When employees suffer a traumatic event such as losing a baby, a divorce, death of a loved one or any other one of life’s big challenges, we expect them to react emotionally.
For a while, allowances are made for unusual behaviour because we expect them to get back to being ‘themselves’ over time.
But did you know emotional trauma caused by these common, if distressing, life experiences can leave a negative imprint on a person’s brain in the same way as soldiers are affected by military atrocities, witnesses by terrorist attacks, or casualties by a horrific accident, or natural disaster? Our brains fire and store information in the same way. And your brain doesn’t just ‘get over’ this trauma.
At Beyond EAP we can help your employees overcome emotional trauma with a psychological therapy called EMDR – eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing.
US psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro developed EMDR. She spent years refining the therapy, from treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (*PTSD) in military personnel to later tackling a wider range of emotional issues.
How the brain works when under stress
Brains under stress might not process memories properly. Usually, our brains process and ‘make sense’ of our experiences when storing them as memories. But intense and disturbing emotional experiences can overwhelm our processing systems. This leaves our brains unable to make sense of the experience and the negative memories are stored in unprocessed form.
‘Time does not heal all wounds’
This is why time does not heal all wounds; anger, resentment, pain and sorrow are frozen in time and can form today’s emotional and physical problems.
How unprocessed memories can affect an employee
Unprocessed memories can resurface in your employee’s behaviour.
As Shapiro says: ‘Whatever the persistent negative emotion, belief or behaviour that has been bothering you, it’s not the cause of the suffering – it’s the symptom. The likely cause is the memory that’s pushing it.’
For example, an employee who has suffered emotional trauma might:
- start being angry or even aggressive towards colleagues
- become anxious and put off making decisions that will have an impact on their work
- make excuses about missing an important meeting
- duck out of the social events they used to enjoy
- exaggerate what is set to ‘go wrong’ with a partner’s plan
- start eating, drinking or even shopping compulsively, so that others in the office notice
- get jumpy when approached and be seen to shake or tremble
That’s because unprocessed memories of an emotional trauma can cause..
- anger, aggression and indifference
- sadness, anxiety and low self-esteem
- trembling and restlessness
- avoiding people, places or situations
- overeating, over drinking or over shopping
- catastrophising, where someone imagines the worst possible outcome
How can you help your employees with EMDR
You can help your employees through emotional trauma with EMDR sessions from Beyond EAP.
EMDR therapy targets the unprocessed memories that contain the negative emotions, sensations and beliefs. By activating the brain’s information processing system, the old memories can be processed.
‘What is useful is learned, what’s useless is discarded, and the memory is stored in a way that is no longer damaging’
As Shapiro puts it: ‘What is useful is learned, what’s useless is discarded, and the memory is stored in a way that is no longer damaging.’
EMDR therapy activates the same eye movements as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Neural connections in our brains can process memories into usable forms when we’re in REM sleep. It’s why you feel as though you’ve solved a problem as you ‘slept on it’.
REM sleep stimulates the brain regions used in learning. That’s why good sleep is so important. If you learn a new skill and miss out on REM sleep that night, research shows that you might lose the new skill.
Nightmares, which also happen in REM sleep, are the brain trying to process emotions.
How EMDR differs from talking therapy
- Talking therapy can take a long time, sometimes years
- You need to gain insight into forces that you cannot see
- Talking therapy gains insights but the reactions don’t change
What EMDR therapy involves:
An EMDR therapist uses Bilateral Stimulation, in the form of eye movements, tapping or auditory techniques.
- The client discusses their problems, symptoms and feelings but doesn’t have to reveal all the details of their traumatic experience
- The therapist guides the client through a process known as desensitisation and reprocessing
- This helps them process their negative feelings and begin to recognise that they no longer need to hold on to some of them
Time needed for EMDR therapy
- Sessions take between 60 and 90 minutes
- Between 2 and 6 sessions are usually needed, depending on the severity of the issue
- Sessions can be carried out in any quiet area
Contact Beyond EAP to find out how EMDR can help your employees.
* EMDR is recommended as an effective first-line treatment for PTSD in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s evidence-based guidelines. PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events, which can result in nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.