The Secrets of EMDR Therapy and How It Can Help You – Free Ebook

The fundamental idea behind psychotherapy
is that we tend to grow mentally unwell because

we haven’t been able to think with sufficient
clarity about the difficulties in our past,

typically in our distant childhoods. Damaging
incidents have been locked away, and continue

to have an outsized impact on us, but we have
no way of going back over them in order to

liberate ourselves from their distorting influences.

At the dawn of therapy, Sigmund Freud noticed
that many patients, when asked about their

childhoods, provided accounts that were too
neat, too intellectual, too distanced from

the emotion contained in events to be of any
use. In order to encourage more real feeling,

he made a radical innovation: he asked if
his patients might lie on a couch, shut their

eyes and enter a dreamy state that he called
‘free association’. He soon found that

these patients recovered far faster than those
who insisted on sitting in chairs. As a result,

there are now couches in therapy rooms around
the world – and the past has for many of

us been a lot easier to access.

Then, in the early 1990s, an American psychologist
called Francine Shapiro became fascinated,

as Freud had been, with the damage done in
therapy by our tendencies to intellectualise

the past rather than re-live it. Not coincidentally,
Shapiro was at work on a PhD in English literature

which drew her attention to a key difference
between the methods of the non-fiction essay

and those of the novel.

In the former, an author provides neat summaries
of positions and emotions: they might tell

us that their mother was often ‘sad’ and
their father ‘frightening’. But novelists

do something very different, they provide
us with ‘scenes’: they don’t state,

they show. They take us to a particular moment
and let us experience it vividly through our


With this distinction in mind, Shapiro wondered
if patients in therapy could become more like

novelists of their childhoods rather than
just their non-fiction narrators. And it was

here that she stumbled on a remarkable phenomenon.
When we are asked to perform a repetitive

movement – like tapping gently on our knees
or our chests from left to right or look at

a finger moving from side to side a few inches
from our eyes – then our ordinary practical

day to day mentality often cedes to a more
trance-like, speculative state of consciousness

(something similar can occur when we are on
a long train journey in a quiet carriage and

follow a line of telephone poles flashing
past us). In this state, if we are asked to

think back to a scene in our past, we may
remember an emotional texture that would previously

have eluded us; we become more like novelists
than essayists.

This special state became the bedrock of what
Shapiro termed EMDR therapy (Eye Movement

Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy).
The EMDR therapist, entirely loyal to Freud’s

basic insight about the need to bring traumatic
scenes back to conscious awareness, invites

patients to return to key scenes that make
them who they now are, often scenes of great

difficulty: their first night at boarding
school, the day their mother told them about

the divorce, the moment they were humiliated
by a stranger. They are helped to linger in

the past, to experience it in all its dimensions.
The patient might cry in a way they haven’t

in years – if ever.

But the idea is not to abandon a younger self
in one of the most difficult moments of their

lives, it’s to help them find a way out
of their pain. So an EMDR therapist might,

after a time back in a foundational ‘scene’,
ask the patient what they might want to tell

their younger self; they might want to comfort
them, to encourage them to be angry, to help

them stop taking all the blame. Before initiating
a session of time travel, the EMDR therapist

will also ask a patient to identify both someone
who gives them support and someone who is

wise. These two characters will then be asked
to enter an early traumatic scene to give

it a new, more redemptive ending. A current
loving partner might be asked to comfort a

child-self; Winnicott, the Buddha or Plato
might say a few words to an angry father or

weeping mother.

In this way, EMDR honours the traditional
ambitions of therapy: it renders conscious

feelings that had been shut away, and it liberates
us from the influence of the past through

a deeper understanding of its secrets. But
it has the added advantage of allowing us

to reconnect with our histories via sensorily-rich
scenes rather than analytical summaries. In

this way, the world can become less oppressive
and fear laden, as our formative moments are

unearthed, understood and properly laid
to rest.

“Psychotherapy” is a set of 20 beautiful cards, each containing a short essay on a key concept in psychotherapy;

creating a pack that offers a perfect introduction to the concept.

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