My Experience with EMDR Trauma Therapy
Therapy can be grueling sometimes. Anybody who tells you differently is either lying or trying to soften the blow. Regardless, they've done you a disservice, in my opinion. In order to reap the benefits of therapy, a commitment to work hard in partnership with your therapist is required. I've engaged in trauma therapy to help with my anxiety. My experience with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) trauma therapy is hard work that's paying off.
What EMDR Trauma Therapy Looks Like for Me
My therapist introduced me to EMDR, which she said is an effective treatment when dealing with trauma. While the "EM" in EMDR stands for "eye movement," the treatment can be done using any bilateral stimulation.
According to the EMDR.com website:
". . . the client is instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation. These sets may include eye movements, taps, or tones."1
Before we begin, she asks me to rate my distress level—on a numeric scale—when recalling the trauma we're working on. Then we begin "reprocessing" the feelings and emotions associated with the trauma.
Because I prefer to have my eyes closed while my therapist guides me through the EMDR treatment, my bilateral stimulation includes approximately 40 rapid taps on alternating sides of my upper arms using my hands. My therapist cues me when to stop tapping, instructs me to take a deep breath, then asks how I feel.
How I feel includes both body sensations and thoughts and should be what comes to mind at that moment. I don't overthink it. There are no wrong answers.
Examples of the physical sensations I've felt include:
- Tingling skin
- Sweating and hot flashes
- Stiff neck and back
- Fidgety hands and feet
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Racing heart
- Clenched teeth
The thoughts I've vocalized during reprocessing range from anger, frustration, fear, and guilt to shame and sorrow, to name a few. I am often in tears while reprocessing the trauma, which is all part and parcel where reprocessing is concerned.
The reprocessing steps—tap, breathe, vocalize—are repeated several times, lasting, in my case, upwards of 40 to 50 minutes. This gives us plenty of time to slowly approach the trauma, ride the emotional wave up, crest it, then ride the wave down. My therapist then gently redirects my attention back to her and asks that I rate my distress level again.
At the start of reprocessing a trauma, my distress rate has typically been much lower than my finishing distress rate. For instance, I may start at a three out of 10, where three is not too distressed about the trauma because I've only just started thinking about it. At the end, my distress level may be a seven or eight after having crawled through the muck of the trauma.
My therapist ends the session by guiding me through a grounding exercise that soothes me and readies me to face the rest of my day.
I Had Heightened Anxiety After EMDR
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy leaves me drained, which is to be expected given the effort it takes. I am getting better at affording myself the time and self-care I need to recover from each session. Sometimes though, I experience prolonged, unsettling symptoms post-treatment.
Last week we began reprocessing a new trauma, after which I experienced a couple of days of heightened anxiety. It wasn't constant, mind you. It was on and off, which my therapist warned me about. I noted the experience on my mood tracking app—which I use to help track and manage my anxiety—and used breathing exercises to get through the episodes. I postponed my next therapy appointment to give my brain the time to settle into a new normal. Because that's what each session affords me—a new normal.
I began this blog by saying that therapy can be grueling sometimes. It certainly has been for me, and there's still a lot of work to be done. But, my sessions are paying off. Reprocessing past trauma to the point where the event no longer causes me anxiety is well worth the commitment.
- EMDR Institute Inc., What is EMDR? June 2020.
Scott, L. (2022, May 4). My Experience with EMDR Trauma Therapy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2022/5/my-experience-with-emdr-trauma-therapy
Author: Liana M. Scott
You're doing great, Liana. It's so good to read of your progress and I'm proud of your commitment. I hope therapy continues to provide positive results for you.
Hi Lizanne. To hear someone I don't know say they're proud of what I'm doing is special, indeed. Thank you so much!
Here’s to a new normal ❤️