I’m changing and growing every day from my work with EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Curious about what makes the process tick, I’ve been reading the book Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the founder and developer of EMDR.
Shapiro talks about the fact that some memories are so distressing that “the brain’s information processing system becomes disrupted and can’t take the memory to resolution on its own” (30). In EMDR therapy, “the original memory is accessed, connections changed and then stored with new modifications in a neurobiological process called ‘reconsolidating'” (31). EMDR actually retransfigures the way a memory is stored, she explains. It physically alters the coding. I’m no scientist, but given what I am reading in this book and given my experience in therapy, it seems that EMDR literally dislocates a distressing memory and moves it somewhere more neutral. EMDR functions like dreaming in sleep, integrating information and, as a result, removing blocks.
In an EMDR session, I start out by choosing a particular, distressing memory to work on. During a set, or a series, of thirty-forty wandings (eyes directed rapidly back and forth by a wand), I hold this memory in my mind and aware of the different thoughts and feelings that arise as I follow the wand. In the break between sets, my therapist asks me what transpired. I report and often, she simply tells me to resume and begins moving the wand again. I continue where I left off but sometimes, an associated memory moves to center stage–a different, distressing event that is emotionally similar to the memory with which I began. I remember the thoughts and feelings connected with this associated memory. In this way, several unresolved memories are undergoing a shift. The healing, therefore, is more exponential than linear and perhaps that’s where the power lies.
I’ve not only been working on the post-traumatic stress from infant surgery without anesthesia but also trauma from disruptions in my relationship with my mother, father and brother. When I leave therapy, I feel fresh, cleansed and new. An amazing clarity has washed my windshield clean and I move in the world in a more fluid fashion. My boundaries are more clear and I am more aware of what I want or what I need. My brain works better and I feel energized.
The experience of EMDR is challenging to write about because it’s not tangible, not something one can hold in her hand and describe, but that’s the challenge of writing, isn’t it? To say what seems indescribable and unsayable? To communicate the nuances of experience? To reach across a potentially uncrossable chasm because one understands the importance of getting to the other side?
Trauma survivors, or anyone who feels stuck, if you haven’t yet tried EMDR, do. If you need more information, read this book. Shapiro’s ideas are easily accessible. She uses examples that anyone can relate to. In her words: “This book is about understanding why we are who we are, and learning what we can do about pain and negative reactions that don’t serve us. It’s also about identifying and opening the blocks to feelings of happiness and well-being” (16). Let’s bring more ease, clarity, and joy into our lives. Let’s use EMDR to heal from trauma.