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Keeping It Real Weird

My First Session of EMDR Therapy


If you read my last post (which I’m imagining you did, just to make myself feel better), you may know that I’ve been in therapy for quite some time. Years, in fact. I started going when I was in kindergarten, believe it or not, and have been seeing some sort of mental health professional on and off over the years. So I feel like I’m pretty experienced in talk therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

But the one therapy that was never offered or suggested to me until now? EMDR therapy.

EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a type of therapy usually used for people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, but also helps with people with anxiety, depression, or phobias. It’s a therapy that’s used to help you process and unblock past traumas or events that you have not psychologically dealt with yet and may be affecting your life without you even knowing it. It uses the same eye movement that occurs in your REM sleep; you know, when you’re dreaming and processing your day, while your eyes rapidly move back and forth beneath your closed eyelids (have you ever seen someone sleeping and their eyes doing that? It’s a little freaky, to be honest!) Though some EMDR therapies use hand tapping or even audio stimulation instead of rapid eye movement.

My current therapist, who I have been seeing for almost a year and is just lovely, suggested that since I admitted I felt a little stuck in therapy and where I am in my life, we might try EMDR, since there may be some things in my past that might be contributing to my feeling of being stuck.

Without going into too many details (because seriously, who has the time or the interest to read my entire mental history? Hell, I don’t even want to write it!), right now I’ve been dealing with negative beliefs about myself, that have kept me from moving forward and making changes in my life, hence, making me feel pretty stuck. Since I've seemed to have tried everything else offered in therapy, why not EMDR? The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work for me, right?

I wasn't too nervous to start my first session. My therapist explained that we start with a traumatic memory or experience that upsets me and has stuck me for a long time and has had a negative impact on me. We chose one (it’s weird how when you’re asked to recall a negative memory, you suddenly blank, but then when you’re trying to sleep at night they all come flooding in, one right after another. Great timing, horrible memories!), and she explained that she would stick out her arm to the side, bent at the elbow, and swing her arm upright, pointing two fingers, left to right like a clock’s pendulum, for my eyes to follow. We positioned our chairs across from each other, but her chair to the right of me, so her arm and fingers were right in my eye line. She also told me before the session that if something was too painful or I got upset, I could quite literally tell her to stop, and we could take a break if needed.

We started our session by me recalling the memory in detail and focusing on that feeling. She then swung her arm and fingers from left to right, with my eyes following her fingers while I focused on that memory. She would then stop after about 10 seconds (or what felt like it), we would both take a deep breath, and she would ask me what I was feeling or thinking about. I would follow up with what I had felt or what had crossed my mind, and she would say, “let’s focus on that,” and then she continued swinging her arm/fingers and I again followed them me eyes. This whole process is literally called processing. That continued for the rest of the session.

Sounds kind of boring, right? Um, not so! Just from this one memory that had always stuck with me negatively, SO many other memories and feelings popped into my head. It really did feel like one thing literally led to another, that so many feelings and experiences I had were connected in one way or another to this one memory. I started crying at numerous times as other things popped into my head, as the connections were made and I admitted out loud and to myself some things that been buried inside my mind, that I never wanted to acknowledge.

EMDR sessions continue until the memory is resolved (aka reprocessed), meaning until the memory doesn’t upset or impact you anymore. We started at a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being that it doesn’t affect me at all, and 10 being pretty much this is such a terrifying memory that I can’t even deal with it. I started at a 7 during my first session and at the end it was at a 3. So for the next session, we focused on that memory again, to see if we could get my feelings towards it to a 0. And we did! After two sessions, that memory no longer negatively impacts me. I processed it during those two sessions, looked back on it, went through those feelings, and what came up during the session, and I was able to put it behind me. It was pretty amazing.

I can’t believe no other therapist had suggested EMDR before, but I’m so grateful my therapist did. We already have two other memories that we both feel I need to process (they popped up several times during my first two session, almost without me realizing it. Thank god my therapist takes notes), so that means my EMDR sessions will continue for the time being.

