A Need For Change: EMDR Therapy

April 15, 2013

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If you’re like me, the mention of the tiny, three letter word, flu, can cause your palms to sweat, your stomach to sink and in the worst of moments, your knees to buckle.

The latter happened to me a few years back when the entire country was in pure panic over the Swine Flu.

It was summer when I started to see the newspaper headlines on a friend’s kitchen tables (I’d stopped reading newspapers and watching news programs soon after my daughter’s premature birth).  The bold headlines on the subject caused me a quick physical reaction, but I quickly pushed the fear deep down and pretended I’d never seen a thing in those newspapers.

The fall brought little relief, as the kids lined up after their soccer games and rather than exchange high fives and risk the passing of germs, they pretended to fist-bump while saying , “Good game.”

Still, I was in denial.

It was after one of those games that Andie accidentally picked up another child’s water bottle and took a sip.  I watched as my mild-mannered husband batted the bottle out of her hand and yelled at her in front of the post-game crowd.

“Wow,” my friend said to me, “that really gives me a sense of the fear y’all have been living with throughout these years.”

It wasn’t long after that, that I entered our local grocery store, only to have my eye catch the front page of a Boston newspaper.  A photo of a large hypodermic needle and the big, bold letters across the front page read “Swine Flu…” but before I could read the rest, my knees buckled and I had to hold on to a nearby display rack to keep from falling over.

“I can’t live this way anymore,” I hissed at myself.  Then I stood up straighter, pulled my shoulders back and said it again.  “I can’t live this way anymore.”

I turned around and left the store, dialing the phone number of my friend from the soccer field.  When I asked if she could help me find a good therapist (she works as a grief counselor) she suggested I look into EMDR therapy.

And I did.

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is designed to help those battling the effects of trauma or PTSD.  The idea is to overcome the triggers that induce stressful reactions.  I’m hardly an expert to speak on the subject and have a bit of a hard time explaining how or why it works, but for me, it did.  In my first session I was asked to recall a particularly traumatic event.  I went straight to my daughter’s birth, but the therapist wanted me to get more specific; to remember an exact moment that induced those feelings I had when my knees started to buckle.  I had a lot from which to choose.  Once I’d decided upon one, I focused on that moment and the doctor brought out a long, wide black lamp with a series of little lightbulbs.  She began asking me questions, and I was supposed to follow the lights with my eyes, not moving my head, just my eyes.  But I couldn’t do it.  I felt like a failure that my eyes couldn’t follow a simple pattern of lights, but hard as I tried, they wouldn’t, and I told the doctor so.  She assured me that was not uncommon, and after moving the light aside, put her hands on my knees and utilized some sort of tapping mechanism.  I’m really not sure what happened in that session or the others that followed (my eyes were able to follow the lights after that first session), but the therapists described it best as “moving the trigger memories from short-term to long-term.”  I was in the midst of writing my book and feared that I’d lose important pieces of our story, but she assured me that EMDR does not erase memories, just “moves them to a place where they no can wreak such havoc.”  (This is a video of someone trying EMDR to overcome trigger memories resulting from a car accident.)

After EMDR, I stopped living in perpetual fear, for the most part, anyway.  I think I’ll always deal with anxiety, but after EMDR, I knew my triggers and how to better manage them.  I guess you could say that I still have my sweaty palm, stomach-lurching moments, but I haven’t had one of those knee-buckling moments since.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can search for a qualified EMDR therapist in your area Here.

If you do decide to try it, there is one more really important thing I want to mention.  If you do pursue this therapy, know that EMDR is intense.  I was lucky enough to have had a massage appointment the day after my first session, which was invaluable, because in my case, memories continued to emerge even after the appointment.

I scheduled a Reiki appointment after my second session and had a similar experience.  If you do decide to try EMDR, I highly encourage you to make sure you have some type of complimentary support soon after.  Or at least plan on a day of rest.  And don’t be surprised if you head into the therapy thinking you know your triggers, only to find that memories from completely unrelated topics emerge.

I wish you well and if you want to know more about my EMDR experience, leave your questions in the comment section below and I’ll answer them as best I can.