Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR, is a powerful type of Psychotherapy used to help reduce the reexperiencing of traumatic or disturbing events using visual, auditory or tactile bilateral stimulation. After a course of EMDR therapy, the disturbing memories may no longer feel disturbing to the individual, and can usually be experienced in the same way as ‘normal’ memories in the brain.
In ‘The Finger Wagging Cure’, an iPM programme hosted by BBC Radio 4, AB speaks about her experiences of bullying and how EMDR therapy helped her overcome the negative impact on her life.
“Bullying isolates you and in my case, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody” She told Radio 4. “When you’re stuck in your own head with it, you feel very isolated, and because what you’re being told is that you’re so rubbish and awful, you begin to believe it”
She described the effects of bullying and how the trauma impacted her day-to-day.
“What happens when you’re experiencing trauma, is you’re overwhelmed with emotions you can’t really cope with. An extreme sense of fear.”
A goes on to explain the physical sensations of experiencing trauma and the severe emotional reactions she experienced associated with it.
“I get really hot, start sweating and I can’t think straight. I can’t speak or articulate myself. I get shaky, I get pins and needles on my scalp and my tongue feels like it’s swelling up in my mouth. I’m in utter panic shutdown and can’t respond”
She goes on to describe what happened to her as a child.
“I was a very happy little girl until I was 5. A family moved in next door, with a girl who was the same age as me. I was incredibly excited to have a new friend.
From the day she moved in, she was incredibly nasty. She would threaten me with violence if I didn’t do the things she wanted me to do. I have a vague memory of her wanting me to kiss her feet. The thing I enjoyed most at school was drawing and singing. I’d done a drawing of a horse and my teacher was so impressed at the quality of it for my age, that she showed it to the whole class, and I had this sense of someone finally noticing me.
The girl was so angry about it, that she made me tell everyone that I had lied and that she had done it. Which I then did.
I know that she kicked me a lot as I had a lot of bruises on my shins. My mum would ask where I got them from and I remember having to lie.
This went on till I was ten. Five years day in day out. I didn’t talk to a single person about it in that whole time. I was too frightened.”
A’s mother eventually found out what had been going on, confirmed by a teacher and family friend at A’s school and everything was then out in the open and the bullying suddenly stopped.
A goes on to describe how the bullying has impacted her life and what avenues she has taken to resolve it.
“I’m forty this year, and the effects have been quite severe. In my teenage years, I've suffered shame, suicidal thoughts and insomnia. I’ve tried various rounds of counselling. I ended up with chronic fatigue in my twenties and tried NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and hypnosis. I’ve had a lot of help, but I’ve still been left with this sense of living in a glass box, where I feel disconnected from people. I never felt I belonged anywhere. Even in my own marriage.
Eventually A, decided it was time to visit her GP.
“I was so worried about seeing the GP. I was always thinking the worst and I was scared that it would all go on record and that my children would be taken away from me. Really extreme.
The doctor was very sympathetic and referred me to a local mental health service and said I scored very highly on stress, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I was shocked at how severe the problem was. But it was a relief that I had a diagnosis. I could tick off so many of the symptoms. I felt a sense that it was not my fault. It was a psychological injury that I had sustained and that it wasn’t something that was wrong with me. A normal response to abnormal circumstances”
The mental health service gave A two treatment options. One was trauma-specific CBT and also EMDR therapy. A decided to try EMDR.
The sessions were extraordinary. There was a 5 session build up before the EMDR technique took place where I learned ‘stabilization’ methods which helped to calm me when I felt triggered. There’s also a huge element of building up trust with the therapist during those initial sessions. Trust has always been a massive problem for me ”
A describes a memory that she found particularly painful to work on during the EMDR session.
“It was of a time at school where I remember sitting on the classroom floor around our teacher’s feet just before Christmas one year. This girl was sitting on the carpet next to me, and talking about me, saying really nasty things. She was completely ignoring me but knowing I could overhear. I was sitting there feeling this intense sense of shame and powerlessness. All my feelings about being bullied are summed up in that memory.”
A then went on to speak about what happened during the EMDR session in terms of the particular technique the therapist used.
"We took that memory and the therapist put her fingers side-to-side in front of my eyes and I’d follow them in 15 second bursts and then she’d ask me how I’m doing. It lasted about 45 minutes.
It’s similar to what our brains do during REM sleep. When our brains are processing what’s gone on during the day, and we’re dreaming, our eyes are moving rapidly from side to side. Somehow that helps your brain to process what’s going on.
For me on a practical level, following her fingers does two things. It first of all acts like an anchor keeping one foot in the present and one foot in the past. It prevents me from getting swept away.
While following the fingers, you allow your brain to picture the memory and it allows you to imagine actually confronting the bully, for example. It’s a bit like conscious dreaming. It’s changing the memory, in fact.
The other thing is that it cuts off the strength of that emotion. When you think of the memory, it’s just as real and vivid as where you were at the time. This allows you to process the memory so much so, you eventually resolve the emotions. By the end of that session, not only did I no longer feel the sense of shame and powerlessness, I can now think back to that memory and others, in order to access my sense of strength.”
A was asked by the presenter how she feels now, after having the EMDR sessions.
“Even after the first EMDR session, I felt a sense of calm that I’ve not felt since I was four years old. The hypervigilance just stopped. And I feel normal in everyday situations, like other people. It’s been a huge shift in my life.”
If you would like further information on EMDR therapy, or would like to book a consultation with an EMDR therapist with UK Therapy Guide, please use our search facility to make an appointment and one of our EMDR therapists will contact you directly.