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Spiritual EMDR?

Updated: May 1, 2023

I led a group this week where we were talking about the practices of gratitude and lament. As we listened to Psalm 22 being read, we noticed that David, like many psalmists, alternated back and forth between gratitude and lament, sometimes even in the same paragraph. This alternating "movement" reminded me of a therapeutic method called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).

In EMDR, the client is directed to follow a moving target with their eyes, from side to side, as they recall traumatic events that need healing. I'm not a therapist, nor a neuroscientist, but apparently, there is something about the bilateral movement that helps soften the blow of processing traumatic events which can lead to healing (with the help of a good therapist guiding the client through the eight-phase process). If I understand it correctly, the theory is that the moving back and forth between the two hemispheres of the brain helps integrate the memories trapped in conflicting ways of processing a trauma, restoring the client to a psychological wholeness--a psychological shalom, if you will.

Now, why am I going off on this psychological tangent? Because I think EMDR is a perfect analogy for the powerful relationship between the practice of gratitude and lament. I am not proposing that gratitude and lament are EMDR tools; I am saying it is an intriguing way to view gratitude and lament--that there are these two seemingly opposing ways of responding to trauma and both are essential for a full healing.

Practicing only one or the other can be hazardous to our spiritual and mental health. If you only practice gratitude, you will likely repress pain that God honestly desires for you to acknowledge, which will most likely cause mental and physical anguish as you stuff it. If you only practice lament, you may sink into despair and negative thought patterns that lead to self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is only when you move back and forth between both gratitude and lament, like the psalmists, that you will see and experience the full and complete truth of a trauma (or any negative experience). God meets us in that truth, because he is truth and he sheds light on any darkness so that truth can be revealed. In doing so, we find healing.

So do you want to learn more about this "spiritual EMDR"? You can read my post about Lament and then try out the practice with me in my video at the end or with this worksheet. If you'd like to try out Gratitude, here's a good place to start--and, of course, like everything in life, there's an app for that. Lastly, one of my favorite ways to practice these two exercises together is through Immanuel Journaling--it begins with gratitude and then the opportunity to lament in a unique way. You can find the worksheet for it here.

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