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

Anxiety

Firstly, a simple reminder that anxiety is not a disorder.  Anxiety is a normal feeling, rather uncomfortable, but one that we need to be able to experience in order to stay healthy.  Without anxiety, blowing the rent money on restocking your fish tank becomes really easy.  We need to be able to anticipate feeling really bad or injured when assessing certain future scenarios so we can take steps to avoid them.  Anxiety is, after all, entirely future focused.  (If we are anxious about having cheated, it’s really an anxiety about what happens in the future as a natural result.)

So why do we often refer to feelings of anxiety as being bad for us?  Why do we go out of our way to stop those feeling, to repress them, avoid them, drink or drug them out of existence?

In most cases, this comes about when our brains mistakenly learn to treat more and more non-threatening situations as threatening, or to over-emphasise the danger.  This is further exaggerated in people of low self-esteem since their assessment is ‘I don’t have the ability to deal with this situation or these feelings’.  Under these circumstances anxiety becomes a chronic (persistent over time) condition and is worsened by simple day-to-day challenges.  This is when anxiety becomes a disorder, or Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to give it its proper name.

Common experiences that can lead to GAD are earlier traumatic experiences where the person was unable to deal with the situation and became highly emotional and unresourceful.  For instance, being embarrassed in front of a classroom at age 8 can lead to severe anxiety in the office whenever called-upon to present material.  This creates avoidance behaviour, such as calling in sick or not taking promotions which might require speaking to groups.

In this instance the exaggerated response is irrational.  The adult knows the material, knows how to stand and talk at the same time and knows that with a little good humour mistakes are easily tolerated.  The exaggerated emotional response, however, is not governed by logic, the response is triggered automatically when a certain environmental pattern or stimulus is present or anticipated.  Rationally, the adult knows he has the information and skills required and that he knows that no physical injury will result from his failure to recall last quarters sales figures.  Unfortunately, the Limbic system, which manages emotional responses to threats, literally doesn’t listen to reason, it’s not part of the same brain structure and nor does it use the same methods of internal communication.  It’s like two computers with no connection between them, each coming up with a different assessment.  Logical new brain: fine, whatever.  Emotional old brain: you’ll be humiliated again like before, stay home.  The result is always the same, a win for the emotional brain, since this is the part evolved to protect us from urgent threats (spears, tigers, fire).  The logical brain doesn’t even get the information once the fight, flight and flee mechanism is triggered.  It’s left to assess things only after the immediate threat has past.  Evolutionarily, it’s better to over-react to a threat than to not react, certainly when spears, tigers and fire were more of a problem…. it’s less well suited to the Facebook generation who only have to worry about being de-friended.

Catastrophisation is a feature of GAD.  Small problems become huge in the mind of the GAD sufferer.  There also tends to be over-generalisation, so from a small car accident, the GAD sufferer might believe all transport is dangerous and become home-bound.  Or the one-time threat from a large aggressive dog becomes an anxiety towards all animals all of the time.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one system of treatment that helps sufferers to understand how they mis-assess their surroundings and try to gradually train their emotional mechanism to be more ‘reasonable’.  This process works for most but can be a slow process.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy uses a number of different methods to treat anxiety sufferers, primarily looking to remove the damage done by the initial traumatic memory so that it no longer serves as a base to launch negative emotional assessments.  We also work to reset the brain’s natural filters to ensure that attention is used productively; focusing more on positive environmental activity and less on counter-factual scenarios that can cause irrational fear.

Recent research indicates that Cognitive Hypnotherapy achieves as good or better results than CBT and does it in fewer treatment sessions.

If anxiety is ruining your life and you’re ready to tackle it, book a session with me so we can put it behind you.

 

Suicide and Young Gay Men

There’s a disproportionate number of young gay men committing suicide. Very disproportionate. If the figures from Stonewall’s 2011 study of gay and bisexual men is to be believed 27% of gay and 38% of bisexual men said they had considered taking their own life in the previous year – this compares to just 4% of heterosexual men. And this was a big survey – 6,861 respondents from Britain. It gets worse.

Of the respondents, 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men had actually taken steps to take their own life in the previous year. Apparently the comparable rate is 0.4% of all men. It gets worse.

What if we look at just the young men? 10% of gay and bisexual men aged between 16 and 19 actually took steps to take their own life in the last year. 1 in 10. If you go to a gay bar with lots of young gay men, look over into one corner – proportionally – all the gay men in that corner took action to kill themselves last year. If that doesn’t shock you, there’s something wrong.

We could spend hours debating the real reason for this: coming out early, coming out late, permissive society, disapproving society, too many rules, not enough rules, too much drugs/alcohol, not enough, too much internet use, not enough, freedom to be gay, not enough freedom to be gay, too many gay role models, not enough,  too selfish, too selfless, being able to marry, not being able to marry, too much coddling, too little, too much religion, not enough. I hope that clears things up.  Certainly, I’ve heard arguments for all the above.

We could ask those young men what’s wrong but most people aren’t good at giving you reasons when they’re an emotional mess.  Frankly, it could be your phone running out of charge that can push a vulnerable person over the edge.

Here’s what I think.  Think about the changes that most of these men are going through in their teenage/early adult years (most of which only apply to young gay men):

  • they are coming out (to mixed reviews!)
  • they are going through the difficult years that follow from puberty
  • they will likely have their most emotionally charged relationships and break-ups in this period
  • they are becoming independent and usually separated from their usual unconditional emotional support
  • they are more likely to have moved from home (young gay men move to the cities, actually they run…)
  • they are experiencing drugs and alcohol for the first time.
  • HIV infection, or constant fear of infection

It’s a lot to deal with for people without enough life experience.  These young men haven’t learnt yet about how to be emotionally resilient. The people they are attached to emotionally and provide emotional support (friends, parents, teachers, lovers) can, and do, suddenly remove that emotional support and even reject them.

Drugs and alcohol are huge problems for young gay men.  They lead to risky behaviour that leads to guilt and regret.  But worse, they lead to huge ups and downs, often days later.  So a normal day might feel like an unbearable weight, for no apparent ‘reason’.

Generally, we all learn to be emotionally resilient over the years – at least to some extent.  The question is whether we manage to do this in time and without too much damage along the way.  Thankfully this emotional resilience can be learnt through CBT and/or Cognitive Hypnotherapy. These are also good ways of dealing with excessive drug or alcohol use, as can issues of identity and self-worth.

And sometimes, people just need somebody to talk to.