting with the most recent –

Brain Sculpting 

Filling the Hole in the Soul 

Trying to Find the Horror

The Thing We Most Run Away From is the Truth

Almost Time

There is a Solution to Complex Trauma

A Safe Place to Visit

Well that’s the First Session Done!


The intention to is to help readers understand the healing from Complex PTSD by marrying the actual experience of EMDR treatment, via a personal journey of healing,  with the research literature on EMDR to more fully understand the processes and mechanisms involved in recovery from C-PTSD.

The purpose of this blogsite is to more accurately conceptualise addiction and related co-occurring conditions such as C-PTSD so that readers have more knowledge and awareness about what therapeutic strategies are out there to help them in their recovery. Obviously, it is also very useful to those who do not suffer form addictive behaviour too but suffer the persistent effects of trauma and insecure attachment.

We firmly believe, that after initial treatment for addictive behaviour, many will need to address and have treatment for some of the co-occurring conditions which make one’s addictive behaviours more chronic/severe and which in treating these effectively will help sustain a long term recovery not only from addictive behaviours but also from these co-occurring conditions.

Today we start our look at Compassion Focussed EMDR (which will be over a series of blogs)   as our contributor’s own EMDR therapy is getting closer to successful completion and there has been a therapeutic shift in a focus to the use of compassion in healing, which we believe is becoming more prevalent in EMDR treatment generally.

Here we cite and use excerpts form a very good review (1) to explain in this part of the blog what it meant compassion and how it effects our interaction with ourselves and others. The next blog will look a the effect of trauma on compassion.

“Compassion is a felt experience relating to sympathy that motivates people toward need or distress and is demonstrated by care-giving behaviors (Gilbert, 2009, 2010).

It is generated from a sensitivity to suffering and a motivation to do something active to help that suffering (Dalai Lama, 2005). Humans are social animals with evolved systems of attachment and social behaviors which enhance our survival (Cortina & Liotti, 2010). Such survival is linked to compassionate behavior that evolved to enhance cooperation, which protects others within a social network (Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010). Compassion may manifest in thoughts, an emotional state, bodily experiences, and behavioral impulses. MacLean (1990) developed the idea of the evolved triune brain that demonstrates the central position of care-related motivations in our psychology.

The reptilian brain is the oldest and controls arousal and drives and is responsible for basic threat defenses and ranking in the group. The mammalian brain mediates emotion, attachment motivation, and memory and is governed by the limbic system, which lies over the reptilian brain. The neocortex is responsible for self-conscious awareness, abstract ideas, planning, and accessible thought processes and is the most recently evolved aspect of the human brain. It likely evolved in conjunction with our complex social systems (Gilbert, 1989; Irons & Gilbert, 2005; MacLean, 1990). Although many motivational systems are concerned with resources, survival, reproduction, or exploration, a compassionate motivation is linked to archetypal influences over our behavior in social situations (Gilbert, 1989, 2007). These social motivations include the capacity to give and receive care, both to oneself and others.

Depue and Morrone-Strupinsky (2005) found two types of positive emotion. One was related to caregiving, affiliation, and social safeness, whereas the other was related to agency and pleasure. Compassion is linked to emotion regulation through good, safe, affiliative experiences. Such attachment experiences are highly related to soothing capacity, persons’ mindfulness of their own mind, and their ability to appreciate the motivations of others (Bateman & Fonagy, 2012).

Experiencing the behavior of others teaches us how we are perceived by them and this in turn influences what we think of ourselves (Bateman & Fonagy, 2012). Loving relationships create a sense of self-worth through internalized expectations of patience and kindness. Self-compassion is about self-acceptance, which directs kindness and support toward the self even when faced with challenges (Neff, 2003a). It encourages reflective capacities about oneself and others. Compassion-focused therapy has an emphasis on affiliative-based soothing because internal models of positive relationships can downregulate threat even in the imagination. Such neurobiological soothing capacities can engage with suffering rather than avoid it and build resilience by moderating the brain’s threat-based alarm system (Germer, 2009; Gilbert, 2009; Siegel, 2010).


  1. Kennedy, A. (2014). Compassion-Focused EMDR. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 8(3), 135-146.



2 replies »

  1. Great blog on why and how the relationship between provider and client matters tremendously to treatment outcome. Here in the U.S., Insurance companies and the ACA continue to drive health care into more and more “evidence based treatment.”
    What they do not talk about is that they want that treatment to be easily quantifiable. The compassion and connection part of health care that is more difficult to quantify has been shown to as important or more important than technique in numerous studies. At the very least it enhances the treatment’s efficacy.

  2. Thank you Paul – we have a similar set up in the UK with CBT the easily quantifiable “therapy” used for most affective and mental disorders including schizophrenia!!?
    Although EMDR is interesting in that therapeutic advances are often made within a relatively short time frame and presumably “quantifiable” – it is just great that this may be one of those “quantifiable” treatments that also has efficacy in treating a wide variety of disorders.
    CBT got severed from it’s emotion dysrgulation roots some time back and has never fully reconnected although Beck, Ellis etc have reappraised that cognitive distortions are the result of emotional dysregulation?
    Most affective disorders have a hyperactive amgydala at their root. So we need to develop compassion in order to quell the anxious and distressed amgydala before getting anywhere in treatment. A compassion we often first learn via the relationship with the therapist. As you say compassion enhances a treatment’s efficacy.
    Fortunately many brain imaging studies have shown that EMDR does in fact quell amygdaloid activation and this helps with memory and emotion reprocessing.
    Personally I wonder why EMDR is not more widely used in addiction treatment centres which offer longer term after care than presently afforded by “acute care” models of care. A vast majority of addicted individuals suffer either or all of these – emotion dysregulation , post trauma, or insecure attachment which can prompt relapse. Treating these with EMDR obviously helps with a fuller more healthy recovery too.

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