Tuesday 23 May 2017

EMDR Therapy | What Is It And How It Benefited My Mental Health

EMDR Therapy | What Is It And How It Benefited My Mental Health CBT OCD PTSD panic attacks phobia help support depression anxiety mental illness wellbeing

If someone told me that I would be paying £60 to watch a butterfly go back and forth on a screen for an hour a half every week, I would think you are joking but in reality that is actually what I do. EMDR is a type of therapy used for the treatment of a range of mental illnesses including PTSD, phobias and OCD. I have used EMDR therapy for my OCD since the start of the year, and I have found it particularly successful.

So what actually is EMDR? EMDR stands for eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. Which I know sounds dead confusing and complicated but let me break it down a bit. The idea of EMDR is to change the way the brain thinks by reprocessing old memories which are particularly stressful or distressing. By working through them with a trained professional, EMDR helps you change the way you interpret the memory with the aim of making in just an ordinary memory and not one that scares you.

This is why EMDR is particularly useful for people with PTSD or who've developed phobias after particularly stressful events in their life's as it allows you to rewrite them if you like and understand how and why they've developed. By changing the unconscious mind, you can change the way the conscious mind understands these memories. I've not heard many people talk about EMDR in the mental health blogging community which is why I thought I would share my experiences today.

Now you know what EMDR actually is you probably want to know the science behind it, how it actually works. Okay, so here goes...

" The EMDR process appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way." (source)

That's all well and good but how do you actually do it. If you were to walk into your first EMDR therapy session what would you actually expect? Okay, so it's probably wise that I point out no two therapists will go about things the same way. They all have their own approaches. Thus I can only draw upon my own experiences and information sourced from Google. 

So you know I was on about watching a butterfly going back and forth on a screen for an hour and a half? Well, that's how my EMDR is conducted. EMDR can be carried out in lots of different ways. For example; some therapists will get you to follow their hand, some use lights, others use buzzers, and some like mine use a screen. The idea is that you have to follow something go back and forth to reprocess the memory.

EMDR Therapy | What Is It And How It Benefited My Mental Health CBT OCD PTSD Panic attacks phobia help support private alternatives

So in my sessions, I go in, we chat for a bit about how my week has been, and then we decide on what memory we are going to process in that session. If I work on an OCD compulsion, I have to either think of the first, last or worst time I did that compulsion, whichever one feels strongest to me. I then try and run the video of me doing that compulsion in my head. Once I feel anxiety or whatever ever emotion that memory causes me, the therapist starts running the EMDR process. 

I tend to watch the butterfly on the screen for around a minute or two at a time and then she will pause the video and ask me what I felt and what I remember. This is my chance to tell her what I'm feeling etc. I generally start off still feeling anxious as I remember the memory especially if it is a particularly distressing memory to me. However, as time goes on, I reprocess the memory, and the anxiety starts to reduce. 

If we've been working on an OCD compulsion, during the week, I'll try and cut down or stop what I've been doing previously as I should have reprocessed the memory to make it less scary and anxiety provoking. I've been using EMDR for some my compulsions including excessively washing my hands, touching door handles, light switches, etc. And wiping down the tables at college with an antibacterial wipe. All of which I've managed to do, stop or cut down to a reasonable number, like with the hand washing.

I'm making this sound like some kind of miracle cure. It really isn't. Number 1, it hasn't always been successful. If we don't get down to the root of the problem, it's going to be hard to change. This was apparent with some of my eating difficulties and compulsions which were more challenging and hard to let go of. Secondly, the actual process of reprocessing memories is exhausting. The first time I did it I could barely walk out the room, I was that exhausted. With practice, it gets easier, but I'm still pretty knackered after a session. 

It can also be challenging if you have been processing a really hard memory from your past which you still find quite upsetting. You are primarily being made to think about things that should upset you or make you anxious. Which sounds horrible when you put it like that, but to reprocess the memory, it has to be done. 

EMDR is, of course, not going to be for everyone. I have my sessions privately, but I know the NHS do offer it for some people. For example, if you have PTSD it's probably likely to be more helpful than say CBT. However, this is going to depend on where you are located in the country. 

I hope this has given you a better insight into how EMDR therapy works. I hope I have explained it well enough for you. If you have any more questions or want things explained more, do drop me a message on Twitter or by email and I will do my best to help you.

Thanks for reading, always X

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