Therapy Trend Alert: Side-Eye Your Ex Out of Your Mind

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Photo: Focus Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Some breakups are so traumatic you can't talk your way out of them. According to a report in The Atlantic, overthinking and overanalyzing might actually prolong your misery, wearing a neurological path that can “become our dominant thought with repeat use.” See any guy on the street in a peacoat and suddenly you're in tears, thinking about his peacoat, and therefore him, and therefore that time when he left you for that woman who is way too young for him, judging from her Instagram.

If this kind of stuff goes on for years, and in spite of traditional forms of therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a process designed for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, may offer some relief, the Atlantic reports.  To reroute thoughts, you talk about the bad thing while stimulating different parts of your brain, using triggers like “a periodic sets of eye movements”—i.e. follow-my-finger-style hypnosis. Variations on the trigger include listening to a tone on headphones that switches from right ear to left ear, or holding vibrating devices that buzz alternating hands.

Writer Elissa Bassist described her experience with the latter in a Modern Love column last year. Her “Buddhist-type” therapist asked her to visualize her ex, Dan, getting married to another woman, while she held two vibrating paddles the therapist controlled  a treatment he had used on 9/11 survivors.

“What does Dan look like walking down the aisle?”

“He looks happy.”

“What are you doing while Dan is getting married?”

“I’m writing a novel.” I had to stop. I was hyperventilating, overwhelmed by all my expectations of a life with him, the lost man whom I had lost.

The therapist turned off the vibrating paddles. I cried until I was exhausted, at which point he asked, “Well, are you alive?”

 I was alive. I was exhausted, spent, out of my mind with relief. Yet I was still alive, wondering if my memory of Dan was something I had or something I’d shed.

A lot of non-Buddhist-types are skeptical of EMDR. Some don't believe in neuropathway rerouting; others just think it's silly. “I think just the notion of a therapist sitting in front of patient and waving a finger back and forth or using tappers is tough for a lot of therapists to accept, regardless of whether it is effective treatment," a clinical health psychologist and University of Pennsylvania professor wrote. "Personally, I would feel ridiculous doing this."

But the ridiculousness of it might have been the key for Atlantic author Shawnee Barton. She wrote:

“In past individual and couples therapy sessions, I found myself to be defensive, constantly overanalyzing the therapist's questions and second guessing most aspects of the treatment experience. But with EMDR I had to make a conscious decision to set aside my cynicism in advance.”

Another selling point? It’s fast. “I was in and out in five sessions,” Barton wrote. That’s much more efficient than our personal therapeutic model of losing five pounds, buying an expensive accessory, getting drinks with a couple dozen “lost” bffs we’d forgotten why we stopped hanging out with, gaining five pounds, and watching Twin Peaks in its entirety. Plus, your friends, who are definitely sick of hearing about him by now, will thank you.