I’m eager to feel better and would highly recommend EMDR therapy to anyone who feels they may need it, but I also want to point out some tips that may help you during the process of, well, the process of EMDR:

#1. Have coping skills to use before, during, and after the sessions. My therapist warned me that bringing up traumatic or unresolved issues can be very upsetting and trigger some people. So before we began our sessions, she taught me some coping skills to help me feel safe and supported. We close each session with a coping skill that I choose, and I actually really needed to use a coping skill after our first session, where I spent most of it crying, after I got back into my car. I used a grounding technique to remind myself that I was present, safe, and okay. And guess what: it helped.

#2. Have someone besides your therapist you can lean on for support. You don’t have to tell them what happened during your session, but just having someone you know you can count on to be there for you as you revisit some traumatic events is really helpful and reassuring.

#3. Take time between EMDR sessions. I see my therapist once a week (not to brag), and at my last session, I told her I needed a break from my EMDR sessions to talk about my EMDR sessions and to process what I’ve been processing! I was a bit embarrassed to admit it, but she assured me that that was totally normal, and if I needed to take breaks in between sessions, I could. Especially if I was feeling nervous or anxious at upcoming sessions, which I was and just wanted to talk about how to prepare for those new sessions and new sets of memories and what may come up. So please be open and honest with your therapist if you need a break. You’re already pushing yourself a lot, so don’t push yourself even more to the point of hurting your mental health.

EMDR is tough, rigorous, and extremely emotionally draining, but so rewarding. I know it helps a lot with people with PTSD, but I’m so impressed that it’s helping me, with my anxiety, depression, and past memories that are hindering my recovery. And I feel so lucky that I’m at a point where I’m able to challenge myself to confront these fears and try to change, and that I have a great, supportive therapist who is willing to work with me. I hope it helps me get to a point where I’m able to live my life the way I want to, and not the way my negative beliefs and disorders have made me think I should.

Has anyone else gone through EMDR therapy? Has it helped you at all? If so, let me know! I’d love to hear from you! And if you’re interested in more of my EMDR journey, let me know if you’d like to hear more about it. I’m sure the mental health adventures aren’t over yet!


Stay Weird,
Emily

A Tale of Too Many Therapists


For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been in therapy. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was in kindergarten, and from them on it’s just been one long string of diagnoses, therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and any sort of mental health professional that may offer counseling. So I think it’s safe to say I’ve had my fair share of talk therapy.

Therapy is literally so different, all depending on your age (as a kid you get to freaking coloring, reading stories, play with a dollhouse all while an adult tries to slyly ask you questions? No biggie!) and your therapist (man, woman, nice, stern. Therapists and doctors come in all shapes and forms). And as for one who has been in the therapy biz (only, you know, the one being counseled, not the one who is actually doing counseling and has that degree), I think I know a good therapist when I meet one. It just took me a long while to get there.

When I was first diagnosed with OCD, my mom immediately took me to a child psychologist. She was super nice, read me stories about a cute family of bunnies who lived in a tree trunk, and I honestly barely remember anything else about it except for the cute bunny book. So to me, therapy? It was fun!

I was then later sent to a child psychiatrist when my OCD got worse. This doctor not only have an amazing dollhouse to play with, she also had a treasure box filled with cheap toys and trinkets that I could pick out one thing after my appointment. Um, you bet I could sit through those questions while rearranging the dollhouse (the kids before me always messed up the rooms in it. Even as a youngster, I knew how a dollhouse should be set up). Therapy? Still not a big deal.

But as I got older, and new symptoms popped up and new diagnoses were, well, diagnosed, therapy became incredibly difficult. Either working with a particular doctor wouldn’t work out or my insurance wouldn’t cover that doctor, therapy started to get real. I bounced from doctor to therapist, trying to find my way, all the while my mental health issues were at an all time high and as much as I wanted to feel better, the older I got, the more pressure and anger I felt that my parents were pushing me to see people I wasn’t comfortable opening up to. Thus let a long line of therapists and mental health professionals:

I remember seeing a psychiatrist who specialized in Eastern/Indian medicine and determined I had too much Earth and wanted me to take herbs to help alleviate my grounding (you know, to add more Air to my Earth). I remember seeing a male psychologist and lying to his face that I was just fine, because I didn’t trust him one bit (he made my mom cry, so that sealed the deal for me). I once saw a holistic psychiatrist who either wanted to film our session or type the transcript literally as we were having our session, which was very awkward. I even visited a hypnotist once, to help with my extreme phobias. My parents drove me all over, taking me from doctor to health care professional, trying to find one that worked for me. Sometimes they worked for a while. Sometimes we came to a stalemate, and other times, it just didn’t work out. Sometimes it ended with a bang.

