EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a type of therapy that was originally developed for the treatment of trauma, and is most known for its success at helping those with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) recover. It can also be used to treat other disorders including depression, anxiety, BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), C-PTSD (complex PTSD) and others.
(I found this link pretty helpful in trying to understand how EMDR actually works)
After months of talking about it in therapy, I am finally about to start EMDR with my (previously DBT) therapist. We have not started any of the reprocessing yet – that is still at least a few weeks away – but we are in the preparation stage, so I am getting a feel for how it works.
Firstly, she has explained to me how EMDR works and introduced me to some of the concepts. Whilst I have done a lot of research online into EMDR, I am finding it hard to completely grasp how it works before actually experiencing it for myself. Because I haven’t started the actual reprocessing yet, I am still unsure of what to expect. So far however, this is what I’ve got:
1) The set-up of the room is different to usual, which at first I found quite unnerving and will probably take a while to get used to. I have gotten comfortable with the familiarity of sitting with my therapist on opposite sides of a small room in big comfy armchairs. Pretty ‘typical’ for psychotherapy. During EMDR, however, we have to sit right next to each other – uncomfortably close – on chairs facing opposite directions, in the middle of the room. This is so that she can guide the reprocessing, which I will outline below:
2) Next, she explained and showed how she can conduct the reprocessing part of EMDR in one of three possible ways (I believe there are more out there). The first involves her ‘waving’ her hand or two fingers from side to side in front of my face, whilst I have to follow the movement of her hand with my eyes. The second involves me placing my hands on my knees, and her tapping on top of my hands with her own – one at a time, continually and in quick succession. The third involves me holding two ‘buzzers’ – which vibrate independently and consecutively, left right left right etc – one in each hand. Different people find the approaches effective to different degrees. So, closer to the time, and perhaps with some trial and error, we will see which one works best for me.
3) There is a big emphasis on finding a ‘safe place’ – an image in my head of somewhere I feel at peace in – to refer back to for visualisation at different points within the processing. This image has to be sensed on all levels, including and especially in my body. When we do the reprocessing, it is the felt sense of this image that we want to be transferred into my body, so that I can work towards freedom from the usual trauma-related body sensations that I carry with me.
4) Sessions are longer than typical psychotherapy sessions. They can be anything from 60-90 minutes. My therapists knows me well enough to believe that we will need the full 90. So the entire structure of my therapy is changing – and that in itself brings with it a fair amount of discomfort.
5) With single “big-T” traumas, EMDR can ‘work’ in as few as a couple of sessions. It sounds like a miracle cure really – some studies show as high as 98% reversal of all PTSD symptoms after 6 sessions, for example. However, for multiple-trauma PTSD, complex PTSD, relational trauma, prolonged “little-t” traumas and BPD and the like, it isn’t so clear-cut. Years worth of ingrained trauma will take hours to reprocess. It is going to be painful and it is going to bring up a whole lot of unresolved and hidden issues. I’m terrified.
6) Grounding grounding grounding. I have so much work to do on grounding. It turns out I most likely have a dissociative disorder as well as BPD, and this can really get in the way of EMDR. We use ice cubes in my sessions occasionally, which I find extremely helpful, and I have a ton of skills to practice in between my sessions to help with it.
I still feel far away from fully understanding this therapy, but I am hopeful about it. I have heard great things about EMDR and my therapist is exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced within the field. I have so much faith in her. So, even though I am terrified of the uncertain things in store for me in the near future of therapy, I trust that she will catch me if I fall.
I feel like DBT has saved my life from the outside in, but I am hopeful that EMDR is the therapy that maybe, just maybe, will provide me with the healing I need from the inside out.