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  • 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 worldand 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

  • senses.

  • 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

  • movementlike 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 eyesthen 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 yearsif 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.

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

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B1 therapy freud therapist asked patient state

What is EMDR Therapy and how can it help?

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/12/30
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