Did something happen in your past that still haunts you? Few of us are exempt from life’s distressing moments – and for some, it really takes a lifetime to heal. A simple eye movement may be just what you need to overcome disruptive life experiences.
Healing through your eyes
Thanks to Dr Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) is an effective treatment to resolve symptoms of trauma and life-disturbing experiences.
Feelings that linger and remain unprocessed can affect the nervous system. This can result in flashbacks, ongoing anxiety and nightmares. Trauma can make you avoid certain situations with people or locations. This eye therapy is used to safely address and process traumatic experiences and your overwhelming emotions. In this way, you confront the memories and behaviours that stem from there.
How does it work?
With your eyes, you track a therapist’s back-and-forth finger movements, and at the same time, replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Think of a hypnotist's swinging pocket watch.
According to the EMDR Institute, the relatively new but popular treatment runs in eight steps.
1. History: You and the therapist will develop a treatment plan that considers your past life events, current, and future needs or concerns. This will target the cause of your emotional distress. The point here is to develop skills and behaviours that you will need in the future. The root of the problem, which perhaps stems from your childhood, may be the starting point.
2. Preparation: Your therapist will use imagery to teach you how to reduce your stress. These are techniques you can (and should) use in your daily life to keep you in a peaceful state of mind.
3. Assessment: Your therapist will record, evaluate and measure an imagery of your memory and help you target these associated feelings. This also outlines the negative thoughts you have about yourself that may be linked to the targeted memory. In contrast, the therapist lets you choose a positive thought or memory. The belief will be measured against the negative one to determine how true it feels to you. Your therapist will record your physical symptoms too.
4. Desensitisation: Bilateral stimulation (the core of EMDR), involves eye movements, tones, or taps that are used to reprocess the distressing event. The therapist takes a break after each set to check in on you and what may have happened during the stimulation.
5. Installation: During the bilateral stimulation phase your selected positive thought is the target. Your therapist will often check to see how true your chosen belief feels to you.
6. Body scan: You will now scan your own bodily sensations while thinking of the image and the positive belief. Processing is not complete until you can bring the traumatic memory into your consciousness without feeling tension. Any sensations that your therapist finds in the process will be targeted with further bilateral stimulation until the tension is gone.
7. Closure: Closure may include guided imagery or a discussion of the session. This phase happens at the end of a session regardless of the memory being fully processed, either at a functional level or not. The completion of EMDR therapy may take several sessions.
8. Re-evaluation: The next session begins here. This phase consists of examining the progress made. If the target remains unresolved, the session will resume with desensitisation.
Need EMDR therapy?
EMDR can be effective in a wide range of psychological problems. Find a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist who specialises in this form of treatment. The South African Depression and Anxiety group also reiterates that EMDR is not limited to simply taking symptoms away. It addresses the past, present and future. The goal is to allow the person to achieve a complete state of emotional health.