My EMDR Journey So Far (Part 1)

It’s been just less than a year since I’ve begun the process of seeing my therapist who specializes in EMDR, or eye movement desensitization reprocessing. It has been grueling, but it has also helped me with my sleep disturbances and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so far.

In my previous article introducing what EMDR is, I explained some of the steps that must happen even before the session truly begins.

EMDR for PTSD and stress-induced insomnia

Typically, in EMDR therapy, used for PTSD, “a patient selects an image related to a traumatic event and is asked to hold it in mind while engaging in back and forth eye movements that are led by the therapist.”1

If I ever feel unsafe or like a particular part of a memory is too much for me to handle, I open my eyes and we can either stop the session or we can pause for a few moments, collect myself, and my thoughts and we can continue.

What happens during my EMDR sessions?

My method of EMDR involves vibrating “tappers” which are 2 little oval pieces of plastic that vibrate to a certain pattern that goes along with the parts of the process during a typical session. It’s not distracting, as the tappers vibrate very lightly. The tappers also have different speeds that the EMDR specialist controls.

Because my brain is so focused on the events and descriptions and back and forth chat (with my eyes closed), I am still unable to pinpoint when the tappers go faster. I believe when things get clearer and I am able to pinpoint things and retell the story in detail that it might tap faster. But then...a pause, no taps for a while.

Addressing past traumas

Just a short time ago, we started going through some of the traumas that I dealt with as a teenager. My mind was a little unprepared, to say the least when I was told that we were going to go through a major part and conclusion of said trauma that resulted in me testifying in a courtroom full of people and cameras. It was awful.

I think there were reasons my therapist didn’t want to tell me, probably at the risk of me not showing up. I fear facing these things head-on and it can be physically exhausting as well. Headaches and migraines are something that could be considered normal. I’m typically a dasher when it comes to facing my traumas head-on, hence why I continue to have so much sleep disruption and why I feel the need to avoid it, by suppressing those memories.

Learning to reprocess memories

When you’re engaged in a session, it’s hard to know what time it is when you’re in this almost semi-conscious state. Your therapist preps you with your breathing exercises before you go into the actual type of therapy meant to bring up memories and reprocess them in a way that leaves you feeling like you are in control of the memory and able to process it in a different way when that memory is brought up or it comes back to you.

Timelines and techniques

A few things about the EMDR process: a history and timeline need to be completed before actually starting EMDR therapy. Timelines are important, as are details of how it currently makes you feel. There are different techniques for doing EMDR, such as following a finger moving left to right during the session, tapping or the shoulders, or using the tappers.

Because I get hemiplegic migraines and don’t like to be touched, we opted for tappers you hold in your hands that vibrate, which is mainly my therapist's way to help reprocess.

In part 2, I'll discuss sleep patterns, getting to a "new" normal of sleep cycles, dip into a little bit of science behind how EMDR can actually help sleep, and the differences I've noticed so far.

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