EMDR (trauma therapy): My Experience, Part Two
As I explained in my previous post, I got these weird symptoms after being in a bike accident. The symptoms turned out to be something called post-traumatic stress reaction. I felt better already after realizing what was going on and the symptoms were relieved. Still after one and a half year I wasn’t totally rid of them; I still felt like being overly alert. I was still anxious in a way that I hadn’t been before and I still sometimes had the most surreal feeling.
I decided, that as a therapist, I must be willing to try therapy at least once in my life. Best case scenario, it would help, worst case, I would still be better able to put myself into my client’s shoes.
I searched down a trauma therapist with the qualification to do EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitizing and Reprocessing) and we settled an appointment.
When I went to see my therapist (don’t I just sound so American!) the session lasted 45 minutes. Within that time the therapist fully interviewed me on what happened in the accident and how my life was now. Already after this first visit I felt incredibly good and happy leaving the place. It’s a totally different gig talking about issues to a stranger, better yet, to a professional, than to friends and family, which naturally are equally important. Just different.
The second time we also had 45 minutes session. This time we got into more detail about the accident and my feelings and symptoms related to it. She made an assessment about my stress level and concluded, that I still did have post-traumatic stress. Hearing that was relieving. I also realized several things about myself and my life which was valuable.
The third time was settled double the length (1,5 h) to perform the actual EMDR therapy as I had requested. First I had to come up with a “safe place”: an image of a place, where I could “go” if the situation got hard to deal with. My safe place would naturally be a rock island, me laying there in the sun, waves going back and forth, seagulls screaming.
Before starting the therapist came to sit in front of me. She told me that whenever I might feel too anxious or wanted to stop, I could say so. The work began with me focusing on the one image of the accident that first comes to my mind thinking of it and sort of symbolized the event. She moved her hand in front of me and I had to follow the hand with my gaze. After awhile she asked whether any feelings were arising or did I feel anything in my body. I tried to describe the feelings and/or bodily sensations as accurately as possible.
She then advised me to concentrate on the feeling/bodily sensation that had risen and continued making the hand movements. This went on and on as my feelings developed from guilt to fear to relief. In the beginning I felt mostly like crying and described a lump in my throat. Then my neck felt stiff as it would when getting ready to crash with the bike. Finally the top most feeling was happiness and I started smiling and laughing. I no longer felt the lump or need to cry but I felt light and happy. The picture of the crash we started with was now a distant and cartoon like, not realistic. I got rid of my guilt. Also, I was free to learn my lesson; I have to be careful in the traffic.
After the EMDR work we had a short chat about the process and agreed on one final meeting in May to just check upon things.
Because I’ve only got this one experience and it was my first time in therapy I really couldn’t say whether it would’ve helped just to talk about the accident. Still I feel, that using EMDR helped focusing on the exact event and the exact reactions the accident provoked and hence helped me to get past the feeling that I should’ve done something myself to prevent it from happening. The change in my mind was a lot quicker than I had expected and I was amazed how well it “worked”. Seriously: the memory and the thoughts in my mind were different.
As a disclaimer I must mention that the therapist said that EMDR works pretty well in these kind of situations when the traumatizing event is “limited”. If it turns out that the person has a lot of baggage besides the one traumatizing experience EMDR might not be the right form of therapy.
If you have an experience regarding EMDR or other therapy, please share it in the comments section.