A few months ago I decided to make a change in my health management. Friends have been sharing ideas and resources with me for years, and one idea stuck: EMDR therapy. (More on that in a moment.)
As I start to talk about this on the blog and social media, I want to make a few things very clear. I am not a therapist. I am speaking from a patient perspective and my personal perceptions of this process. What you experience may be different. We are all individuals with different backgrounds and brains!
Also, I will not be sharing specific details about the trauma and targets (things that create emotional instability) we are working through in my EMDR therapy sessions. Why? These details may trigger emotional breakdowns or stress for my readers who have experienced similar situations. Also, I prefer a certain level of privacy during this process even though I have a very public career.
My purpose here isn’t to tell a sad story, but instead to inspire others to keep looking for ways to improve their physical and mental health. There’s documented research that links adult-onset autoimmunity with childhood emotional trauma, so I’m exploring how to heal that connection and create overall wellness in my life.
I’m getting lots of reader questions about my process, so I’m going to format this post based on some of those, anonymously, of course!
What is EMDR therapy?
The acronym EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In layman’s terms, a therapist helps you recall emotionally charged memories in a safe environment and reprocess them by stimulating the right and left brain.
This process does not erase memories. It actually brings them to the forefront and carefully files them away in your brain rather than separating yourself from them. The process helps you have a healthy emotional connection to the past, rather than one of fear or worry. In short, the goal is to have a “That sucked…moving on…” type response when confronted with the traumatic memory in the future.
What are initial EMDR therapy appointments like?
The first few appointments with a therapist who offers EMDR therapy are set aside to get to know one another. Your therapist needs to understand your situation and what brought you into their office. You might talk about the past, what’s bothering you or create a timeline of your life. This creates a foundation for what’s to come.
What do you do in EMDR therapy?
At the start you will discuss your life and what’s bothering you to help reveal what needs to be reprocessed. This may take a few sessions. Then your therapist will help you learn positive, healthy coping skills to manage yourself when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed about the trauma.
These skills might include special breathing patterns, discussing how to practice self-care or nuture self-love, how to meditate, journaling, creating new neuropathways in the brain by focusing on positive thoughts (HEAL method), how to ground yourself, using art to relax and so much more.
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After there’s a solid foundation established, including creating a mentally calm place and a mental container to quarantine some of your emotional issues, you’ll start to do the reprocessing. The therapist may use their fingers, lights or buzzers in your hands to stimulate the right and left brain while they do the therapy. It doesn’t physically hurt. This isn’t shock therapy, as some have asked me.
Are you noticing any changes?
Yes! I’m surprised at how much of a shift I felt after my first 10 minutes of active EMDR. What does that mean? My body was more physically relaxed, my thoughts weren’t as scattered and I had a general sense of calm. When I encountered the traumatic target at a later time, I was able to deal with it calmly and move on without ruminating.
Physically, I’m still managing my autoimmune conditions, but find that I have a little bit more energy and my skin seems to be healing. (I have three forms of eczema that affect my face and body.)
I’m still early in this process, but am eager to dig into the larger targets on my list in the weeks ahead. If you have specific questions about how EMDR therapy may be able to help you, please reach out to a therapist in your community. Search HERE.
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Helpful resources to browse:
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
This has become my go-to manual to understand all of this. If I had to give it a book review in one word, it would be ‘validating’. Reading the case studies and realizing there are names of specific behaviors makes me realize I’m not an outsider. Others have these experiences too, unfortunately.
EMDR Institute, Inc.
If you want to know more about this type of therapy, this is the first place to start. It’s a little science-y and geared at therapists, but patients can also find value in the Find a Clinician tab and EMDR Info tab where you can read about the history and theory behind EMDR.
When I first heard of this study, I knew I had to learn more. The researchers have found that if you had an adverse childhood, you’re more likely to have health issues as an adult. There is a 10- question survey you can take, but be warned, it may trigger you to have flashbacks to your past. I don’t suggest taking this survey without having someone supportive nearby, such as a caring family member, therapist or spouse. When I first heard about the ACES Study, I couldn’t stop thinking, reading and learning more about it. Are you ready to open that door?
Codependency No More podcast, Episode 037: EMDR Therapy for Processing Trauma with Dr. Sara Gilman
One day I was doing a search for podcasts related to EMDR and this popped up. I like that everything is discussed in layman’s terms and easy to understand, especially when you’re not feeling your best. If you prefer listening, rather than reading, give this episode a chance.
Here’s to healing and a bright 2019 ahead! I appreciate everyone who has reached out and been supportive as I work through this process. It’s incredibly difficult, but meaningful work.
Until next time,
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