top of page

"Ted Lasso" and EMDR

Ted Lasso goldfish in bowl

This blog is about two of my all-time FAVORITE things: the Apple TV show “Ted Lasso” and EMDR therapy. (You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Amy, you may want to get out more." You’d be a bit right. But bear with me on this.) If you’re one of the millions who’s seen “Ted Lasso” then you likely have some inkling of its connection to mental health awareness and treatment. If you’re one of the folks who hasn’t yet watched this incredible show, A) go do that ASAP and B) there will probably be some spoilers within this blog, but I don’t think it’ll ruin the entire show. Which you need to watch. Now. Right now. Go!! (Then come back and all of this blog will make way more sense, too.)

One of my favorite aspects of the entire “Ted Lasso” show is its focus on mental health and emotional struggles-but also resilience-and how the storytelling within each episode grabs our full attention and parks it onto the relationships each character has-with themselves and with everyone else. Primarily, of course, there’s Ted. At first, he’s deeply entrenched in-and quite frankly embodies-a stance called “toxic positivity,” where everything difficult he encounters seems to be no big deal to him until Dr. Sharon Fieldstone comes on the scene and calls him on it—and rejects his biscuits!!

But we learn that Ted has experience with intense panic attacks (because the body does keep the score, and later on we learn how steep the score Ted has to settle for himself really is), and the clues that he’s struggling start all the way back in episode one of season one, when he clenches and then shakes his hands, pushing it down and away from himself. Later in season one, Ted experiences a full-blown panic attack at what would seem a very unexpected time--when the team is singing karaoke after a rare win on the field. Ted asks Rebecca if he’s going crazy, and I love her response: “No more than anyone else.”

Having a panic attack is terrifying enough, but when you experience one during what would be for most people a happy, celebratory social event, and can’t connect the trigger(s) of it to anything that makes logical sense, many people DO feel like they’re crazy, losing their minds, all those things. And the worst part is that if you think you’re crazy, you’re even less likely to tell others what happened and to seek help.

Shadow of a person with panic attacks and anxiety

It’s common to have unexpected panic attacks with trauma that’s been pushed down or otherwise denied; the body keeps tabs on what you’ve been through, and tries to bide its time until your brain eventually agrees that RIGHT THEN it needs to be addressed. [SPOILER ALERT for you folks who plowed right into my blog and didn’t see the part

about going to watch “Ted Lasso” first]

We finally see Ted seek Dr. Sharon out to deal with and reduce his panic attacks, and I like to believe it’s her compassion and curiosity about why he slings jokes to disguise his discomfort at being seen by others (along with her own display of vulnerability when she crashes her bike and he helps her) that helps Ted engage in therapy (though they don’t do EMDR) and start to heal from his painful past experiences and become a more cohesive version of himself.

Along the way, we see how Ted’s empathy for Jamie Tart and his abusive father helped Jamie form new and more effective connections with everyone on the team, but most especially how Ted’s curiosity and support led to Jamie’s own self-compassion. Ted’s compassion for Nate is such a critical part of how the show unfolds that I won’t even say more than that here just in case someone hasn’t seen it yet–I’ll just add that it’s impressive and must have taken an awful lot of empathy on Ted’s part to not go on the offensive toward Nate when he could. Honestly, I could write dozens more blogs about Ted’s EQ and its positive impact on the rest of the main characters in that amazing show.

Painted wall that says make people feel loved today with compassion and connection

To be sure, several of the other main figures in this show have their own inner demons, some more subtle than others until they are given their pivotal episode–Nate, Jamie, Roy (my favorite character, hands down, don’t even try to argue with me on this, and his incredible use of the F word is NOT where he struggles), and Rebecca, among others. Each could (and may) feature prominently in a blog about things like toxic invulnerability, how hurt people hurt people, all the things. And there are a million quotes that could each be the focus of an entire blog, but my all-time favorite (and the inspiration for this particular blog) is from Ted himself, who says:

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

On its surface the quote makes some sense, right? (Particularly when it comes to how Ted absolutely obliterated Rupert at darts, because Rupert’s arrogance didn’t allow for any possibility that Ted might win.) If you don’t consider all the angles of a situation or another person, you might miss some critical data and get left holding the proverbial bag. But what struck me about this quote recently is how relevant this life philosophy can be in therapy, and especially for people seeking therapy for trauma or difficult events.

To put it differently, you have to possess an element of vulnerability and be self-aware enough to get curious about others’ experiences and have a clear, full picture of what they’re about. Problem is, trauma leaves people stuck (to a greater or lesser degree of awareness) in survival mode, always looking for the next attack or slight, the next undercut or betrayal.

