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EMDR–Not Just for One-time Traumas

Sometimes when I post about the positive effects I’ve experienced in therapy with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, someone inevitably comments that EMDR works for a one-time trauma, such as a car accident, but not on trauma that had been sustained over a longer period, such as childhood sexual abuse. This is simply untrue.  If you experienced this type of trauma though six to eight sessions will likely not cut it. (A friend told me that her insurance covered EMDR for a one-time trauma only and for 6-8 weeks.)  It’s going to take persistence and time.

Ultimately, I can only speak for myself. I experienced months of trauma shortly after birth due to a pyloric stenosis diagnosis. My stomach was blocked between my small intestine and stomach so that I could not digest food. The medical professionals told my mother that she was nursing me incorrectly. She knew differently, for not only had she nursed my older brother successfully, but also she had read Dr. Spock’s newspaper article about pyloric stenosis in babies in which he detailed for parents what signs or symptoms to look out for.

By the time that my brother’s pediatrician happened to look in on me in my crib at 26 days old, I had lost 2 and ½ pounds!  I was dying. Rushed to the hospital and separated from my mother, isolated in a germ-free room, sent into surgery as my vital signs crashed, and intubated (a breathing tube inserted into the throat) without anesthesia, I experienced a bunch of traumas. A paralytic drug was given so that I was awake for an incision made in my belly. No anesthesia or pain control. My stomach was drawn out of my body, the muscular pylorus was cut to open the passageway, and then three sets of stitches sewn. Then followed isolation for the ten-day or so recovery. This was no one-time trauma!

In recovering at home, there were more traumas. I wasn’t allowed to cry for a few weeks while the incision healed. It’s taking more than 6-8 sessions of EMDR to make significant headway. And as one grows up with PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress, from unresolved trauma, one racks up more traumas due to re-enactment whereby one pursues self-harming behaviors in an effort to find relief when the old unresolved trauma is triggered.

Dr. Francine Shapiro, the founder of EMDR therapy, writes in her book Getting Past Your Past, “But regardless of the number of memories involved, basically we are entering into the person’s ‘unconscious’ mind with this form of therapy, in a way that can allow insights, connections and change to occur rapidly within the reprocessing sessions” (6). She wants us to know that whatever the case, EMDR can help.

I don’t know whether EMDR can help relieve everyone’s trauma. Many factors are at play here, for example, the level of skill of your therapist, the relationship you have with your therapist, and the state of your life circumstances (friends, income, insurance, home) to name a few. But don’t listen to the naysayers. If you can, pursue EMDR with resolve and find out if it can help you take control of your life in a positive way.  Stick it out. You deserve to know whether this one type of treatment might be THE one to give you your life back.