“WHAT IS EMDR? I hear you wave your fingers near someone’s eyes?”


Many types of therapy exist and only handful of these have been scientifically rigorously tested, so it’s hard to make choices about what works. One therapy has drawn attention from the media, practitioners and mental health consumers. This treatment is a mouthful to say Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, so we call it “EMDR,”.

It was discovered by serendipity in 1987 by Francine Shapiro in the USA.  Initially developed to help clients overcome anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is now recognised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a first line treatment for PTSD.  It has been applied to other conditions including depression, grief, phobias and panic disorder.

EMDR works by helping you process stuck negative experiences that continue to affect you, even though the actual event is often long in the past. It involves:

  • Getting to know you, history taking, developing some trust, setting goals, using questionnaires and homework tasks.
  • Developing internal resources to strengthen your ability to connect to positive emotions.
  • Tracing back memories; For example, if you’re having anxiety problems, thinking back to the earliest time you felt this intense anxiety sensation. Exploring the emotions and body sensations brought up by these memories that are often quite strong.
  • Reprocessing using “bilateral stimulation. BLS is alternating between the left and right side of your body by moving the therapists finger back and forth while you follow with your eyes. It seems to facilitate information processing in a way that is similar to REM sleep. You go along for the ride and see what thoughts, memories, body sensations and emotions arise. Some people are quiet, whilst others talk. After about 2 minutes, the therapist will stop and ask you to share what came up for you. EMDR processing continues until the distress around the issue reduces. How many sessions this takes depends on the person and the memory. It can be very quick.
  • Where there used to be upset and a negative self-belief, the therapist will work on installing a positive belief about you and your abilities.
  • The therapist will do sets of BSL with you to clear body tension as the body can continue to hold onto negativity after your mind has let it go.

EMDR results often generalize, which means that once you’ve processed one upsetting memory, other related memories often subside.  We offer EMDR at SACAC.

Written by:
Dr. Ronina Stevens

DClinPsych, BSc (Hons)
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Supporting your Child with Mental Health Issues

Your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. What do you do next? 

As awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents is increasing, more young people are accessing services and receiving diagnoses. But what happens next? Parenting support is vital for a child’s recovery, but it can be difficult at times to know how to provide support. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and strategies will depend on the individual child and issues, there are some general approaches that tend to be helpful.

  1. Create opportunities for connection and communication

While your child may struggle to communicate with you, it is important to continue to provide opportunities for them to do so. Invite them to spend time with you doing things they enjoy or healthy activities such as exercise or spending time with family friends. If they are resistant, try scaling down the activity such as a quick walk to the shops or even offer to drive them to an engagement – reduced eye contact in activities can feel more comfortable. Use 1:1 time to check in with how they are going, but don’t force the conversation if they don’t want to engage. Simply let your child know that you’re there to support them and that they can come to you at any time.

  1. Listen openly and validate their feelings

When your child does share with you, really listen to what they have to say. Focus on understanding things from their perspective and name and validate their feelings. Remember that even if their thoughts and feelings seem irrational, this is not the time to correct them or minimise their experience. Only offer your assistance with problem-solving once they feel fully heard.

  1. Create a safe environment

Stress and change in the family environment can impact on the child. Maintain regular routines such as bedtimes to help make their environment predictable. Use calendars to mark activities and upcoming changes such as a parent travelling overseas. While supporting a child with mental health issues can be very stressful, it is important that parents can present a calm front in dealing with issues and that arguments are limited in front of the child. If you find that the process of supporting your child is impacting on your own health or relationships, seek your own support. Your child will benefit from seeing their parents model self-care and healthy emotion regulation.

  1. Create a support team

Remember that you don’t have to carry this on your own. It is important that all the supporting adults in the child’s life can communicate and work together to support your child. This may include school teachers and counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and parents.

Written by:
Thea Longman

DClinPsych/MSc, BPsych (Hons)
Registered Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

How does Visual Imagery work?

The therapeutic use of visual imagery involves creating vivid mental images of something, whether an actual past experience (like your 21st birthday) or making up something that has not actually happened (like giving a speech at an upcoming meeting, or imaging how it would have been to be able to tell a loved one how much they meant to you before they passed away).

Visual imagery is one of the most powerful therapeutic tools in my bag and I have found it to be immensely cathartic and helpful for clients and myself. The human brain is unable to accurately differentiate between vivid imagination and a real experience. This is how fears work. Most, if not all the things we are terrified of have not actually happened to us and most likely never will. However, when we imagine or visualize it, we experience the fear and adrenaline kicking in as if we were actually living through the horrid experience and our body and mind go through this simulation. This is why horror movies manage to scare us even though we are fully aware that it’s just a movie and is not “real”.

