A New Therapy Available at LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai: Helping the Brain to Heal Itself

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Dr. Sophie Westwood, Clinical Psychologist, LIH Olivia's Place Shanghai

Dr. Sophie Westwood, Clinical Psychologist, LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai

As one of the clinical psychologists at LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai, I work with children, young people, families, and adults. Much of my time is spent offering talking therapies and behavioral consultations, conducting different types of cognitive assessments, and delivering training sessions and workshops to schools and other organizations in Shanghai. I recently completed extra training in a therapy that I think may be of great interest, and even help, to individuals within our community.

In July, I travelled to Hong Kong to complete the first part of the accredited training for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy. Because the name is so long it is often known as EMDR therapy. EMDR is used to treat a range of emotional and mental health difficulties such as trauma and low self-esteem, and reduce symptoms related to disturbing past experiences that the brain has not been able to process properly.

I first became interested in EMDR a few years ago whilst working for a talking therapies service in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. One of the therapies on offer involved asking clients to sit comfortably and follow the clinician’s fingers, from left to right, with their eyes. I thought this sounded a little unorthodox but in the knowledge that the NHS is an internationally renowned health service that only funds evidence-based talking therapies, I endeavored to keep an open-mind and learn more about it. Since that time, I have attended seminars and workshops and now, can offer it as a therapy. I will share a little of what I have learnt with you…

Like many therapies, EMDR aims to help people overcome the emotional distress and symptoms they are experiencing as a result of disturbing life experiences. During EMDR, the brain works hard to unblock the emotional pain that remains from past incidents or events, and this can happen remarkably quickly. The EMDR therapist uses different protocols and procedures to do this, one of which involves moving their fingers from left to right. The purpose of this is to stimulate activation, or processing, between the left and right brain hemispheres. Indeed, the EMDR therapist has a variety of methods from which the client can choose to stimulate this brain activity, to make sure that they feel comfortable and the therapy is as effective as possible. During an exercise for my EMDR therapist training, I found that following the therapist’s fingers was too distracting and I preferred to be tapped on my knees. I also had options such as listening to sounds or using a machine that vibrated on my fingertips. I was asked to do this whilst holding different aspects of a difficult memory in mind and there were other strategies used to help me to feel safe and relaxed if I needed it.

You might be thinking, how does EMDR work? The answer is not fully known but a researcher from Harvard has proposed that it could be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, helping us to process memories and disturbing feelings. Sounds strange? Well, after completing my training and seeing the beneficial effects, I find it helpful to think of EMDR as just another way of helping the brain to process disturbing or traumatic experiences, in the same way that more traditional talking therapies can. EMDR has been shown to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms in a number of research studies and millions of people have been successfully treated over the past 25 years.

As a clinical psychologist, I offer a range of talking therapies according to the client’s needs and often work in an integrative manner, meaning that I can draw upon different therapeutic strategies and tools. EMDR is a great resource for my therapy tool-box because I can offer it as a stand-alone therapy or as part of course of therapy involving different therapeutic approaches. I can offer EMDR therapy to children, young people, and adults. If you would like to know more about EMDR please take a look at the EMDR Institute Website Frequently Asked Questions page: http://www.emdr.com/frequent-questions/ . If you are interested in EMDR therapy at LIH Olivia’s Place please contact us.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, protocols, and Procedrures (Second Edition) by Frances Shapiro (2001; The Guildford Press)

The EMDR Institute, Inc http://www.emdr.com/