Today is going to be a long, intense post so buckle up. I am going to be sharing with you my experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desentisiation and Reprocessing) Therapy. I am not going to go into great detail about my past, but I will explain how I found EMDR, what it is and how it worked for me personally. My biggest motivation for detailing this journey is to make others aware that such a therapy exists because I wish I had known about it years ago. EMDR is predominately for those suffering with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and/or a long-term history of abuse, depression and anxiety. If you have spent years talking to therapists and feel that nothing has changed, you may require something more intensive like this. Finally, before I begin, I just want to add a couple of disclaimers: 1.) I am not a licensed professional so please understand I don’t have all the answers. You can always find out more here. 2.) EMDR is not a guaranteed cure. It has quite a high success rate but I don’t want to provide false hope in saying that this treatment will work for everybody. It may. It may not. Without further delay, let’s get into it!
HOW DID I FIND EMDR THERAPY?
I stumbled upon EMDR completely by accident. In a strange way, I am thankful for my insomnia because that is what led me to this treatment. I have mentioned my sleep struggles before, so I won’t explain them again. You can read more here. I was referred to my therapist via a sleep specialist and in our session, we determined that my anxiety surrounding sleep stemmed from something much darker. She told me that she happened to specialise in EMDR therapy. She also explained what it was and that I was a perfect candidate for it. Note: not every therapist is trained in EMDR. You need to do your own research and find somebody you trust. This is intensive work, so it’s important you’re paired with a professional you feel comfortable with.
WHAT IS EMDR THERAPY & HOW DOES IT WORK?
As mentioned above, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desentistation and Reprocessing. It is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. For example, if you witnessed a comrade die in the war, that memory could haunt you for the rest of your life. An EMDR therapist will ask you describe the event in detail and how you would like to reprocess it. After several sessions of preparation and framing, you will be asked to recall the memory and follow the therapist’s fingers as they move back and forth. You can look at a visual example by clicking the video below:
Via the rapid eye movement, a vivid memory that has brought you distress for all of your life can be reprocessed so you view it differently. A good example my therapist gave me was that if you try to remember your 10th birthday party, you may be able to recall flashes, but it will be pretty hazy. A traumatic memory however, feels very intense, like it happened just yesterday. EMDR will shift the memory from vivid to foggy like your 10th birthday celebration. It’s mind-blowing. As you can imagine, this type of therapy is extremely confronting and emotional. It has the potential to evoke strong reactions and you will typically be advised to have somebody drive you home after a session, just in case you’re too rattled to do so. Reliving your most traumatic memory in great detail is HARD. I am speaking from experience. Let’s get into my story now.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH EMDR THERAPY
I’m not going to go into specific details here, but I will share that as a child, I was emotionally and physically abused by my father. This has left me a very anxious, wired and jittery adult. I have spent most of my life clenching my fists, grinding my teeth, sweating, jerking my legs and more. I operate as though there is a threat around every corner. I can never truly relax. I used to call myself ‘naturally anxious’ until my therapist told me that there was no such thing. She said there was trauma living inside my body and I needed EMDR to relieve it. I had to do a lot of preparation work beforehand including two in-depth questionnaires. I also had to outline ten of my most traumatic memories and rank them from 1-10 (10 being most traumatic, 1 being least). After our first session, I cried all the way home because I realised that in nearly 31 years of living, I had never felt safe. That was what I wanted to get out of this whole thing the most – to finally feel secure. My therapist told me that my body was in constant fight-or-flight mode and that EMDR would turn that switch off when it needed to be and on when it needed to be – instead of always on. The truth is, my rational mind has always known that I have been safe since my father left, but my body never caught up…
My first ever EMDR session took place February 10th of this year. We decided to start ‘small’ and reprocess a memory I deemed a 5 on the traumatic scale. I’m not going to lie, I went into it quite skeptical. I didn’t believe it would actually work. My therapist asked me to recall the memory and follow her waving fingers back and forth; just noting how my body reacted. She wanted me to remain present but before long, I was back in that moment. I was no longer in the room. My chest started to get tight and I clutched at my throat; telling my therapist I was struggling to speak. She said that was normal. She explained that with each memory, I would reach a peak of emotional turmoil and then I would start to calm down. It was important I pushed through every single time things felt too intense. She likened it to driving through a tunnel. Yes it may feel scary and claustrophobic, but if you stop in the middle of the tunnel, you won’t feel any better. It’s advised to keep driving until you’re out of the darkness.
On March 10th, we reprocessed a memory I deemed a 10 on the traumatic scale. Needless to say, this was much more difficult than the 5. I cried and wanted to leave. I struggled to stay present. We worked through it until I felt that same haziness take over and was finally confident about regulating my emotions. At the end of the session, I told my therapist that whilst I felt better about these memories – and that the trauma was starting to fade – I still had the same recurring nightmare that always left me shaken. She told me that EMDR worked on dreams as well and we could try reprocessing it in the next session.
On March 17th, we reprocessed the nightmare. Despite not being real, my body still reacted under therapy as though it was. I was scared, my breathing turned shallow and I felt my hands gripping the couch. After a while, I heard a little voice in my head tell me that I was safe now. That he could no longer hurt me. That he was gone for good. Suddenly, the image of the dream changed. In my mind, I saw my father walk out of the door. It was truly amazing. A week later I had the dream again, but it was completely different. I felt in control, no longer scared and my father was in a new location. It was clearly symbolic that I had all the power now.
My final EMDR session was supposed to be on the 24th March, but due to the virus, we changed my therapy session to be online. We decided to wrap-up my sessions because the EMDR was having a flow-on-effect to all of my other memories. It was going to be much more difficult to continue doing EMDR through a screen, so I was happy to be done. I know I am posting this not long after my therapy finished but I do want to say that I feel completely different. My core beliefs have changed: I feel safe now as opposed to unsafe. I feel more confident to regulate my emotions and I’m definitely not as tense. EMDR has changed my life for the better and taught me so much about myself. I am forever thankful. I would highly recommend it if you meet the criteria established by a trained professional.
Thank you so much for reading. Please leave any comments or questions below.
Peace & Love xoxo