The first child psychologist I had when I was first diagnosed ended up treating me as a tween. I confronted quite reasonably and asked her about wanting to change our session from once a week to one every two weeks, and she said no, and proceeded to say I was resisting treatment. I was so hurt by her sudden coldness that I stormed out and never went back. That wouldn’t be the first time I heard that in my life from a therapist. It’s amazing how often a therapist will immediately drop you if “resist treatment.” In the second case, my therapist suggested I do something I didn’t feel comfortable with, and instead of discussing it with me, she immediately threw up her hands, said I was “resisting her,” and recommended I find a new therapist. Literally. Just like that.

Through all of this, I’ve learned a lot about therapists, and about myself too. Number one being:

It takes a while to find a therapist that’s right for you. And even it works out for a while, it may come to an end. Because being in therapy is like being in a relationship, just a very one-sided relationship. Sometimes it works for a while, and then it doesn’t. You change, and therefore sometimes your relationship with your therapist does too. And that’s perfectly okay. It just means you move on to someone else who can work with you for what you’re going through now.

Number two: You have to find a therapist you trust. I tried to trust a lot of mental health care professionals, but being an awkward and embarrassed tween and then a moody teenager who was sick of the constant appointments, it became too much and I just stopped trying. Trusting your therapist is so important. You’re going to be telling them your most intimate, private thoughts and dealing with your delicate emotions and digging deep into your past. That takes trust. Don’t just pick the first therapist you come across who takes your insurance. Shop around, and find one that you click with. It you feel more comfortable with women, go to a female therapist. There’s no shame in it, you just have to do what’s right for you and your mental health.

Number three: Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors are people too. Sometimes they’re kind and understanding. Other times they’re rude, snobbish, and think they know best. They are the professional, after all. I’ve had to learn that some doctors feel that it’s their way or the highway, and are not going to try to be flexible with their patients. That’s their choice, but I hope that they understand that that might lose them patients. So look out for red flags. If your therapist doesn’t listen to you, talks about themselves, makes you feel bad about yourself, leave. They’re not for you. The therapist I saw before the current therapist I’m seeing now, was tough, abrasive, and I left crying, feeling terrible about myself, after almost every appointment. I didn’t trust her but I tried. It wasn’t until I reached a breaking point that I realized that I could find another therapist who worked for me. The realization was a revelation and it made me realize that I did have a choice in who I had to see.

As for me, after seeing so many therapists, I’ve learned so much about myself. That sometimes, being forced into therapy isn’t the best, but sometimes it’s what was necessary. My parents knew I needed help and did what they thought was best and tried every possible avenue to help me. I just wish that at a young age that I could have been more grateful for the enormous effort they put into caring for my mental health, and tried harder with those therapists, even if it didn’t work out. But in my own way I did try, and as I got older, and my symptoms got even worse, I realized the importance of therapy. It wasn’t until I got my own insurance and realized I needed help, that I looked into finding my own therapist as an adult, that it was all my choice, that I saw how great therapy is. I actually found a therapist that I clicked with and I’ve honestly been working so hard and putting so much effort into my mental health, that I feel that this is the best decision I’ve ever made. And I made it just for me, when I needed it.

Which leads me to the most important part: you need to want to be in therapy for therapy to work for you. You need want to change and feel better and put in the work. You need to try. You can’t half ass it. It will be one of the most grueling experiences of your life, but it’s so worth it.

A lot of therapists led me to believe that therapy will never end, especially the ones who you pay out of pocket to. But my current therapist actually told me that, no, therapy wasn’t a forever thing. You use it when you need help, and then hopefully you won’t need it again unless something else comes up. This was such a revelation to me. I won’t need this forever? No, I hopefully I won’t. But just in case, it will still be there when I need it. And I can’t tell you how hopeful that makes me feel about the work I’m doing in therapy and now, and for my future.

Stay Weird,
Emily