The Mindful Stance of the EMDR Therapist: Four Reminders to Avoid the Trauma Triangle

Mary French, BSN, MSW, LCSW-C, Center Faculty

Let’s face it, one of the common adaptions to trauma that therapists share is the overdeveloped role of rescuer. It is easy for some of us to step into the trauma triangle through this dynamic. It is so automatic we may not even notice when we do. 

Let’s be curious together:  

  • Are there times when you feel the pull of the client’s helplessness?  

  • Do you feel responsible when a client blames you because they don’t feel better? 

  • When the client isn’t making progress, is your first question, “what did I do wrong?” 

If any one of these questions resonates with you or calls up an uncomfortable experience with a client, you’re not alone. 

Our more challenging clients can often trigger our adaptations to trauma. When this happens therapy can stall or veer off the rails. Deany Laliotis explains the phenomenon this way: “From an AIP perspective, an impasse is a collision between memory networks where both the therapist and the client are being triggered.”  

Here Is Something that Reminds Me to Take a Mindful Stance 

I would like to share how I greet my rescuer part each day. Above my computer, where I work, I keep a little sticky note with four simple statements: 

  • Show up 

  • Pay attention 

  • Tell the truth without judgment or blame (Do the best you can

  • Do not be attached to the outcome 

Considering these “reminders” is part of my daily mindfulness practice* (Santorelli, 1999). They bring my attention to my old adaptation of the overdeveloped role of the rescuer from my own trauma and help me maintain a mindful, attuned stance with my clients. Here is what each one reminds me of: 

  • Show up is about being present in the moment.   

  • Pay attention helps me to refine my attunement to the client moment by moment. 

  • Tell the truth without judgment or blame (Do the best I can), is about staying connected to my authentic self from my highest level of enlightenment. 

  • Not be attached to outcome is about the humble recognition that I am not the agent of change. If I become too attached to my client’s outcome, I know it is more about my need to rescue than about the client’s process.  

Combined with my own EMDR reprocessing, these four simple statements remind me to refine my use of self in Relational EMDR. The mindful stance of the therapist can transform the therapeutic use of self and the therapeutic relationship, which is so fundamental to our work with clients. Feel free to adopt my reminders or find your own mindful reminders and you might want to put that sticky note on your computer. 


 * from one of my original mediation teachers, Saki Santorelli (Heal Thy Self, 1999) from The Center for Mindfulness.