Addressing the unseen wounds
In the delicate landscape of mental health, the revelation that nearly 61% of adults have faced traumatic events during their lifetimes, as highlighted by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study, underscores the silent prevalence of trauma in our lives. More poignant is the finding that one in six adults have endured four or more such events in childhood, with women disproportionately affected.
In my therapeutic practice, the deep impact of early traumatic experiences on individuals' lives is something I encounter regularly. Part of being an integrative therapist, I use Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). This approach does more than bring traumatic memories to the fore, it carefully facilitates a process of change, turning the daunting shadows of past traumas into guiding lights for a hopeful future.
EMDR is a therapy that speaks a language beyond words, reaching directly into the emotional epicentres of the brain where trauma resides. It harnesses the natural healing abilities of the mind through rhythmic eye movements, helping to defuse the intensity of traumatic memories without the need for detailed verbal recollection. This process can be akin to a soft recalibration of the mind, offering a chance for the painful past to be revisited and reprocessed with a newfound sense of safety and calm.
The power of EMDR lies in its ability to help clients view their memories through a lens of detachment. Engaging the brain’s innate processing capabilities can gently guide the transition of trauma from a disruptive force to a manageable aspect of one’s life narrative. This shift can be profoundly liberating, often bringing a sense of release and a newfound capacity for resilience.
In the safe confines of the therapy, EMDR allows for a compassionate re-engagement with one’s history. The process is not about forgetting, but about remembering differently. It offers a path to re-experience the past without the overwhelming emotional response that has perhaps dictated one’s reactions and choices for too long.
In an EMDR session, you can expect a structured approach to therapy that involves eight distinct phases:
History taking and treatment planning: The therapist will review your history to understand the nature of your difficulties and to plan the treatment. This phase sets the stage for the therapeutic work to come.
Preparation: Your therapist will explain the EMDR process and help you develop coping strategies to deal with emotional distress that may arise during or after sessions. It's crucial to establish trust and a sense of safety before proceeding.
Assessment: Together, you and your therapist will identify specific memories to target and explore the images, beliefs, emotions, and bodily sensations associated with these memories.
Desensitisation: This is where the core of EMDR takes place. You'll focus on the traumatic memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation, which typically involves following the therapist’s finger movements with your eyes. This process is believed to help the brain reprocess the trauma.
Installation: The positive belief that you and your therapist have identified is then strengthened. The goal is to increase the validity of this positive belief in relation to the targeted memory.
Body scan: After the desensitisation and installation processes, you will be asked to think of the original memory and notice if there is any residual somatic distress. If there is, these sensations are targeted for reprocessing.
Closure: Regardless of whether the memory is fully processed in one session, the session is closed in a way that ensures you leave feeling better than when you arrived. The therapist will help you return to a state of equilibrium using the coping mechanisms established in the preparation phase.
Re-evaluation: At the beginning of the next session, the therapist will check to ensure that the positive results have been maintained and will evaluate if further reprocessing is needed.
Throughout your EMDR therapy, you'll be an active participant. The therapist will work closely with you to monitor your reactions and ensure that you're coping well with the reprocessing of difficult memories. It’s normal to experience strong emotions during sessions, but your therapist will be there to guide and support you through the process.
For those considering this path, it is important to seek a qualified professional trained specifically in EMDR. The journey through EMDR is a personal one and requires a readiness to heal, along with trust in both the therapeutic process and the therapist guiding it. It is a therapy of empowerment, where the pacing and direction are respected, and the client’s comfort and sense of control are paramount.