Tuesday 6 February 2024

The Eyes Have It!

I am currently reading van der Kolk's excellent The Body Keeps the Score. (In passing I notice that this, along with the recent seminar I went on with the Oxford Brain Story, raises further serious questions about the idea of young people having a settled gender identity, and of the affirmative approach to trans youth care.  As I have remarked previously, this is a complex issue which would benefit from serious research rather than political game-playing, virtue-signalling, and polemical point-scoring...)

However, what I want to reflect on today is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, or EMDR. This is something I had heard about previously, and been rather dismissive of, as it sounds a bit like so many of those NLP techniques that are claimed to work miracles ('Frogs into Princes') but when researched are found to be largely bogus.  Somewhat to my relief, I found that van der Kolk had started from much the same place: 'To me and my academic colleagues, it sounded like yet another of the crazes that have always plagued psychiatry...'

However, van der Kolk and others have the commitment, skills and resources to do proper, blind, studies, with control groups; and EMDR is found to be extremely effective for many who suffer with PTSD. And as he says, 'While we don't yet know precisely how EMDR works, the same is true of Prozac...'

Nonetheless, there seems to be some connection between eye movement and the way the brain processes thoughts and memories; and the link with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when we are dreaming, is intriguing and suggestive. There is something about the free association style of thinking in both EMDR and dreams, that suggests the brain is doing something important; and the results, in both cases, seem to support that  hypothesis. 

All of which set me thinking about the Thinking Environment process. When we are listening to someone think for an extended period of time, we notice a few things. One is that the mind does something similar, in terms of free association. The sequence (and even relevance) of what is thought is often far from obvious. But also, the thinker's eyes are often very active. Indeed, when I am listening through the silence, I often glance at the thinker's eyes, and when I see they are moving around, I am confident that the thinker is continuing to think. And often, at the end of such an extended period of thinking, the thinker is able to pull together, make sense of, and find new meanings in, all that has gone before. Which is remarkably similar, albeit dealing with less deep-rooted issues, to what van der Kolk describes his patients as doing.

This is, as ever, simply my thinking aloud about my practice; and it may be that I am making unwarranted links and parallels,  But I thought it was interesting, so I assume others might.  And if anyone knows better, please tell me!


With thanks to Printerval for the image of the sweatshirt.

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