Step Five: Quickly Glance at the Memory and Contain the Microslice of Distress

Important Links:

The goal in this step is to microactivate a tiny, tiny, piece of the memory content.   We decrease activation by decreasing the amount of time that the client is exposed to the bad memory. Activating the memory too much may cause the following, all of which are problems that must be addressed and resolved immediately in this version of Flash:

  • A part of the video of the memory plays (we want a single frame only from the bad memory… not video content).
  • Body activation to appear (if body activation appears, see the Shop Vac resource in this guide or in the resource videos on  Too much body activation may cause memories other than the one we are targeting to come into awareness.
  • A flashback occurs (teach all clients the sensory grounding resource in this guide or use your own sensory grounding exercises).
  • Problems containering are usually problems of overactivation.

In order to lightly activate the memory and container it, say something like one of the following:

  • “Very quickly, open the door on the bad memory and immediately close it.  Whatever you notice in this millisecond, catch it, container it, and push it out of your awareness.  Let me know when it is gone.”
  •  “Check the memory for one millisecond and the instant that you find something, immediately container it and push the container out of your awareness.  Let me know when it is gone.”

When the client indicates that the next micoslice of the the distressing memory is containered and sent out of awareness, quickly go back to Step Four and cycle between Steps Four and Five until the client can glance at the memory and can’t identify any distress.

If the client cannot find any distress when glancing at the memory, go to Step Six.

Important Safety Considerations:

  • Therapists should be comfortable using sensory grounding for clients who have flashbacks or other intrusive symptoms when glancing at the memory.  It is essential that all Flash clients be taught sensory grounding exercises prior to engaging in direct trauma work.  See the sensory ground resource available in this packet.
  • Carefully review the Troubleshooting and FAQ sections before working with clients in this version of Flash.

Troubleshooting Tips Related to Step Five

  • Do not check the SUDs in this version of Flash.  Checking the SUDs (assessment of distress on 0-10 scale) is an activation strategy to assess for how much distress remains in the memory.  Do not do it. You are likely to cause unnecessary activation of parts of the memory that the client has not yet brought into awareness (remember we are working only one microslice at a time).  If you would like to know the SUDs for the client’s note, ask after the memory has been fully reprocessed (the client will remember how “hot” that memory was, but now it is safe to check it).  For this version of Flash to work, there is no reason why you need to know the SUDs.  You simply need to know whether or not the client can find a microslice of distress remaining in the memory and container it.  There is no need to ever know how much distress remains in that memory.  Don’t overactivate it and whatever remains is likely to clear if you keep reprocessing.
  • Let the client know that the memory content that they are handling is like a hot potato.  Touch it only as long as needed to very quickly toss it into the container.  Slowing down containment can cause distress to seep into awareness and the body.
  • Enter an agreement with the client not to overly activate the memory.  It’s like Catholic teen dating.  We have an agreement not to “fully go-there go-there, but just ish or kinda.”  Parts of the system typically like this agreement not to overly activate the memory and to work only a tiny microslice at a time.
  • Be aware of your pacing.  Metaphorically, the loops that occur between Phases Four and Five act as a kind of pump for tiny pieces of distress and traumatic memory content at a time.  Keep the pump going and keep it going quickly.  Practice the loop between Steps Four and Five so that you can quickly move the client from one to the other without pauses between your instructions.  Too much empty time can cause connections to form with other memory content or distress may start to seep and both of these are problems in Flash.
  • Clearly instruct clients that we are working on one memory at a time.  Allowing many memories to connect is a recipe for disaster. The free association of EMDR is not permitted here, nor is noticing distress (any distress needs to be immediately containered regardless of where or why it appears). You can instruct the client not to allow other memories into awareness and to let you know if other memories are trying to intrude and you can help the client container the assorted memories. Adjacent memories coming into awareness is also an indicator of overactivation and body distress, check for body distress and container or vacuum it out immediately. Body activation may act like a “magnet” for memories of similar times the body felt that way.
  • Keeping the memory out of direct attention/awareness is critical.  Briefly bringing microslices of the memory into awareness, containering it, pushing it out of direct attention, and loading up a calm scene that we interrupt with blinks are the central elements in this process.  It is important that the calm scene and the memory not interact with each other.  It is important that the container be pushed far enough away (and the client feels that the memory is far enough away that it won’t intrude into the scene).  If the memory keeps intruding into the calm scene, strengthen the container and push it farther away.  Changing the calming scene to something even more compelling can also help.  If the client is struggling to visualize their own calm place, you can play a beach scene from YouTube or another video that the client finds relaxing.  Many clients with trauma struggle to visualize in compelling ways.  Outsourcing the visualization part to simply actively watching a video will often result in much faster reprocessing.  Problems with containering are often problems of overactivation.
  • If the client activates too much and is having a flashback of the memory, immediately use sensory grounding. See the sensory grounding script in this guide.  It will walk you through how to handle a flashback and how to resume reprocessing after a flashback

FAQ Related to Step Five:

  • If we do not check the SUDSs, how will I know when the client can’t find distress and we should move to Step Six?  Remember that in each step of the process we are giving the client very clear instructions about what to do.  In Step Five, we are asking them to check the memory, catch the distress, and container it.  If the client can’t find what is distressing in the memory they are likely to tell us, since they cannot do the task we are asking them to do.  Also, you can simply say once (not repeatedly) in Step Five, “Simply let me know when you check the memory and you cannot find distress in the memory.”
  • What is meant by “process the traumatic memory as information, rather than as distress?” Since we are able to route most of the distress away from awareness and away from the body, many clients are able to process the distress of the traumatic memory with nearly the ease of catching and tossing aside a ball.  A lot of the distress that comes from trauma work comes from our parts reacting to too much traumatic information coming into awareness too quickly.  For more see the “Walking the Prisoner Out Metaphor” on the EMDR Third Weekend site.

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