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PTSD Treatment: My Experience With EMDR Therapy

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.

What is EMDR therapy like? What happens during an EMDR session? My experience with EMDR therapy was life-changing. Could EMDR be right for you? Read this.

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.

Find Jami on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, and on her blog.

Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, Sober Grace, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

3 thoughts on “PTSD Treatment: My Experience With EMDR Therapy”

  1. Great article, I enjoyed reading your post on EMDR Therapy. Not many people know about this form of addiction treatment. Your experience with EMDR therapy has helped you and that is wonderful too see. As a recovering addict I was able to witness the positive effects this treatment has on individuals. I’ve been doing research on EMDR treatments, how it helps and exactly what the pros and cons are.

    Should anyone else be interested to see how this would help others here’s the page I looked at https://www.pbinstitute.com/emdr-therapy/

    Hopefully, this information can assist someone (friends and families) in choosing the best treatment for someone they love.

  2. Hi. I have had EMDR and ten minutes into the session I blurted out very impulsively ….. this is a fiction, a fantasy, a fairy tale fabrication. The clinician yelled at me….. these were my thoughts my memories, run with it run with. I froze. I yelled back ……. this is a bull…. he tried over and over to restart and in a fashion we did but I had zero connection with EMDR moving forward. Today I attach as much of my PTSD to EMDR. I achieved a very negative experience with EMDR. I believe some people achieve benefits but I have spoken with many and learn that I’m definitely not an island. The results as I have observed at best it’s maybe 50/50 in the results field yet the talk about EMDR is so hyped up I just choke

    1. I respect your personal prospective and experience – I understand the intensity and overwhelming emotions that come from the first opening of the door through EMDR. For me, it was a flood of things I just was not ready for and, as a result, I had a very bad reaction too to begin with. Same as you, within minutes, I felt overwhelmed and like my heart was going to explode. Although, I so bullheaded back then I tried to swallow my pain and suppress what I could. I don’t really remember the session, but just as I was warned by the therapist, choking pain came in brutalising waves throughout the hours after. I started drinking to drown out the thoughts, and when that didn’t work, I slashed myself up. I’m not particularly proud of that night. My therapist was barely able to contain her frustration that I didn’t call for help from her, or take more precautions (I had ended up alone when I promised her I would make sure to have a support network ready to assist me should I react so badly). She then insisted we return to CBT only but I couldn’t. I had to stare into that abyss – I couldn’t be told I couldn’t do it. So I insisted we continued.

      I do not regret that decision for a moment. I never worked without support structures in place from then on. I didn’t stop as I worked through those horrors, and my reward was eventually my life back. Since I completed treatment almost 8yrs ago now, I have never again been able to disassociate or depersonalise – I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Lord knows there’s been days I’ve wished I could throughout the journey of recovery lol but I’m glad I no longer know of those emotions. My identity is not yet aligned (but I hope that Dr JB Peterson will eventually walk me through that), but my relationships with my loved ones, my family and myself are totally different and much improved. I have also not self harmed in this time, and when my partner was threatened, instead of being overwhelmed, I was like a banshee, ready to take any personal harm to protect those I love.

      It isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone. But with the right support it can change your life in a very short space of time which for me was an amazing experience after what i considered a lost of the fullness of my life for 6+yrs. So I suppose I can understand the hype, and although I wholeheartedly advise caution, I do encourage all to consider if it’s right for them.

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