Safety and Attachment Focused (S.A.F.E) EMDR was developed by Deborah Kennard after many years as an EMDR trainer, teaching Francine Shapiro’s training through EMDR HAP and the EMDR Institute.  It was developed to address some common blocks that many therapists were experiencing when working with clients who have experienced complex trauma.  

The ultimate goal of the S.A.F.E. EMDR approach is to facilitate the most safe and efficient way to implement EMDR Therapy.    We have a simplified safety (somatic)and attachment approach using principles of nonviolence and mindfulness.  These same principles apply to both therapy and training.  In order to teach our approach, we model and practice it in the training environment.  

Francine Shapiro’s EMDR Therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model.  The premise of that model is that disturbing experiences become stored in a different way than other experiences.  When something traumatic or disturbing happens it becomes stored in the system with all of the aspects of the original experience and present moment events trigger that dysfunctionally stored memory, resulting in what appears to be an over reaction.  This is a very powerful model the effectiveness of which has been verified by research in neuroscience. 

One of the positive aspects of the EMDR therapy training is the accessibility for clinicians.  EMDRIA requires 40 hours of training and 10 hours of consultation as the minimum for an EMDRIA approved EMDR training.  Compared to other trainings such as Pat Ogden’s, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy or Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing ,both of which have multiple levels of trainings, each 6 to 8 months in duration, EMDR is much more affordable and accessible for most clinicians.   

Including a simplified way of applying attachment and safety, bodily- based theories in our training deepens the understanding of trauma and trauma treatment.  This depth of understanding provides opportunities to tailor resources to specific needs of the client. These theories specifically address safety and relationship aspects, both of which are common issues when working with clients who have experienced complex trauma.

After the completion of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Level 3 and becoming a Certified Sensorimotor Psychotherapist, Deborah Kennard developed S.A.F.E. EMDR, as a way to bring in the powerful aspects of the body-centered psychotherapies while maintaining fidelity to the EMDR model. S.A.F.E. EMDR incorporates the principles of nonviolence and mindfulness to the EMDR therapy training as well as a simplified way to conceptualize attachment and bodily-based safety theories.  Nonviolence and mindfulness are important aspects of effective therapy of any type, but especially trauma therapies.  These principles foster the conditions for a safe, healing environment.

One major and unique difference in our training is the concept of “The Answer,” that is the client’s adaptation in order to stay safe or stay connected to caregivers.  This concept helps simplify safety and attachment theories so clinicians can apply them immediately.  This concept is woven in to all 8 phases of the EMDR therapy.  The understanding that the adaptation creates our characteristics in personality as well as body type has been a part of other psychological type theories such as Wilhelm Reicht’s Character Types and Pat Ogden and Ron Kurtz’s Character Strategies.  We came up with our own character types, in which the types reflect the strength of the client’s adaptation.

The Answer is a simplified way to conceptualize the client’s attachment patterns and adaptation to the environment including, the family culture, genetics and traumatic experiences. which may have resulted in a restricted sense of feeling safe in the present moment, also referred to a decreased “window of affect tolerance” (Dan Siegel).  

We start off using the concept of The Answer in phases 1 and 2, history and preparation phase, asking a series of questions to  identify the client’s strengths and current resources.  When beginning history taking phase with clients who have had complex trauma, it can be destabilizing to ask about the traumatic events too soon in the therapy process.  Two common results of complex trauma are: difficulty regulating affect and difficulty having stable relationships.  These two common symptoms are addressed in the somatic and attachment model.  The safety aspect of our training addresses the neurobiological, automatic responses of our survival defenses that become activated, and keep the client from being able to feel safe when he/she is safe.  The relational difficulties show up in attachment patterns that were adaptive at the time in order to keep the client safe and connected to the caregivers, but now often present as a barrier to authentic connection. 

Our model investigates the client’s strengths and resources first, and determines from that assessment, which specific areas will be addressed in phase 2, preparation phase.  We do this with a questionnaire, The Answer, inquiring about various responses and patterns of behavior.  We use this information to continue an assessment of where the client is out of balance in various areas.  This then informs the therapist of resources that will be most helpful to be developed.  All of this is done in collaboration with the client and in the spirit of appreciation of the way the client adapted to the events of the past.  This is where the principles of nonviolence and mindfulness are very helpful. 

Part of the beauty of this approach is predicting that the client’s strength, “The Answer,” which is also the client’s block to healing, will appear throughout the treatment process.  This prediction helps to foster awareness and then acts to inoculate this block from impeding the process.  As the client’s “Answer” appears, we welcome and appreciate how it was helpful to the client in the past.  This welcoming allows the client to bring awareness to the block, while appreciating the adaptive nature of it, which often leaves the client open to other options and more choices.

Although this concept appears simple, there is a great depth to it.  “The Answer” is the thing we did to adapt as a human, to stay safe and attached to caregivers.  It becomes our strength as well as block to healing and intimacy.  As the therapist, if we can welcome this adaptation, also referred to as the defense or resistance, and appreciate it, the client’s system can relax the defense and ultimately willingly allow the defense to soften.  

With this approach we are also viewing the therapy experience in terms of the missing experience for the client, using that to inform the processing, cognitive interweave as well as resources.   The missing experience is the missing attachment need that went unfulfilled.  When the client experiences what has been missing in the present moment, it often activates both the sadness of longing and the hope of finally having that longing met. 

The safety emphasis of the training is important in working with high levels of fear.  The understanding of how our bodies remember trauma and effective bodily-based resource interventions provide opportunities for the client to release excess arousal from the nervous system. 

Personal transformation for all involved is a part of the PTI mission.  We welcome the present moment and whatever is here.  We welcome and savor the new connections and new positive insights.  We also welcome confusion, conflict and blocks as instruments to increased awareness and an opportunity for transformation. 

By teaching the somatic and attachment aspects, training participants can welcome their own adaptation, The Answer, creating  increased safety and awareness of the blocks to learning and ultimately personal transformation. 

Watch for more blog posts on the various ways The Answer concept is useful in EMDR therapy and training.