Help your employees process the past

Your female employee, let’s call her Becky, is struggling to cope at work after her bullying husband walked out six months ago.

She put on a brave face but it was a terrible time for her. Becky knows she’s better off and looking ahead but you think she’s suffering and struggling with what happened. She’s jumpy in the office and has started assuming the worst will happen, in every situation, which is getting hard for her colleagues to deal with.

You want to offer support that will help her fast but don’t know how. You feel out of your depth as an employer.

Consider EMDR therapy

Confidence to Return offers EMDR – eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing – a psychological therapy that can help your team member process negative memories that are affecting their performance today.

US psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro developed EMDR. She spent years refining the therapy, from treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in military personnel to tackling a wider range of emotional issues. ‘Getting Past Your Past’ is her go-to book on the subject.

We all have negative experiences. It’s how we process memories of those experiences that makes the difference.

As Dr Shapiro says: ‘It’s useful to remember that 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 is pushing it.’

How the brain stores memories

To share the value of EMDR, I need to tell you how we store our memories — and what happens when this goes wrong.

Our sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste gather experiences that our neural memory networks use to create our view of the world. Usually, our brain processes these sensory memories – files them away neatly if you like. These processed memories guide us, subconsciously, to behave with positive purpose.

But powerful negative experiences can overwhelm our brain’s filing system, leaving bad memories unprocessed.

Back to Becky. Her husband left her for someone else, with no warning, and all their money! Unsurprisingly, this was overwhelmed her brain and it couldn't process all the difficult sensory memories — the shock, the fear and the anger.

Unprocessed memories don’t go away – they're like unpaid bills stuffed in a desk drawer. All the hurt, anger and pain get stuck until they resurface to create new emotional and physical problems.

In Becky’s case, the memories heighten her anxiety and make her expect something bad to happen – again and again and again. She’s doesn't realise those memories are in control. She just knows she feels trapped and ‘out of control’.

As Shapiro says: ‘Our memories are the basis of both negative symptoms and our mental health. The key difference is the way the memories are stored in the brain.’

How EMDR can help your employee

You can help your ‘Becky’ by offering a course of EMDR sessions with Confidence to Return.

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 digested.

As Shapiro puts it: ‘What is useful is learned, what’s useful 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 sometimes feel as though you’ve solved a problem as you ‘slept on it’.

EMDR session details

EMDR allows insights, connections and change to occur rapidly within reprocessing sessions. Though it does involve some talking, it works much faster than traditional talking therapies, which can take years to be effective.

•          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.

How unprocessed memories can appear

Behaviour that could signal your employee has unprocessed memories, includes:

•          Anger, aggression and indifference

•          Sadness, anxiety and low self-esteem

•          Trembling, restlessness and being easily startled

•          Avoiding people, places or situations

•          Overeating, over drinking or over shopping

•          Catastrophising, where someone imagines the worst possible outcome.

Wider uses than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

EMDR is a first-line NHS treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Examples include being involved in a war, or a major accident, or being sexually abused.

However, ‘every day’ experiences can produce just as many and sometimes more symptoms than diagnosed PTSD. Any past event can pop to the present and feel as though it’s happening all over again. When this happens, EMDR can help.

Contact Confidence to Return to find out how EMDR can help your employees process their past.

Sandie Dennis

Confidence to Return


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