EMDR: Session 1

Similar to the dietary results, this topic will also be ongoing since it involves a series of treatment sessions. Part of the voluminous paperwork I completed prior to my first doctor’s visit asked a few questions about childhood and certain traumas. When it came to that part of the actual appointment I couldn’t answer many of the questions asked. Frankly, I have very few memories. And the ones I do apparently contained enough PTSD flags to prompt the doctor to recommend a specific kind of therapy called EMDR.

From my bio you’ve learned I tried therapy multiple times. It was mostly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the Gestalt method. These are known as talk therapy. EMDR doesn’t focus on talking. Developed in the late 1980’s and first used on combat victims, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing focuses on creating new neural pathways. This is called neurogenesis, the brain’s ability to change. Neurons inside the brain strengthen with repetition so if your childhood environment was loving you create a normal neural pathway for processing thoughts. If you suffer a traumatic event or consistent trauma, you create a neural pathway where you store memories that are unhealthy, depressive. Certain situations, topics, events then process through this neural pathway making your behaviors and reactions abnormal, triggering panic, etc.

Since EMDR makes and strengthens new neural pathways, rather than the trauma memory going through the old, panicked neural pathway it goes through the new pathway. This allows for a detached way of thinking about it that is reasonable, restrained, less emotionally charged. All of this takes place internally so the focus during a session isn’t on talking.  Let’s stop and be real for a minute—this is crazy fucked up, right. But remember, I’ve tried everything so I’m game with playing inside my brain.

There are a few methods used in this form of therapy. One is with light and eye movement. My therapist doesn’t use that method. Instead I use hand buzzers which fit into each of my palms and vibrate on the pressure points throughout a session. There is some leadup to a session to learn about your trauma and develop an action plan. The actual session itself involves going inside your worst memory and watching it as if it was a movie. While you’re inside the memory, the buzzers pulse in different patterns. When you’re outside the memory, you’re asked targeted questions about the physical and emotional sensations you’re feeling. Then you go back into the memory again. You do this cycle for approximately an hour.

Without going into too much detail about my specific memory, I want you to know what EMDR feels like during and afterwards because the effects last for days. You prep a bit mentally before you dive in by putting all outside thoughts inside a box and creating a safe place. (Mine is sitting on a beach during a sunset watching waves roll in.) The intervals when you’re inside the memory feel long. I ran through a section of my memory a couple times during each interval, seeing and remembering things I had long forgotten. Some sensations felt real, some didn’t. Panic and guilt were the two most prominent real feelings I had. My memory involves not being able to get a door open to escape. I could feel myself struggle with the doorknob like a pulsing lump in my jugular. At one point, I resorted to my childlike self and verbally expressed self-blame for the situation happening. The physical pain I thankfully couldn’t “feel”, but I was aware that the memory version of myself was hurting.

As I touched on above, you answer questions throughout the intervals so you stay slightly present. One of my answers involved how I vow never to treat my child. You end back in your safe place, then talk a bit about what transpired. During that talk, my therapist said the connection to myself as a mother when I was inside the memory is the first indication of my brain separating itself from the memory and starting to process it logically. This 'separation' continued for the next five days as thoughts would randomly pop into my head connecting my present life to the past.  

Afterwards, I felt raw. I explained it to a friend as if someone had taken a Brillo pad to my insides. That feeling lasted about a day. I was encouraged to write down my feelings and sensations in the days following. When I sat down at the next session (which does involve talking because your brain can’t handle back to back buzz sessions), I was surprised to see the transition in my writing develop from emotional to rational as I began to apply that memory to thoughts in my current life. I could see how the past is shaping things I’m currently doing which is negatively impairing my growth as a person, hurting others and holding me back from enjoying life in general.

Two weeks have passed since the first session, and overall I’ve felt calmer, lighter. I haven’t word-vomited out of anxiety. I’ve been able to separate an irrational thought from a typical response so they don't happen. Situations seem slower, like slow motion, where I now get a choice over my reaction. It’s interesting and somewhat of a relief. Living an increasingly emotionally-based, reactive life has been exhausting and stressful.

EMDR is best described as a wound transformation. You develop an intellectual perspective to your memories, which in turn transforms them into something logical, manageable, applicable. My next buzz session is in a week. I’m oddly looking forward to the internal scrubbing. I haven’t decided if I am going to stay in this memory or focus on another. Either way, I probably have another 3-4 sessions to see the full effects.

While this may sound like voodoo to some, the purported statistics are that 100% of single trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer have PTSD after 6 sessions. Only time will tell whether I become a statistic. And for once, I really hope I do.