By Derin Kubilay - Clinical Psychologist & EMDR Therapist
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an effective trauma treatment. It helps the survivor process and resolves the feelings attached to their traumatic memories to decrease their negative emotional impact.
In EMDR therapy, you’ll be asked to focus on a traumatic memory to identify negative cognitions (beliefs about yourself, others, or your world) related to the incident that is contributing to your distress and preventing you from entirely moving on with your life.
EMDR requires the identification of a target image and a negative cognition. The thing is, a negative cognition is paired up with a ’target image'.
Targeting negative cognitions aims to build internal resources with positive visualization and stabilization through the five senses.
Unprocessed or maladaptively processed experiences can lead to distorted conclusions about the self because these conclusions are based on inaccurate information connected with disturbing effects that were available when the experience was encoded.
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EMDR cognition is a negative or positive thought about yourself in relation to a past trauma. These thoughts can be automatic and may not be based on reality.
Note that it needs to be present-moment-focused. For example, “As you think of that situation and the sensations you are experiencing right now, what words best describe your negative belief about yourself?”
It is not a restatement of the effect.
“I am guilty” and “I feel guilty” are not the same. The first one is a general belief about oneself for most of the events, and the second one is a feeling related to the event.
Suppose that someone had been abused by their father as a child. In that case, they might automatically think that “I’m unlovable”, or “I deserved it”, even though these are not necessarily true. The negative cognition is “I am unlovable”.
In EMDR therapy, these cognitions are processed so that the person realizes the truth of what happened rather than the distorted meaning they gave it at the time.
A negative cognition is a thought or belief that is distorted and/or unhelpful. It can be something that you’ve always believed about yourself, or it can be something that you’ve started to believe as a result of a traumatic event.
According to Jenkins (2015), negative cognitions can keep you from moving on from trauma and can make it difficult to cope with day-to-day life.
For example, if your spouse was in an accident and died, believing I’m not good enough might have been part of your life before the accident. However, after the accident, you might start to think; that if I had been more careful, he would still be alive.
These thoughts are called negative cognitions because they are distorted (e.g., you’re not good enough) or unhelpful (e.g. if I were more careful, he would still be alive).
A positive cognition is a thought or belief that is helpful to you in some way.
It can be something as simple as “I am a good person”, or “I am capable of handling this situation”.
The latter is related to competency. Positive cognitions help you to feel better about yourself and your ability to cope with difficult situations.
They also allow you to take more control over your life by helping you develop healthy coping skills for the future.
Cognitions are people’s thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs about themselves and the world around them. They can be positive or negative, influencing how people see themselves and their experiences.
Both go hand in hand regarding an individual’s thoughts and feelings on a situation, which is why it is so important to address both types of cognitions when addressing trauma.
According to Coubard (2015), negative cognition is linked with a ’target image’ (a picture or thought) from your past event and any emotion and physical sensations you may feel from this experience.
In the treatment plan, the memories are collected. Then the desensitization phase is where the therapist can finally start working with the memory that the positive cognition joins.
In other words, we want our clients to change their cognition into a rational, adaptive way after processing.
To learn more, read our What is EMDR guide
For that reason, both negative and positive cognitions should be addressed during EMDR therapy.
It is crucial to bring up these topics because they will allow the therapist to help patients develop more balanced perspectives of themselves and their lives.
Hopefully, resulting in more successful coping skills. Also, when these new links are created, there will be less need for self-defeating thinking patterns that result in depression or anxiety after leaving therapy sessions.
One can find out if they have negative cognitions by conversing with someone else or going through a series of questionnaires. To do this assessment yourself, ask yourself questions like:
If the answer is yes to most of these questions, then you have a negative cognition.
**One can tell if they have a positive cognition by having a conversation with someone else or going through a series of questionnaires. One would ask themselves questions like: **
If one answers yes to most of these questions, they are likely to possess a positive cognition.
Several types of negative cognitions can be used for EMDR therapy.
Here is the list of positive cognitions for EMDR.
Many individuals experience negative cognitions during their lives. They may be thoughts that are internal or in response to external stimuli.
An individual can learn to work through these cognitions by practicing EMDR and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
The therapist will discover what cognition is and help the client process it healthily.
One thing to remember is that individuals cannot change what happened in the past but can change how they think about those events.
Clinical Psychologist & EMDR Therapist
Jenkins, S. M. B. C. (2015, January 8). Are Blocking Beliefs Holding You Back in EMDR Therapy? GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved September 6, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/are-blocking-beliefs-holding-you-back-in-emdr-therapy-0108144
Coubard O. A. (2015). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) re-examined as cognitive and emotional neuroentrainment. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 1035. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.01035