A similar impact is felt when we reminisce about past experiences – we can end up laughing over something that happened years ago and can also feel the anger of an old wound, even though it is no longer a part of our current reality or experience. Many of the therapeutic modalities I use – like hypnotherapy, regression, inner child work, schema therapy, and others – utilise this natural confusion tendency of our mind to create healing experiences, work through negative or traumatic past memories and create uplifting images/expectations of the future. For e.g., even while the client is fully aware that he/she is only ‘imagining’ getting closure or ‘imagining’ feeling super confident and relaxed at an upcoming meeting – the brain experiences this as real, creates similar feelings and sensations for us and in essence lives through this imagined reality.

Athletes utilize this ‘positive visualization’ as part of their sports training. As they repeatedly imagine doing well and being successful/winning, the brain thinks that they have actually won those many times – and as they say, practice makes perfect –it’s no longer a new or unfamiliar situation, in your head, you’ve already done this a million times! This is not to say that imagination without the necessary action will yield real-life success. Often the real demons we fight are in our minds in the form of horror stories we make up and tell ourselves repeatedly even though it’s the last thing we want. So this can help you be in the right frame of mind, complete unfinished business, let go past baggage, resolve internal conflict and set yourself up for success.

Our imagination is potent, magical, and powerful. It’s up to us whether we use this power for good or evil, as a boon or bane. By being mindful of and consciously choosing which mental stories we create and focus on, we can use our imagination as our biggest ally instead of our enemy.

Written by:
Mahima Gupta                                                                                            Clinical Psychologist                                                                                  SACAC Counselling


I am completely in awe of Martin Seligman’s work on Optimism and Happiness. He began his career working on conditioning and learning, as most psychologists did in the 60’s. But he and colleagues stumbled upon “learned helplessness”, a condition in which lab dogs and rats were “helpless”: many (not all) the animals had reached a stage, after being placed in situations where they could not do anything to avoid something bad happening to them, that they were passive in the face of shocks or the threat of shocks.

Seligman realized that the animals had expectations about what was going to happen, and for some of them, ‘despairing’ was better than trying to escape, which would be futile. This led in time to exploring how humans deal with expectations, and thence to optimism and pessimism about the future.

Seligman and his team found that they could measure optimism quite precisely, and that they could identify people who were more or less optimistic. They showed for one of the toughest jobs, with the highest drop-out rate, insurance salesmen, that the most successful were the most optimistic – indeed they had to be, because the proportion of positive calls and meetings for an insurance salesman is so low, only those with massive optimism about themselves could keep making the calls.

The measurements in turn led to better techniques to teach people to be more optimistic about themselves, using cognitive behavioural techniques. He wrote about this work in “Learned Optimism” in 1991.

In the last 20+ years, he and his collaborators at the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania have looked more broadly at happiness, and are steadily building their scientific database of interventions that can positively increase happiness. They suggest there are 3 kinds of happy lives, those with lots of pleasant emotion, usually enjoyed by people with a very sociable outlook; those who may not be very sociable but who are really engaged by some of the things they do, they “get into the flow” of these activities and don’t need ‘pleasant’ feelings; and those whose lives are meaningful, because they have discovered some of their strengths and can use them for the benefit of something or some people other than themselves.

Seligman is a persuasive advocate of “positive psychology,” identifying strengths and what works for people, rather than identifying difficulties, however accurate this may be. I am looking forward to reading his new book, “The Hope Circuit” (2018). I commend everything he has written; happily, the messages are positive but the style is not preachy or sugary. It feels real, too.

Written by
Tim Bunn

EdD, MSc, BA (Hons), PGCE
Consultant Educational Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Understanding ‘Self-Care’: Beyond the bath bombs…

The term “self-care” has been adopted a lot lately since it has become trendy to discuss the pleasant things you do for yourself in the name of being your own best nurturer. Self-care can sometimes be misunderstood with self-indulgence or selfishness, but it is not so: self-care involves a deliberate and intentional daily practice and it is a process of tending to your mind, body, and spirit. True self-care is not bath bombs and candlelight, it is making the choice to build a life you do not need to regularly escape from.

Self-care is often a very uninviting thing. It is admitting what is ‘healthy’ for your whole self and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.

It is often a ‘dreaded and detestable’ thing that you fear to do. It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is living a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening.

It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means ‘rewiring’ and ‘work’ at your potential, it is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is being honest, even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people… which is why most people also fear desperately that the world will one day take their happiness away. Maybe, what you’re jealous of in other people is not what you don’t have, but what you won’t allow yourself to go get. Perhaps what you’re really worried about when you think things don’t look good enough is that inside, they don’t feel good enough.

You either give yourself permission to find and create happiness. Most people wait for the outside world to give them something they think is worthy of being happy about. Your perception of your life is within your locus of control. Circumstances don’t determine your happiness, your decision to be present and participate does, healing in ways you do not think is possible and don’t even recognize right now.

Become the person you know you want and are meant to be. Be the one who knows that pampering yourself are ways to enjoy life, not escape from it.

Written by:
Laura Spalvieri

MSocSc Prof Counsel, ProfDip Psych, GDAPP, GDPC
Counsellor/Psychotherapist/Transactional Analyst
SACAC Counselling