My experience with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy started when eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) was suggested to me as treatment for my posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I thought the process sounded like some crazy science fiction stuff from a movie set far into the future. I was supposed to watch some lights going back and forth while holding vibrating tactile devices and listening to ambient sounds, both of which alternated from right to left? What? And that was going to somehow, magically maybe, move my traumatic memories to some other part of my brain where they wouldn’t be so intrusive and emotion-provoking? That sounds as crazy as I was feeling at the time, but I was desperate for relief from my PTSD symptoms and willing to try anything so I tried the PTSD treatment of EMDR therapy.
My Experience with EMDR: What Are Sessions Like?
I was skeptical going to my first appointment for EMDR therapy. I didn’t think that it would work for me, even though I had heard great things about it from others who had it done. I just didn’t understand how it could possibly work, but I was having flashbacks and nightmares that were really affecting my life and my sobriety. I kept relapsing on alcohol, even after going to rehab, in an attempt to quiet my thoughts and negative emotions. So trying EMDR was really kind of a last resort for me.
The first session was the therapist collecting information from me about my life and the trauma I had experienced. It was much like any other first therapy session that I had been to in the past, the “getting to know you” session. There wasn’t a lot of talking about feelings, it was more of a fact-finding endeavor.
During my next session, the use of the EMDR equipment started. The firs thing that the therapist did was have me develop a “safe place” and think about it in detail, paying attention to what I envisioned along with other sensory experiences: what does it smell like, feel like, do I hear anything? I didn’t have to verbalize to the therapist what I was experiencing, I just had to think about it while watching the lights, holding the small vibrating devices and listening to sounds with earphones. The purpose of the “safe place” was to give me somewhere safe to go to mentally when feeling overwhelmed — a calming technique to be used in times of high anxiety. I have to say that though my “safe place” has changed over the years, this technique still works for me. Simply changing my thoughts and focusing on something that makes me feel secure is helpful in times of stress and anxiety.
In subsequent sessions, we worked through traumatic events, using the EMDR equipment. It wasn’t typical talk therapy; I didn’t really have to talk a lot about the specific events, I had to recall them in my mind (Different Types of Mental Health Therapy). We started off with an event that was lower on the trauma scale — my first dog’s death — to sort of get my feet wet and see if I would be benefited by EMDR. As I remembered the day that my beloved chihuahua, Taco, had to be put to sleep, while watching the lights going back and forth, an amazing thing happened. My view of the memory changed. The memory itself didn’t change, the details and the facts of what happened stayed the same, but my perspective changed. I went from seeing the memory through my own eyes, experiencing it first-hand, to watching it happen in my mind. It was like watching a movie, not reliving an actual event. It was amazing.
We moved on to bigger, more traumatic, events in my next several sessions, and the results were much the same. Once the events had been reprocessed by my brain, and I no longer felt like I was reliving the trauma when memories popped into my mind, the flashbacks and nightmares I had been experiencing lessened significantly. Now those reprocessed events are like other memories that I have, still there, but not so intrusive and upsetting. I can talk about my trauma without having to relive it, and that has been a life-saver.
Is EMDR Right for You?
Only you will be able to decide if EMDR therapy is something that works for you. What I know is that I was skeptical, but desperate for relief, and I gave it a try and I am so happy with the results. They were absolutely life-changing for me. So, if you’re considering EMDR to help your PTSD symptoms, my advice is give it a try. It may not work for you, but what if you’re like me, and it does? The freedom from flashbacks and nightmares alone has made it more than worth the time and expense.