Since February this year, I’ve been having EMDR therapy… Which sounds much scarier than it is.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing was first developed in 1987, to help people process traumatic memories. It involves triggering rapid eye movements, via different techniques – because this is what happens when the brain processes a memory or experience.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first, cynism being a treasured part of my personality and all… Also, I wasn’t sure that I really qualified for it. I’m not a soldier, I haven’t witnessed a violent act or been a victim of crime. I’m just a “weak and self-indulgent woman-child,” who lives with severe anxiety and panic.
I’ve written a book about my experiences for f**k sake! Not to mention the TV appearances and speaking at events. I know everything there is to know about anxiety and I’ve mastered all of the techniques.
So, why was I waking up in the dead of night screaming my lungs out? Why had I developed a violent twitch whenever I tried to rest and why couldn’t I cry, like EVER?! By the time I used Counselling Directory to find someone to talk to, I was bearly sleeping three hours a night. Drinking more wine that I should, and using prescription sedatives to ‘keep my brain quiet.’ A dreadful cliche I know, but I fell into the habit.
When I met Anne, my therapist, I really didn’t know what to expect. She listened to my story intently, even though I couldn’t look her in the eye (I felt ashamed). She then told me the benefits of EMDR and how it could help me. I wasn’t sure whether it was a sales pitch or not, and besides, did I really want to try this? Until recently, I wouldn’t have considered myself to be non-traditional. I was a student of the old school approach. Prescription meds, exercise, wine and having meltdowns every other month. EMDR involves eye movements, tapping, noises and deliberately triggering the subconscious mind. It sounded alternative.
I had the below conversation with myself:
Rational brain: Let me get this straight… this woman wants us to watch her finger move from side to side rapidly, while we wait and see what thoughts/memories crop up?
Subconscious brain: Do you have any better ideas?
Rational brain: ……. no.
After research and consideration, I decided to give it a try.
I was extremely nervous, as the therapy involves different phases, all of which would require me to be completely honest and vulnerable. (Two things I hate). For the first time in my life, I knew that ‘the demons’ would be given center stage, a thought which chilled me to the bone. I’d kept them safely locked up. It was only after her suggestion that the ‘twitch’ I’d developed, was them “rattling the cage,” did I accept that for better or worse, they were coming out.
So, cut the s**t, what is EMDR?
Professional definition: an interactive psychotherapy technique used to relieve psychological stress. It is an effective treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During EMDR therapy sessions, you relive traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while the therapist directs your eye movements.
Claire definition: In close proximity, you concentrate on your therapist’s finger moving from side to side. She encourages you to share whatever pops into your head, no matter how random or stupid. It can take five minutes, it can take an hour but (in my experience) the subconscious will eventually reveal something that’s bothering you. Once a negative memory or thought is exposed, it is then reprocessed and replaced with something positive.
EMDR challenges the idea that a person must live with the scars they’ve been given. At first, this principle enraged me. I didn’t choose to let memories make me feel a certain way, surely it just happened? Yet, my therapist taught me that while memories do trigger specific emotional responses, we CAN control how we react to them long term.
For example, during therapy, one of my memories made me so angry that I started to physically shake. That anger was heavy and it had been weighing me down. I didn’t want to carry it for the rest of my life.
EMDR taught me a great deal about trauma and how the brain reacts to it. Despite what I thought, it can come in many forms, whether that be violence or physical abuse, to a seemingly non-important event that has a lasting impact. I have never been a victim of physical violence. However, I did live with what I know now was emotional abuse, for a long time.
The brain stores trauma, in the same way that a computer saves a document to the hard drive.
From a survival perspective, this could be useful at a later date, e.g. keeping us safe etc. However, in most cases, it has a negative and disruptive impact. It affects the way that we behave in certain situations and in the most extreme cases, we become so overwhelmed by the memory, that we avoid anything that reminds us of it.
In a nutshell, humans don’t like to feel afraid, it’s an intolerable emotion that we repress and avoid. EMDR is like a super cleanse for the brain and it gives patients the opportunity to re-experience the trauma in a safe way, in order to work past it.
Things to be aware of
- The initial appointments may include making a timeline of your life, listing your most prominent memories. This will give the therapist something to work from.
- Tapping can be used to reinforce ideas. It might seem weird at first, but go with it!
- EMDR isn’t a quick fix. Patients are encouraged to have a minimum of ten sessions. (I had twelve). It’s important to work through things at your own pace.
- It’s an extremely emotional process, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with your therapist.
This therapy changed both my life and the relationship that I have with myself. I no longer fight to silence the noise in my head, because I know now that sometimes it’s trying to help me.
For anyone based in the North West, I worked with Anne Bolton.