Dr. Andrew Dobo, a licensed psychologist, is the author of Unburdening Souls at the Speed of Thought: Psychology, Christianity, and the Transforming Power of EMDR. The following is an interview with him about EMDR therapy and the book.
Tell us a little about where you come from and how you came to be a psychologist.
I was born and raised in a small town north of Pittsburgh called Aliquippa, a steel town where 11,000 people were employed by the mill. It might sound unattractive, but it was a great childhood. I became interested in music and pursued that education in college but was always interested in religion and psychology, especially when I got to Chicago to study music composition. I had never seen a place like Chicago before. Record stores and bookstores were everywhere. I was exposed to new and exciting intellectual ideas that I had never heard before. It was an exciting time of my life. I guess the first book I picked up was Modern Man in Search of His Soul by Carl Jung. The book wasn’t so impactful at the time, but the title was. That title resonated with me and actually defined my life’s purpose, although I did not know it at the time. After all, I was studying and passionate about music.
My best friend was studying at Notre Dame, which was not far from Chicago. It was a 90-minute bus ride. He met Morton T. Kelsey there and became friends with him. Morton has written dozens of books; he was an Episcopal Minister and also a Jungian analyst as well as a visiting professor there. He was teaching a class on dreams and religion. John suggested I record my nightly dreams. But I resisted and things started to happen that sort of coerced me to attend to them, and I have been doing it ever since.
Jung said, “It is good to go out into the world and make a place for yourself there. Then at midlife become a therapist.” I never forgot that and hoped I would be able to do that at some point in my life, but at that time I was enjoying myself pursuing music. At mid-life the opportunity presented itself to me to change careers, although the transition was not as I would have planned it. It occurred out of failure, loss, and desperation. I have discovered that this is not unusual, because people do not change on their own very often. The world has to give them trouble for them to look at themselves and change. I’m no different. I lost my business, went bankrupt and was terrified. No job, no prospects, two toddlers at home, and a wife who was supporting us all as a waitress. Scary. My wife is now a senior business analyst in the nuclear industry and I’m a doctor of psychology. When you switch to the right path, God makes all things possible. Our lives are miracles and evidence that all things are possible with God.
What is EMDR and how does it work?
EMDR was initially discovered and found to be extraordinarily effective at relieving trauma permanently. The short version is that when the brain experiences an upsetting event, it is often overwhelmed and does not process the information correctly or completely, so people can be triggered by something that reactivates the emotion of an old event. That is not supposed to happen. EMDR jump-starts the unprocessed material and processes it completely, bringing relief for the patient. The memory will never be triggered again.
What is the role of a psychologist in EMDR therapy?
The psychologist sets up the process, creates a safe environment for the processing and uses skill to help the client navigate through these old, often horrific memories. During EMDR there is little talking during the process because the healing is happening in the client’s head. The healing does not happen from the client’s mouth to the therapist ears. The healing occurs in silence within the client’s own psyche.
What kind of patient benefits from EMDR?
Actually, we all can benefit from EMDR. You do not need a diagnosis to have a negative belief about yourself that interferes with your life — beliefs like “I don’t matter” or “I’m not good enough.” These are just short phrases, but if one of these is yours, it infiltrates your life, wreaking havoc and limiting your potential every single day of your life. My book Unburdening Souls at the Speed of Thought tells tales of these situations, and people who read it say that they see themselves in these stories.
It does resolve distressing emotions. People with anxiety, depression, panic, and self-esteem issues can be healed as well. It can help with just about every type of disorder except for the biologically driven ones that require serious medication and psychiatric care like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Although researchers are always investigating EMDR to see if it can help with the more serious disorders.
Why did you write Unburdening Souls at the Speed of Thought?
Well, I initially didn’t think I had anything new to add to the conversation until I started using EMDR with some skill and I used it every day. Once I dedicated myself to this therapy I started to notice transformational moves with clients that Jung and Jungian therapists talked about. These were occurring during EMDR but at an accelerated rate. Sometimes analytical psychology can take years where EMDR takes months.
Then a couple of clients reported dreams that began to change my entire perspective on my work. One dream was about St. Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother. Once I heard this dream, I started seeing the process from desolation and anguish to the rebirth as a six stage process.
I then realized Christ modeled these six stages in His death and resurrection. Now I felt I had something to add to the conversation. I was right. The book recounts patient stories that evidence this six stage process. This is reflected in the work in my office with distressing events targeted with EMDR. The internal work in session changes the person’s view of themselves and the world. When this happens, things change out in the world for them. The dreams the clients have during the process reflect the stage they are in at any given time while they do this work. There is clearly a parallel between the psychological view and the Christian view. This parallel exists in Kabballah and Sufism too, but that is for another book. I stick to Christianity in this book.
I also wrote this so people would know that therapy is not for the weak. It is the courageous people that do this work. The weak ones are the ones who say, “I don’t have a problem.” To come and see someone like me, to look at the dark, dreadful parts of their life, to open up these old wounds, is heroic. I also wrote it to let people know there is real help that heals, not just methods that treat the problem, but heals it. EMDR heals.
What parallels do you see between the EMDR healing process and a spiritual journey or, specifically, Christ’s ordeal?
Six stages are:
1. Avoidance: “Father if it is possible let this cup pass from me.”
2. Surrender: “Not my will but yours.”
3. EMDR work, the dismantling of the old self with EMDR: Crucifixion (and it feels like one).
4. Loss of identity: Chaos and confusion, a shutting down. Three days in the tomb.
5. Rebirth: a glimpse of the new self, the new way. Christ’s resurrection.
6. Renewal: assimilate the new way. Christ’s ascension to his transferred self.
Do you have to be religious to benefit from EMDR?
No, absolutely not. I don’t talk about religion in my office unless someone asks to. I do not promote religion in this work. EMDR works whether you are religious or atheist. It works. I have no interest in converting or preaching in my practice. I accept people where they are and what they believe. I am there to reduce distress, not argue about religion. The six stages can be explained from a secular view or a religious one. I usually use the secular view in my office. But if someone is Christian and I share that view, they are ready to start and feel the sacredness of the journey.
What kind of insights can readers expect from your book Unburdening Souls at the Speed of Thought?
The reader will hopefully learn how trouble starts for us all. We all have baggage. Why? Where does it come from and what do we do with it? My book explains all of this in a dramatic, compelling and informative way. The stories seem to resonate with people. I have gotten wonderful compliments from people who found the book helpful.
How powerful are connections that are revived from the past?
EMDR activates thoughts, feelings, images, memories, and body sensations. Events from the targeted memory that is stuck often come alive in a profound and dramatic way. If I am targeting a strangulation that a person survived, it is not unusual for the client to gag and have difficulty breathing. I may see fingerprints in red around the person’s neck as EMDR reactivates the memory. This material is stored inappropriately. This is the last time this person will be troubled by the memory. My book starts with a story of a woman who, within seconds of targeting a memory, began to shiver and shake, teeth chattering, cheeks turned red. It was like she was in the middle of winter in my 75-degree office. Turns out she was. She moved to a memory when she was 5 years old and her mother threw her out in the snow in her pajamas and left her there.