EMDR second try

Therapy is really hard. I basically go and cry. First I do a little run through of my week. Then the EMDR process starts. It goes like this.

Ms T asks me to take any problematic part of the week and think back to the feelings I had then. No problem – I have lots of problematic things each week, because basically, most things seem to trigger bad feelings for me. This time, I thought back to how I felt after  a less than successful ‘Starbucks date’ – a quick meeting with someone from an online dating site. Which didn’t go super badly, just not well enough to wish to see each other again.

So I think back to how I was feeling, and she swings her hand back and forth in front of me. I feel kind of hypnotized, and one feeling seems to lead to another. Every minute or so, she stops swinging her hand, and asks me to tell her what’s going on for me. I say some stuff about how I feel or what comes to mind, and she continues on.

EMDR is a little difficult to exlain, so if you are interested, here is a short news segment that shows a war veteran being treated with it.

Hat tip to Michelle.

The difference between myself and this vet though is that I only partially remember the experience, as I was an extremely young child when I was assaulted and have blocked this particular event out. Which would be fine I suppose, except that bits of it keep coming back to me as ‘somatic memories’ which make my life a misery sometimes.

I know there is this whole sorry debate about so called ‘false memories’ implanted at the therapist’s office. No one has anything to gain by making up memories, in my case anyway. I remember enough inappropriate behaviour to make me suspect that these somatic memories relate to a particular relative who was abusive.

So in the EMDR, I go through feeling angry, to be terribly upset about something, to feeling exhausted and wanting to lie down. Really, I wanted to lie down in Ms T’s office, on the floor, and go to sleep. Luckily I didn’t.

It is an extemely odd feeling to have such vivid feelings, where I basically turn into a young very upset child, but have no picture of what actually happened to me.

From my basic research into EMDR, I don’t see it being used as a tool to explore somatic memories where the client doesn’t have visual memory. I really wonder if it’s going to help me, using it this way. Ms T says the idea is to allow emotions to emerge and that the EMDR technique accesses emotions very efficiently.

Once the emotions emerge, then presumably the somatic memories will stop playing in body over and over again, as they do at present.

In the stuff I have read and video clips I’ve seen, clients are processing traumas that occurred to them in adulthood and of which they have clear memories. That would be the easiest type of therapy to understand, so maybe that’s why these types of cases are being discussed. Perhaps. Or perhaps Ms T is way out on a limb and using this technique differently from the way it was intended to be used.

Well, it’s very painful, and I keep processing feelings for a few days after the session. I do have hope that this stuff is going to help.  It’s true, my anxiety is much lower for days after these sessions. On the other hand, the pain of it all is not a great substitute for anxiety.

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10 comments
  1. Nechtan said:

    Hi Ellen,It must take a lot of effort to go through the EMDR each time. The process sounds very traumatising in its own right. I would hope that having put yourself through this experience that you do see the benefits in the long term. I had never heard of EMDR until I read your post so apart from watching the clip I can't speak with any authority but can understand your concern. It does seem to deal with reliving the experiences and bringing different responses to those that the memory will overwrite. Sort of learning a different habit of reaction. So I can imagine it would be very difficult with somatic memories as the absence of visuals mean there is no focal point. It makes me wonder how a person who had been blind from birth and had experienced trauma would react to EMDR because obviously the sensations are the same but the triggers are different. So is the trigger important or does EMDR really deal directly with the emotiions as they happen?Apologies if that makes no sense as I was thinking out loud. It is a situation that must lead to some doubt and I hope Ms T over your time with her can give you some answers but above that I do hope that in the long term you start to see some sustained progress to recovery.All the bestNechtan

  2. Sierra said:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Ellen:Working on things is always difficult and painful when you start. It does get easier with time. I'm not sure if you just develop the stomach for the work or it all becomes less intense but sooner or later you start to want to feel better sufficiently that you can do what needs to be done.I know how much work I've done and how painful it has been but it's really nice to be able to start to enjoy the fruits of that work.

