Recovering from trauma with help from EMDR

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After two months of sessions twice a week, I was no longer triggered by memories of my sexual assault and was able to move forward with my life.

On Sept. 4, 2012, I was sexually assaulted. The impact of that trauma drastically altered my life. I experienced panic attacks and nightmares and became immobilized by fear and anxiety each time I tried to leave the house. I lost months of my life this way. Finally, I reached the point where I could not carry the burden on my own anymore. I made an appointment with student health and was referred to a psychiatrist who specialized in the treatment of PTSD.

Walking into my first session with a psychiatrist, I had no idea what to expect. After speaking to the psychiatrist about my symptoms and my experience, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She recommended that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) would be the best approach for my recovery.

EMDR is defined by EMDR Canada as an integrative psychotherapy approach proven to be an effective treatment for trauma. The goal of EMDR is to help those suffering from the impact of a traumatic event to process the painful memories that trigger feelings of distress. The therapist uses techniques such as side-to-side eye movements, alternate tactile buzzers, and beeping tones to accomplish this. According to WebMD, these techniques weaken the power of emotionally charged memories of traumatic events.

During my EMDR sessions, the psychiatrist would ask me to visualize myself in the moment of trauma, and to state which physical sensations I was experiencing. I was given a head set and two buzzers to hold in each hand. Every few seconds, the buzzer would buzz in one hand, and there would be a corresponding beep in one ear. This would go on, buzz and simultaneous beep on the right, then to the left. After a few minutes, we would stop and she would ask me to rate my feelings of distress and where I felt them physically. At times during this process, I could psychically feel myself return to the moment of trauma and would experience some of the emotions I felt. After we completed a session, those memories held less power over me.

Each session would get me a little closer back to feeling like myself. After two months of EMDR sessions twice a week, I was no longer triggered by memories of my assault and could move forward with my life. EMDR allowed me to work through the trauma and trapped emotions I had buried. This enabled me to emotionally resolve the trauma I had experienced.

Six and a half years ago, I could not find the words to even tell my family and friends what had happened to me. The fact that I am able to put pen to paper now is a testament to how much therapy can help those suffering from the effects of PTSD. It is important to share my story because I believe in therapy and how effective it can be on the healing path. EMDR truly changed my life and helped me rebuild what I had lost through my traumatic experience.  

EMDR is one of many types of therapy that can be effective in treating PTSD. If you are interested in learning more about EMDR or feel that it might be the right therapy for you, there are over 600 registered therapists certified in EMDR in Canada. You can find one near you at: https://emdrcanada.org/find-a-therapist/.

--Submitted by Jaime Zawadski