Eye Movement Treatments For Depression Are Here To Stay

There are a number of effective treatments for depression. As a Cognitive Hypnotherapist I know that there is no single treatment that works for everybody which is why I have many treatment options for my clients with depression (and anxiety). I trained in IEMT over five years ago and nothing in my arsenal has been more useful in helping clients quickly and easily recover from this debilitating condition.

By treatment, I do mean treatment. I don’t consider anti-depressants to be a treatment. When they work, all they they tend to do is allow a little comfort within the shrunken world of the depressive. Anti-depressants temporarily cover the symptoms, they don’t address the causes of the depression, they don’t teach the client to make the necessary adjustments to their lives to make a full recovery.

How Does Depression Start?

Before discussing the Eye Movement treatments, it’s worth asking the question, “How does depression start?” We aren’t born depressed, we’re born inquisitive, excited and energetic. Life and parenting teaches us where to set boundaries on our behaviour by teaching us what behaviour is likely to be painful, unproductive or outside of our skill set. Sometimes the boundaries are appropriate (not touching a hot stove) sometimes they are over-cautious, such as “dogs are dangerous!”  One of the problems is that, for many people, they often fail to update as our age and competences increase.  Martin Seligman coined the phrase ‘learned helplessness’ to individual tasks, that after a period of no improvement easily becomes a chronic ‘hopelessness’ that is central to depression.

As an example, the guilt that we felt about the way we broke-up with out first love, can generalise to the idea of relationships generally, making them something to avoid.  After that turbulent flight, the panic that we feel about flying makes the idea of a foreign holiday too painful to consider. Being bullied at school filled us with rage when we couldn’t prevent the unfairness, the same uncontrollable rage that now emerges at the bullying behaviour when somebody cuts us off whilst driving. At each stage some behaviour which could add to the quality of our life becomes a cause of pain.  It also affects our self-esteem through our assessment of our own competence (I failed at this before) and worth (I’m ashamed at how I behaved before).  Self-esteem is an unconscious assessment of our ability to thrive as well as an assessment of whether we deserve to thrive.  When our self-esteem is challenged we no longer feel capable of meeting the regular challenges of life.  The usual motivation we feel from the anticipation of engaging with life’s activities are replaced by hopelessness and fear.

Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT/EMI/EMDR)

Eye Movement Therapy works by removing the support structures of depression, by undoing the hold of these poorly learnt life lessons. There are several similar ‘Eye Movement’ therapies, such as IEMT, EMI and EMDR which are becoming common in therapeutic circles. Each therapy fits well within the Cognitive Hypnotherapy treatment methodology and IEMT, in particular, which was developed by Andrew Austin, incorporates the ‘Three Pillars of Depression’.

In terms of treatment, each method essentially acts in the same way.  The therapist elicits the problem state and associated memories and then gets the client to deliberately move their eyes in a pattern, whilst they try to maintain the memory.  It doesn’t sound much but the results are often astounding.  The memory of the break-up, the plane journey, or barking dog doesn’t go away, but the emotion does!  In most cases. In five years, I’ve never had the same painful experience come back once successfully treated.

How Does Eye Movement Therapy Work?

With my background in Cognitive Science I’d like to say that I have the answer to this question.  I don’t, but what’s been clear for several decades is that when the eyes move to the periphery, the brain tends to switch to a different conscious experience.  When you ask a person ‘what colour is your front door’ – typically their eyes go up and to your right.  Now, that’s not where the door is but it does allow the client’s eyes to stop looking and go and grab an image of the door from memory, put that into consciousness, so the question can be answered.  When a therapist moves the client’s eyes through a sequence, the client will struggle to maintain his problematic memory, as the brain is taken through a number of shifts in consciousness (auditory, visual and kinaesthetic).  This has the effect of desensitising the memory.  Cognitive Hypnotherapists often deliberately interrupt problem patterns but this intervention seems much more useful, often leaving the client with a very different and relaxed attitude to the event that a minute ago was problematic.

I don’t typically say much about this intervention to a client.  When they call, I don’t tell them, ‘well for £90 I can move your eyes around a bit.’ because I’d certainly have no clients.  When I do explain it to clients, it’s usually afterwards, it bypasses any natural scepticism because they’ve just had a very clear experience of a painful difficult memory one moment, followed a few minutes later by a client who’s only frustration is to not be able to get that feeling back.  It’s usually at that point that the client completely relaxes, a new trust is established and they feel able to take on other areas that need a quick detox.

 

The Three Pillar Model of Depression

The Three Pillar Model (specific to IEMT) separates emotions into PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE. Painful memories from the past (Guilt, Shame, Regret, etc) makes us worry about how we will respond to events in the future (Panic, Anxiety, Worry, etc.) which tends to create distress in the moment which can lead to loss of control in the present moment (Rage, Anger, etc), which leads to incidents that make us feel Guilt, Shame, Remorse – and so the vicious cycle continues. Depression and anxiety are often diagnosed separately by doctors and, on the face of it, they seem at opposite ends of the diagnostic spectrum but in my experience, they nearly always appear together in my clients. They are two sides of the same coin.

The good news is that by treating the Guilt, Shame, Regret, etc. or the Rage, Anger, etc. we remove that pillar from the cycle and start to restore freedom of movement for the client.  They are no longer crippled by their past, or scared of their future.  This new freedom restores behaviours they can enjoy and builds their self-esteem. In most cases the client won’t know about the old emotional conditioning until it is brought out in the therapy session. Whilst some memories are fresh, clients are often surprised about how some earlier and often long-forgotten memories have created a wave of havoc throughout their lives.

IEMT is a great way of treating these learnt emotional responses. We look for an emotional memory associated with one of the stand out emotions (e.g. Guilt) and by holding that memory in mind whilst the eyes are moved in certain precise ways, it quickly disrupts the memory. Within a few minutes a very painful memory can be reduced to something my client is totally indifferent about. It doesn’t always work but nearly always!

This might not be the only treatment offered but as each painful emotional experience is treated, the freedom is restored, the anticipation of the future becomes brighter and more engaging. The depression and the anxiety just don’t work the way they used to.

Objectively Measured Improvement

I use IAPT questionnaires which are widely used to assess levels of depression and anxiety. By talking with the client and using these measures in every session it becomes clear how effective the treatment has been and typically a three-four week treatment is enough to restore the client to where they are no longer clinically depressed or anxious. After each treatment, the client will know that something is different, they don’t need to worry that ‘something will shift after eight weeks’ their internal experience is different from the start. Some clients need more help or a different treatment and that’s easily established from early on.

Many people that struggle with depression and anxiety for years or decades feel their condition is hopeless. Unfortunately NHS mental health treatment are very hit and miss and the standard treatment of using medication won’t change the behaviours or emotional conditioning that lies at the heart of these conditions.

If you have any questions about eye movement treatments, please get in touch at simon@freedomhypnosis.co.uk.

Simon Bates.
MNCH(Acc)  BSc Cog. Sci.  MNLP

Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT, EMDR & EMI)

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 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.

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, you’re 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.

Theorist Andrew T Austin, who invented the IEMT brand of eye movement work, has suggested that the ligaments and muscles that control the eyes are neurotically 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.”

 

Wider Application

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.

 

Simon Bates
Freedom Hypnosis.