Is your fear of riding overwhelming, and perhaps stemming from a traumatic event? Then Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that can provide surprisingly speedy relief to those who feel stuck in negative reactions and behaviors.
EMDR treats problems stemming from a wide range of psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Increasingly, equestrians are finding the therapy helpful in overcoming fear and performance anxiety.
The therapy was essentially stumbled upon in 1989, when a psychologist noticed that the emotional distress she was feeling over disturbing thoughts disappeared when she moved her eyes rapidly from side to side. Practitioners have since learned that other types of bilateral stimulation, such as alternate hand tapping, can have the same effect.
How does it work? No one knows for sure. Researchers speculate that eye movements or hand tapping disrupt a person’s working memory of an unpleasant experience, decreasing its vividness. This, in turn, tones down the negative emotions (such as fear) that accompany the thought or memory, and allows the mind to access positive thoughts and abilities.
“It’s this ‘reprocessing’ that’s actually most interesting,” says Peggy Macy Martin, an EMDR-certified psychotherapist who uses the therapy in conjunction with in-saddle work at her Oakzanita Ranch in Descanso, Calif. “The positive thoughts arise as the person is no longer dominated by the fearful thoughts, emotions, and sensations. And the new, positive thoughts are the person’s own–they’re not the interpretations of others.”
If you were to visit an EMDR therapist, he or she would ask you to talk about your negative thoughts and emotions while you moved your eyes from one side to the other, or used your hands to tap on one thigh, and then the other.
It sounds simple, but “this part of it is not something you want to try at home,” cautions Peggy. “At the outset, the process can bring disturbing thoughts to the surface, and you need a trained therapist there to guide you.” The upside is that those thoughts can be made less troubling to the person thinking them, and often in an amazingly short period of time. Some people have experienced relief after just one session.
“EMDR is most effective for people who’ve experienced trauma–but not just what we normally think of as trauma,” says Peggy. “There’s ‘big T trauma,’ such as a nasty fall, and ‘little t trauma,’ such as being over-faced and worrying about all the things that might go wrong or could have gone wrong. EMDR can help with both kinds of trauma.”