EMDR Therapy for PTSD
A zero draft writing exercise — At least 300 words in 15 minutes
“You’re not trying to hypnotize me, are you?” I asked Gloria, still trying to understand what was happening.
She lowered her hand as she exhaled a little heavier than normal, gave a small reassuring smile and then patiently explained it once more.
“EMDR therapy helps dislodge painful or traumatic memories that you haven’t processed in a healthy way. The mind is incredible at adapting and surviving. When a person, especially a child, experiences a traumatic event, the mind seals up that memory and stores it so that it can be processed in a healthy way at a later time. Some of those traumatic memories never get processed. EMDR therapy can help if you are having trouble recalling or processing those traumatic events or painful periods in your life. It was discovered as a psychiatrist noticed during her outdoor walks that painful memories lost their power as she processed them. She also noticed that her eyes moved in a certain way that seemed connected to this process. She later developed it as a therapy for patients suffering with post traumatic stress disorder. Do you understand a little better now?” She asked so kindly, without the slightest hint of irritation.
“Now, just relax and focus on my fingers and talk about the memories that come to the surface.”
Once more Gloria, my work-appointed counselor, placed her two fingers up as though she were saying a cub scout pledge. She slowly began moving her arm side to side. As I focused on her hand distant memories would eventually surface. They weren’t necessarily forgotten but they were definitely ignored, like an old box in the attic. I had a foggy period in my life — from age 5 to 10 — where memories were almost non-existent. I was never curious and it never bothered me until I got married at 24 years old.
“Something is seriously wrong,” my wife had said in a defeated way. “I’m not sure if it’s me or if it’s you but something has to change. We can’t go on like this anymore.”
I had noticed the same warning signs that she was now verbalizing, but I had no explanation for my tendency to withdraw and avoid intimacy. I was not interested in affection, touch, meaningful conversation, or sex. If there was even a slight moment of intimacy there was an immediate withdrawal.
I didn’t understand. I was an extrovert by all measures. I had lots of friends and I was always around people. I had no problems making and maintaining friendships. I did fine at work. I had a great social life. But this was different. Those were shallow relationships. This was my wife.
So I reluctantly agreed to see a counselor.
And something had definitely surfaced during our first few counseling sessions. Gloria had probed and listened and felt confident that there was something more in that hazy foggy period of my childhood. It was something serious enough to affect all of my relationships fifteen years later, especially those relationships closest to me.
“How old do you feel?” Gloria would ask after saying a brief prayer.
“Five” I replied.
Always five. I never felt older than age five in this context.
“Have you acted out since we last met?” she would then ask, referring to temptation to use pornography and masturbation as an escape from real intimacy.
“Yes. Maybe three times in the past month” was a standard reply I gave to this question.
There was no sense in hiding anything from Gloria. She was a trusted professional who, despite being referred by my employers, assured me that our conversations were private and confidential unless I “gave any indication that I would harm myself or others.”
“Why didn’t I notice this earlier?” I asked her one day, referring to all of these hidden memories.
“Well, you’ve never had a relationship longer than a few months. You moved around a lot and there was a lot of change in your family. You went to college. You were unsettled for several years. I suspect that settling down in a marriage and starting your family and career was the first time that you would have had a chance for these issues to manifest.”
I nodded slowly, closing my lips tighter with the corners of my mouth going downward into a frown and stared at the coffee table. I was not looking forward to months of work like this. I never liked the process. I always wondered what memories would surface this time. There were always surprises in these sessions.