I’m the first to admit that there are a number of ‘alternative’ or ‘complimentary’ therapies out there that raise eyebrows. Even hypnosis is a stretch for some sceptics despite clinical evidence. Some of these therapies rely very heavily on the skills of the therapists to leverage the placebo effect to create a strong and lasting change. But there are a number of other therapies including EFT, Havening, Acupuncture and Eye Movement Therapy, which seem to utilise some physical mechanism within the body to create change.
I’m using the term ‘Eye Movement Therapy’ here to refer to several fairly similar brands of treatment that all have the same basic method. The original therapy was EMDR based on the work of Francine Shapiro and is recognised by the American Psychiatric Association, Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defences and WHO as an effective treatment for PTSD since 2004.
The original version of EMDR was pretty basic. Later versions of eye movement therapy, such as IEMT and EMI, were created by hypnotists that combine the skilled use of language to create a more effective framework for treatment. Additionally, hypnotists use eye movement models within their work generally and were able to intelligently expand its use to increase its effectiveness.
The basic EMDR treatment was to have the client think about the traumatic memory and then have them follow a light source that moved back and forth across their visual field. It doesn’t sound much but the outcome for some people was life saving. EMDR was used in the treatment of PTSD initially. The ‘T’ of PTSD is Trauma and it is this ever-present, trauma that the eye movement work helps with. Rather than being ‘present’, the client/patient is stuck in an over-whelming and emotionally hijacking memory which creates high levels of anxiety and depression.
How does Eye Movement Therapy Work?
We don’t know but we can make educated guesses. If I ask you to access a memory a chain of mental processes kick off. Typically your eyes defocus and you stop seeing me, your eyes will go up and to your left (usually). At this point the visual information in consciousness is not the room you’re in but the content of the memory; the requested information is identified, the eyes move back towards centre and re-focus and you’re ‘back in the room’. This was a quick trance and probably lasted 200 milliseconds. A difficult memory can involve the eyes going all over, left, right, up down, to get the answer. We see it all the time, it’s called a ‘trans-derivational search’ but most people don’t notice it.
Neurolinguist Andrew T Austin, who invented the IEMT brand of eye movement work, has suggested that the ligaments and muscles that control the eyes are neurologically hard-wired to certain parts of the brain. Certainly, when eyes go up we know there is a lot more visual processing going on, when they are level, the temporal lobes (voice, sound) are most active. This has two consequences for hypnotists. One, that we can easily follow the basic brain strategies that people use to get themselves stuck and this has been utilised by Neuro Linguistic Programmers since Richard Bandler popularised this finding in the 80’s. The second, more recent, finding is that by forcing people to trace a different pattern with their eyes when thinking of a traumatic memory, you start to create confusion in the replaying of that memory. Most importantly, if the memory’s not the same, it wont feel the same.
What Makes a Movie Scary?
Or how do we scare ourselves? One of the basic premises of NLP is that the brain encodes similar memories in similar ways. Scary memories might be experienced as vivid, colour, ‘in your face’. Pleasant memories might be less focused, softer colours, more panoramic and distant. Most people aren’t aware of these differences but the information is there with a little introspection. These differences vary from person to person although there are some factors are quite common, such as distance and brightness.
An NLP treatment for a bad memory might involve trying to change how the scary movie is experienced, perhaps making it fuzzier, further away, less colourful and this works extremely well since the bad feelings just fall away. The skill is in making the memory stick in the new way. And this is where the eye movement therapy is particularly good. Thinking of a traumatic memory and moving your eyes in a different way whilst trying to access the memory makes the usual access of that memory different. All of a sudden the memory is fuzzier, less focused, further away, oh, and it just doesn’t feel important any more. I shouldn’t be surprised any more when that happens but it still amazes me when it happens time after time. The transition can be night and day for most clients and with a little persistence and a little skill, a scary and imposing movie that’s 10/10 becomes a 1/10 boring and old and “I’m done with it.”
I use IEMT for at least a part of the session in about a third of the clients I see. It’s faster than traditional hypnosis treatments and the client knows the issue is done before they leave the room. Whilst therapists use it primarily for PTSD, I think this misses the point and this is part of the problem of labelling our clients. The originating cause for many of the clients I see is something traumatic that happened to them that have not properly dealt with. This comes out in many ways such as avoidance, anger, temper, regret, shame, guilt, worry, panic attacks. These are the emotions of depression and anxiety (see ‘The Three Pillars of Depression’). I find that using IEMT on these strong emotions creates a ‘clearing-out’ for my clients that gives them their lives back. They describe it as having a huge weight lifted.
If you’re troubled by trauma, or strong negative emotions, the likelihood is that these can be treated quickly and easily, without any need to go into your childhood or beat-up furniture. Book a session now if this sounds like a good idea.