One of JFKU’s esteemed faculty members, Dr. Stephen Carlson, co-authored an article that was recently published in the well-respected journal, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, entitled “Emotionally Focused Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: An Integrated Treatment to Heal the Trauma of Infidelity.” Highlighting the importance of treating infidelity as a trauma—for both partners—and outlining how the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) technique can be integrated into Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, this article will likely become a seminal work in the field.
Infidelity in exclusive relationships is common. In fact, conservative estimates suggest that 15-20% of individuals in the United States have engaged in sexual infidelity. Opening the article with this perhaps surprising fact, Dr. Carlson and his co-authors proceed to describe that, unsurprisingly, infidelity is one of the most difficult problems to treat in couples therapy. A significant reason for this, the authors propose, is that the issue is not being adequately attended to and treated for what it is—a form of trauma.
While infidelity may not be what the literature refers to as a “large-T trauma”—that is, a life-threatening experience such as war, physical abuse, or loss of a loved one—it certainly does fit into the category of “small-t traumas”—failures, humiliations, or various types of loss that also affect the brain’s processing system.
The article suggests that once the field begins to approach infidelity through the lens of trauma, it can begin to formulate how to use trauma-informed approaches to help treat couples dealing with infidelity. Dr. Carlson and his co-authors proceed to propose the augmentation of emotionally focused therapy (EFT), an accepted treatment model for couples therapy, with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a process that helps clients to process and reformulate negative believes associated with a traumatic event. The authors provide an in-depth outline of precisely how, when, and why a practitioner might use EMDR within the EFT process, as well as what types of situations and couples would or would not be best suited for it. This description is followed by a case study in which the two methods are used in tandem to treat a couple dealing with infidelity.
According to Dr. Alvin McLean, Associate Dean in the College of Psychology at JFKU, “Dr. Carlson’s publication will provide a very useful tool to clinicians working with clients, but perhaps even more importantly, it is likely to serve as a catalyst for researchers interested in performing larger-scale evidence-based treatment studies that can replicate these findings. This,” says Dr. McLean, “is the essence of clinical research.”