  4. beth said:

    Dear Ellen: Thank you for your courage in examining your journey. A psychotherapist, I have had wonderful success using EMDR for a number of issues, including grief, depression, eating disorders, abuse and more. However, I do not do EMDR every session, or even the majority of sessions with most clients. I feel that it works best in conjunction with other work, including "talk therapy" to build trust and relationship, mindfulness meditation cognitive therapy, etc. I wish you much success as you continue on your road of self-discovery and healing.Sincerely,Beth Patterson, MA LPChttp://www.bethspatterson.comhttp://bethspatterson.wordpress.com

  5. Ellen said:

    @Nechtan – Well, I hope it's not re-traumatizing of course. I can say I have less anxiety now I'm doing this, but more sadness. As to how EMDR works – I don't think anyone knows why or how it works exactly, though there are theories. I believe quite a lot of medicine is like that also – a certain medication has a beneficial effect, but science doesn't know why exactly. Sometimes they figure it out later. So I can't answer your good questions about how it all works. It's a gamble, but I'll see what happens…I know I need to try various things until something helps. Thanks so much for your comment Nechtan.@ Mike – That is so encouraging Mike. You've been through this and are doing better – so great to hear, thanks.@ Beth – Interesting that EMDR has so many uses and you have had success with it. I've done some other therapy in the past, so I think it is OK to get into EMDR fairly quickly. Well, if not, that's the way it's going anyway. Your blog is interesting and I'll be going back. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Thanks for your response, Ellen. I think it's fine to get into EMDR fairly quickly, as long as there is trust and rapport with the therapist. In my practice, I like to have a debriefing session, without EMDR, after an EMDR session, as a way to further process the session and perhaps find new issues to target. The transformation in your process from anxiety to sadness is excellent — we often hide our sadness, a true human emotion that can open us to compassion for ourselves and others, and your ability to tap into your sadness is a great step in your healing.All the best to you.Beth Patterson, MA, LPChttp://www.bethspatterson.comhttp://bethspatterson.wordpress.com

  7. Hi, Ellen -Thanks for discussing EMDR and for posting the video. I've done EMDR several times with a therapist. In that version there is also a sequence of visualizations. Then comes the focusing on a difficult event with the rhythmic shifting from one side to the other. This is done through electric pulses in the hands as well as eye movements. So I guess there are lots of variations.At times this worked, but often the whole process seemed forced and a bit clunky. I can't say that the process made it any easier to access painful feelings – talk therapy is very good at that for me.Everyone has to find what works, and I certainly hope this is an effective approach for you.My best — John

  8. Ellen -You may wish to check out Belleruth Naparstek's "Healing Trauma" guided imagery/affirmation CD. I (and other friends of mine) have found her work to be incredibly helpful, especially with traumatic experiences that are not easily "re-lived" and/or were accompanied by additional trauma "build-up" after the initial experience(s). Guided imagery with music can be a great compliment to talk therapy and other modalities, like EMDR, because it reaches non-verbal parts of the brain that are deeply affected by trauma, but don't necessarily do well with verbalizing about the experience. Check out http://www.healthjourneys.com/ – you may find something there that's helpful to you.BB

  9. Ellen -You may wish to check out Belleruth Naparstek's "Healing Trauma" guided imagery/affirmation CD. I (and other friends of mine) have found her work to be incredibly helpful, especially with traumatic experiences that are not easily "re-lived" and/or were accompanied by additional trauma "build-up" after the initial experience(s). Guided imagery with music can be a great compliment to talk therapy and other modalities, like EMDR, because it reaches non-verbal parts of the brain that are deeply affected by trauma, but don't necessarily do well with verbalizing about the experience. Check out http://www.healthjourneys.com/ – you may find something there that's helpful to you.BB

  10. Ellen said:

    @ Beth – Thanks Beth. I think we are going a little fast, as I've been sick ever since that session, basically. Time to slow down. Thanks for the insight.@ John – So interesting to hear your experience John. The T says I'm very susceptible, if that's the right word, to EMDR, so I have a very strong response. And I know it was developed especially for PTSD, so I'm hoping the results will be good for me. I'm positive that different things work best for different people however. Thanks for commenting!@ BB – Thanks for the recommendation. I checked that site out and the CDs look great – I may try the one for trauma. I have a meditation CD that I do a lot, but nothing specific to trauma. It's interesting about the non-verbal healing that's needed – sounds right to me.

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