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On Tuesday I began “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” therapy, or EMDR to keep it simple. I came into the session already quite tired, after a busy and stressful day of classes and presentations, and the therapy took any energy I had left out of me.
The therapist began by asking me to picture the traumatic event and to think of a label that was most appropriate to how I felt. For me, this became “I am powerless”. I was asked to rate my anxiety and distress on a scale of 1-10, and I replied with a reasonably high but not extreme answer (7, I think). I was feeling quite in control at that moment, fortunately. I was then asked to look at the light bar – a little light moves from left-to-right continually across it, or vertically if you prefer that – whilst thinking about the feelings associated with “I am powerless”.
After each thirty seconds interval, the therapist would ask me how I was feeling at that point, and it varied considerably across the hour of therapy. At first I became more distressed, then quite confused and unsure what I was to be distressed about, then less anxious when I could recall the event. About halfway through the session, I recalled another memory that I’ve always been quite uncomfortable with, and that raised my stress levels once again. My distress didn’t go down much for the rest of the session, not until the calming down exercises at the end.
I felt a bit stupid just looking at the moving light, but I do get the impression that it was doing something. When I was asked at each interval to describe how I was feeling, I found it incredibly difficult to talk. Almost impossible, to be honest. I didn’t know how I was feeling, and if I did I couldn’t put it into words. As I was concentrating on the light bar, I also found it hard to concentrate on my difficult memories for a prolonged time. I think I’m very used to trying to keep them out of my head as much as possible, and it makes sense not to want to suffer for a whole hour. My stoic self does need to change slightly in order to let this therapy work fully, I think.
I left the session feeling very tense, and I still haven’t been able to let the tension go entirely. Everything seemed a bit surreal, and I just wanted to quickly get home. My boyfriend was going to phone me to keep me company on the half-hour walk back, but I got angry with him when he tried (poor man). I just couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying, and I wanted to try and reach some sort of peace.
I spent the evening in a bit of a daze and feeling exhausted. The last two nights I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve slept; really deeply in fact. I thought that there would be nightmares and insomnia, although I was told so many times – and still am told – not to create expectations about the therapy. I have had some odd dreams, and this morning I woke up with really sore, tense hands after they had probably been in fists most of the night.
As I’ve only had one session, I certainly can’t say if it’s working. Currently I’m still feeling high levels of distress when I recall the difficult feelings and memories, but I am also having moments of calm. My mind’s telling me to stay away from therapy and just get through it myself, but I’m going to do my best to be strong and go through with it. Hopefully I won’t feel like a ghost for the whole course of therapy.
Read my thoughts on EMDR after my course of therapy: My Experience of EMDR Therapy for PTSD and trauma
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Recommended books that have helped me during EMDR:
by David Servan-Schreiber
by Francine Shapiro (the originator and developer of EMDR therapy)
by Sebastian Pole