Survival mode doesn’t leave much room to be curious, not judgmental. You see the problem, yeah? You can’t be curious about even your OWN experiences-and thus work to make new and more effective sense out of them-if you’re busy being self-recriminating and judgmental. For a long time, too, Ted doesn’t want anything to do with Dr. Sharon that’s beyond surface-level interactions and dad jokes, because he’s been burned by his most recent experience in therapy (see: that guy who committed a whole STACK of ethical violations by dating one of his clients, but that’s a topic for another blog someday).

How do you engage in self-exploration and allow yourself to get vulnerable when you’re understandably suspicious of the general process AND you have significant traumas that your body is begging you to pay attention to?

(Spoiler alert: You have to TRY. Sometimes when you’re in crisis. And a lot of times you have to jump into therapy when you feel least in control of yourself or your life, which is super scary. Cue my nerding-out discussion of EMDR therapy below.)

Colorful blocks spelling out EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

A little background on what EMDR therapy is, and what it’s used for:

EMDR (or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing–see why we all use the short version?!) was created originally to help treat the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In the years since its inception, it has been heavily researched and is proven effective as a treatment for trauma of many kinds, and as an effective treatment for many other mental health disorders. So, so many people have been helped by EMDR. I’m thrilled every time I ask someone new if they’ve heard of EMDR and they say they have–possibly this is why I don’t get a lot of party invites?? ;)

Symptoms of trauma:

  • Intrusive thoughts (can’t stop thinking about some aspect or details of what you went through)

  • Nightmares, and very often difficulty sleeping (our brains do their best processing work at night while we sleep, especially during REM sleep, and when something awful happens and gets stuck, the brain keeps trying to process it through but can’t, and then you can’t sleep)

  • Avoidance of things, places, or people that remind you of a traumatic or disturbing experience

  • Difficulty concentrating or staying present

  • Panic attacks (though these can occur separately from trauma)

  • Hypervigilance/hyperarousal, or feeling like you need to be ready for a bad event to unfold or someone to come after you

  • Flashbacks of the experience, or being triggered by some part of your environment in a way that causes you to feel like you’re reliving what happened all over again

  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame related to a painful past event

image of a therapist's couch with pillow and blanket

As a therapist who is trained in and offers EMDR therapy in California and Texas, the explanation I give to my clients about how it works is that EMDR takes the flaming intensity of a traumatic, disturbing, or painful experience someone has and both turns down the heat-the symptoms that can and do disrupt a person’s life-and also helps the brain untangle the stuck memory (the analogy of a scratched vinyl record resonates with many people) and learn how to store it in a way that doesn’t cause reactivity.

I caution my clients that EMDR doesn’t create amnesia for a traumatic event, because the brain learned how to survive that event and will retain the recall of those survival skills as a map for managing future similar difficult experiences. Rather, it helps separate out the thoughts, emotions, and somatic sensations (what you feel in your body) so that clients can more efficiently store memories of that experience and keep living their best lives.

My personal experience with EMDR is part of my explanation to others who haven’t heard of it yet, and I’ve found that walking this particular walk gives more weight to talking the talk about it with clients. What I love most about EMDR therapy is that it teaches your brain to help heal itself along the way, and that how it works doesn’t necessarily involve going through a traumatic experience detail by detail. The therapist guides the work from a heavily trained and professional perspective, but your brain learns how to do the work and oftentimes will be busy behind the scenes (AKA between sessions) processing other related events or memories connected to the one a client wants to work directly on.

EMDR therapy these days can be offered online, and as I mentioned earlier can be used for symptoms of trauma or PTSD, but also for chronic anxiety, relationship issues, and even for major life events that lead to overwhelm and stress.

So, whether you’re fully in survival mode (and let’s face it, we’re all in some degree of survival mode a LOT these days) or you’re tiptoeing into some element of curiosity because you’ve realized your judgmental status about yourself and/or others isn’t getting you as far as you’d hoped it would, EMDR therapy can help. I believe it will. (See what I did there?)

If you’re looking for EMDR therapy in California or Texas, reach out to me today to schedule your free 15-minute consultation with me, and let’s get started. (And if you’re reading this blog and live elsewhere, reach out anyways and I’ll help you get connected to a therapist in your home state.)

image of Amy Duckwall, PsyD, licensed psychologist in California and Texas

Be curious, not judgmental. Find your inner Ted and give therapy a try if you haven’t yet. I bet you’ll surprise yourself.



bottom of page