Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Use of Eye Movement Therapy to Tackle Intolerance

Here are the major points I’ve made in previous blogs:

… The early learning experiences from parents and significant others that teach us to overuse “the suspicious eye” – the brain’s survival reflex that mistakes a stick for a rattlesnake - can add fuel to the fire of an aversion to differences.

… If we took ten people who stated openly - “I just don’t particularly care for people from that country” – and measured their brain-body reactions when talking about “those people”, we would find that their fight-flight response was activated at some level, from mild to extreme arousal.

… Stressful events are stored in the emotional centers of the brain, and influence unconscious feelings and automatic reactions in adulthood. It helps answer the question: Why is it so tough to embrace our differences?

… When a negative memory and focused attention to eye movements occur together, the dual stimulation seems to weaken the negative memory. This neural pathway to therapeutic success is one of several theories that are currently being investigated to help explain the rapid success of eye movement therapy.

Can the information summarized above help in the fight to reduce intolerance and embrace diversity? If we transfer the positive results in the last 20 years in stress and trauma reduction (scientifically validated in the EMDR journal) to the areas of bullying, ethnic and sexual intolerance, the possibilities become exciting, particularly for a stress expert like me. Let’s take the example of bullying.

Consider these alarming facts.

…Children and youth in the U.S. are teased and tormented by bullies to the extent that 160,000 students skip school each day (Olweus, 1993).

…86 % of children and youth ages 12-15 said they get teased or bullied at school, making bullying more prevalent than smoking, alcohol, drugs and sex among this age group (Kaiser Foundation, Nickelodeon TV Network and Children Now, 2001).

…The most common forms of bullying are related to physical appearance, disabilities, perceived sexual orientation or gender expression (Survey, 2008). 31 % of gay youth get threatened or injured at school in one year (Bart, 1998).

Bullying is not limited to the U.S. but occurs in countries throughout the world. The most disturbing fact is provided by the course authors who reviewed the studies cited above: “…the common thread in all countries is that children are relentlessly and repeatedly bullied without significant objections or outrage from responsible adults.” (Elite Continuing Education)

Clearly, we need to help children and youth who have been victims of intimidation with every therapy method available. To make a dramatic inroad into this problem, we need to treat the children and youth who are the perpetrators of bullying. And we need to get to them as early as possible. My expertise is primarily with adults, but many EMDR trained therapists, thousands of them, are child experts. They have used their technology very effectively to work with child trauma, stress and anxiety issues, and a host of other problems. The technology is available to apply an eye movement desensitization approach in an early intervention program for children and youth who show bullying and intimidation tendencies.

In order to accomplish this goal, we need a bit of “outrage from responsible adults”: teacher, parents, administrators, government officials, physicians and mental health workers.

This is just one example of how we can get started in making inroads to the rampant problem of intolerance. I hope to discuss other ways in future blogs. Visit for more on EMDR and other relaxation and desensitization technologies.

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