Call me weird but my niche is trauma. Over the last 25 years I have gotten really good at hearing, discussing all kinds of awful stories from clients. I can hold these stories, and at the end of the day, I go home and live my life as if some spacey force field surrounds me from absorbing the pain into my own heart. Recently however, I decided that I could not be a trauma therapist if I did not know anything about EMDR therapy. The most I remembered from the first time I heard about it (in around 1993) was about watching a pencil eraser go back and forth and somehow people felt better afterwards. It seemed a little like voodoo to me. But after the last 3 months of training, I decided that it’s more like magic.
Real magic, like having my own wand in Diagon Alley with Harry Potter and friends and knowing all the right spells and potions at my disposal. Okay let me qualify this: I am a total newbie. I literally just finished the second weekend at the Maigberger Institute in Boulder, Colorado, with the amazing Barb Maiberger. Barb teaches four groups per month, then follows them up with online meeting consultations. I have had a private practice for a few years and many of my established clients were psyched to try this modality with me and I have been able to witness some amazing things in a short period of time. So before I say more – just what the heck is EMDR therapy, you ask? Well, I am here to tell you, since one of the assignments is to draft an explanation for my clients.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy is a modality that can be used with adults, teens and young children. It has been extensively researched and shown to reduce symptoms associated with most kinds of traumas and generally disturbing events and emotions. There are 8 phases that will take place as the client is ready for them.
The treatment will use one or more of the following types of Bilateral/Dual Attention Processing stimulation (BLS). This keeps the client and therapist in the past and the present at the same time: Each client can choose what they prefer: Eye movement by following an object, hand buzzers, tone through headphones, tapping by the therapist or self-tapping.
EMDR Therapy does not erase memories, it merely takes the emotional connection away from an event so that a person can recall and discuss the events without distress or disturbance. Research has also shown that the brain continues to re-process even after the session and well into the future. Clients may experience dreams, flashbacks, emotions and other sensations following the treatments especially after the trauma work begins. This is normal as it shows that your nervous system is doing its work.
Many of you may have heard that in June 2019 the creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, passed away at the age of 71. She discovered the properties of her theory quite by accident, as many good ideas come along, and being open to something that the Universe was trying to tell her. As a graduate student in Psychology, she followed up with good old-fashioned inquiry and research and started nothing short of a revolution. People with long term traumatic symptoms – war veterans, crime victims, people with chronic pain got relief! Even after years of traditional therapies, within a few sessions, they were able to think about or talk about their traumas without feeling as though it was happening all over again. Like I said: Magic.
Ok, magic and science. One image that came up in my mind when watching my first demonstration on Day One was the idea of hypnosis. In the movies, we always see some Victorian doctor in a gray suit with a curly mustache swing a big, gold, pocket watch in front of someone’s face until they become sleepy. In this state, the doctor is able to access memories, or implant some suggestion that later comes out unknowingly as a behavior the doctor wanted the patient to complete. Okay, that is pretty creepy and not what the purpose of any legitimate therapy is. But the bilateral stimulation has definitely been known for a while as a powerful method for brain stimulation. Plenty of new science on the brain is out there and practitioners, writers, researchers are clamoring to have the next breakthrough: like plugging our heads into a screen and making images appear. I’m not so sure that is a world I am interested in, as my reality, anyway. I’ll take it as science fiction instead.
I am a convert now. I don’t hear all the stories as much in sessions. I find myself taking deep breaths with my clients, nodding, and saying “go with that,” a lot while observing waves of emotion in my clients through their tears, twitches and relaxation responses. They end their sessions looking like they just came out of a nice dream, stretching and smiling, yet they were fully awake in the room the whole time. I tried it while in training, as we have to do on one another, and discovered that a number of things that used to get me going on an angry rant are no longer bothering me. It is a very peaceful feeling, to be able to let it go. I have studied for 25 years to do play therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Solution Focused Therapy, art therapy, and this is becoming my go-to and I don’t have to give up any of the above! I hope to keep going to get certified, which will take a couple years to do, so until then I will keep practicing, training, and consulting. Advice? Interested therapists should find an EMDRIA approved training, and don't cheap out on this one. There is too much to learn in what might look like a bargain. Potential clients: always look up where your therapist got their training, just in case they did cheap out!