I first heard of the Flash Technique (FT) earlier this year through my clinical supervisor. It is an adjunct to standard Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. FT is often employed during the preparation phase of EMDR as a rapid and relatively painless way of reducing the intensity of extremely disturbing memories so that they can be easily processed in the remaining phases of standard EMDR treatment. It is used with clients who are fearful of accessing aspects of their trauma, who dissociate when accessing the memory, who become emotionally overwhelmed, or who are resistant to visiting the memory. It can also be used in place of lengthier preparation activities for some clients. The goal of the intervention is to painlessly reduce the disturbance associated with a target memory to a level that the client is no longer resistant to fully accessing it and processing it with standard EMDR. Clients are advised that this can be a way that they can reduce memory-related distress without having to engage with it.
The FT process starts with the client’s identifying a memory or fear that is concerning them. I then ask them to “put it over there” or sometimes I don’t even do that, often just having the client mention or even just bring into awareness the issue is enough. Next, I ask the client is asked to think of something positive or exciting that they can talk about for 10-15 minutes (e.g., a hobby, a pet, a movie, a trip). This is known as the Positive Engaging Focus (PEF). When FT was first developed, the therapist would say “flash” while the client discussed the PEF and instructed them to briefly think of the target memory. Since then, the technique has morphed somewhat and now in the method I use I just instruct the client to blink rapidly (both eyes!) 3-4 times every time the I say “blink” instead of returning to the target memory.
Whilst the client is talking about their hobby etc., they also engage in bilateral stimulation (BLS), basically I ask them to either alternately tap each leg – left, right, left right – or do “butterfly taps” – arms folded across the chest with left hand on right shoulder and vice versa and then alternately tap each shoulder. They tap whilst talking about the PEF, I engage in the conversation with the clients so that it is not a monologue, and during this I periodically ask them to blink. After several sets of blinks, I ask them to pause and “just lightly touch” the target memory or fear and tell me what they notice about the memory. Usually, the target is less intense and more difficult to pull up. Then we continue with the PEF accompanied by more blinking and tapping, after which we pull up the target again. This process continues until the target is no longer disturbing or the score has reduced to a level that we can work on using the standard EMDR protocol. Sometimes the target has reduced to zero in which case a positive cognition can be installed followed by a body scan to check that the memory has been resolved.
Now, I confess I was a little sceptical, but my supervisor showed me a video he had made using it with a client and I was prepared to try the technique when an opportunity arose which it did a few weeks later.
A client was ‘stuck’ on a memory, looping round and not processing. I had a suspicion that there was an earlier ‘feeder’ memory that was blocking processing. To cut a long story very short it transpired the client had been groomed and sexually assaulted as a teenager and the client had repressed the memory. When it did begin to surface the client found it too overwhelming to even think about, I explained the blink procedure, we tried it and the memory resolved enough for us to address it using the standard protocol.
I have used it successfully several times since, it takes about 15-20 minutes on average to reduce the intensity of the disturbing memory sufficiently to use the standard protocol. Because the client is not consciously engaging with the memory it does not generate distress or abreactions. Some therapists report that the technique alone is sufficient to process the memory, so far, I have found that standard EMDR was required in addition to fully process the memory.
This is early days for me, it is something I am using more with clients if and when appropriate, so far both myself and my clients have been impressed with the results.