When I had PTSD, my biggest fear was ‘If I can’t really even explain how I feel, how can somebody ‘fix’ me?’ I couldn’t understand how they could get rid of my PTSD without somebody going into my skull and rewiring my brain… that was until I came across EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing).
I was recommended to have EMDR therapy by the medical team at the NHS, but a chance conversation between my mum and a friend over the virtues of EMDR, was really the boost I needed. Knowing that somebody else had been in my position, and was out the other side thanks to EMDR, gave me the hope that one day I’d be the ‘old me’ again! Oh what a feeling that was!
You may have read our page on EMDR therapy and how it works, but I’ve written this article to describe what EMDR is like, what the process is and how it can help you be ‘you’ again!
Due to waiting times on the NHS, I decided to use a private psychotherapist. I used the EMDR Association Website to find the nearest accredited practitioner to me. I’ll be honest, I did see one practitioner, but I felt that we just didn’t ‘fit’ together – it was the first time I’d been able to recall my trauma, but I didn’t cry… I’m not sure I felt comfortable? Finding the right therapist can be difficult, but it’s so important to make sure you feel safe, secure and can trust this person (as much as your PTSD will allow you to of course!)
The second therapist I saw was just lovely – it was a simple room at the Scottish Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy, but it felt safe, clean and I was able to talk, and let my emotions out.
The first appointment was a ‘getting to know you’ type session. During this session, the therapist asked me to have a think about a place I felt comfortable, and secure. For me and my overactive hypervigilant mind, nowhere was safe to me, so I developed an imaginary tropical beach with all my friends forming a human chain around me to keep me safe, my cat jumping around and my husband making me laugh. I could use this ‘space’ anytime I needed to during a session, or even at home in the midst of a panic attack. I would concentrate on the beach, on each persons face, or what they would say to me, and get involved in that moment which would calm me down when I needed to.
If at any point during the forthcoming sessions, things got too much or I had a non-controlled flashback, I went back to that safe place in my mind. I know that some people use this ‘space’ during EMDR a fair bit, and it all depends on the individual, but luckily I only ever needed to visit my safe place a few times.
At the start of each of the sessions, the therapist asked me to think of the trauma, and scale it from 1-10 (1 being fine, 10 being OMG get me out of here) based on how you feel, and how strong your emotions are etc. For me, it was off the scale, it felt like I was going to be sick even just thinking about it (and she very kindly brought over a bucket just incase). She asked how I felt being back there (vulnerable, scared, terrified) and how I wanted to feel when I looked back on it (strong, capable, and powerful).
You then begin the reprocessing…. I chose to use a light beam – a electrical stick, which pulsed a light from side to side. You keep your head still, and follow the light from side to side with your eyes – left to right, left to right. As you’re doing this, you begin to think of the trauma, how you feel and how you want to feel, and you let your mind wander. It goes without saying, but that can be very difficult, but the therapist will ensure that things don’t get too much for you. My mind went to all sorts of places, thinking of things that I wasn’t sure how they related to the trauma, and every so often, she’d stop the light, asked what I’d been thinking, and then repeated the process over and over again.
At the end of each session, my therapist asked me to rate how I felt again – and for me, this was the most exciting part – each session, it was less!
I could see the transformation taking place – and feel it too.
By the third/fourth treatment, I was around a 4, and sometimes in between sessions, it’d creep back up, but then it would reduce more and more, until the final session where I could comfortably state that to me, the trauma, the thing that had haunted me for the years, was now only a memory – something that happened, and while it was an awful thing to go through, I didn’t have the ‘charge’ of emotions behind it anymore.
Everyone is different, and although in the end I only needed 6 treatments to rid me of PTSD and all my symptoms, some people will need more – particularly those with C-PTSD (PTSD from multiple traumas) as there is more to work on.
To see the change I was going through during therapy made it feel like a miracle – and I quite often thought about the day when it would be over. I thought ‘I’ll run out of the room, call my mum and I bet I’ll cry I’ll be so happy! I’ll say “I’m me! I’m cured”‘
Instead, on that last session, I walked out of the room – I wasn’t ecstatic, I wasn’t jumping for joy at getting rid of PTSD, I was just… well… me! I had returned to ‘normal’, and whilst that was an exciting thing, I was just incredibly content – smiling and beaming from the inside, and just full of contentment. I felt safe, I felt happy… I felt like me.
Written by PTSD UK Founder, Jacqui Suttie
You may be interested to read how EMDR works, and you can do so here.
IMAGE: Green Eyes by Danielle Elder