EMDR and Dr. B
By Suzanne Lea
After three years with my therapist, I have begun working with someone new. I didn’t leave my previous therapy because I was unhappy; I left because we hit a bit of a brick wall. Each time I would begin to reveal the darkest parts of my past, I would break. Something inside me would crack open and the hurt would spill out, coloring all the progress we had made. A new kind of trauma was born. Fresh trauma from reliving old trauma. We tried desperately to control the pain, but it began to take on a life of its own. It seeped into my everyday world. All my old triggers returned. It began to affect my marriage, my relationships with family, and my life outside of therapy. We tried locking my trauma in a little wooden box, then closing it in a file drawer in my therapist’s office. I tried leaving it there, for her to watch over, protecting me between sessions. It didn’t work. My perpetrator followed me home. He whispered all his old lies: you deserved it, you were asking for it, what did you think would happen, after all. Trauma is a liar, a manipulative trickster. Often, it cannot be compartmentalized. Trauma picks the lock and wriggles out. After a long talk, my therapist and I agreed it was time to try something new. In my case, we chose Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
In a nutshell, EMDR is a specific kind of therapy that can help people heal from emotional distress that results from trauma. As the name suggests, eye movement is a fundamental part of this method. After you and your therapisst decide which memory to target, you are asked to think about that event. While that event it fresh in your mind, you are asked to track your therapist’s hands with your eyes as an object is moved back and forth across your field of vision. As this happens, for reasons thought to be related to the same mechanisms associated with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations are made and you begin to process the memory. I needed to find someone new for this kind of therapy. After a good bit of work, I finally found Dr. B, who practices EMDR, as a specialty.
After years with my previous therapist, it is strange navigating a new therapeutic relationship. Firstly, it stings a little, breaking up with an old therapist. My internalized shame told me that I hadn’t tried hard enough. My shame told me I was unfixable. My shame told me my trauma was too ugly to be examined. I know, intellectually, that these things aren’t true, but trauma loves shame. Secondly, working with someone new comes with its own set of baggage. It is always a little bit unnerving, unzipping yourself and showing a relative stranger all your complicated clockwork parts: your past, your broken pieces, your hurts and bruises. Finding just the right therapist can be difficult. Sitting through your first get-to-know-you session can awkward, uncomfortable even. Finding the right therapist is a strange mix of chemistry and qualifications. In the past, I had a list of requirements. Among the many things I thought I needed, I believed a therapist must be female, because of my kind of trauma. In the end, I chose Dr. B. He is a he, which was an unexpected twist, to be sure. I am hopeful that I can reach past fear and embrace the work we have begun together.
I have grown quite fond of him, in only a short time. He is smart but also very soothing. He challenges and affirms me. He has a creative approach to our work together. He lets our time unfold organically. In my case, he is less goal-oriented than I am used to. He doesn’t assign homework. He lets me take what I can carry, and asks that I leave the rest for another day. There are no locked boxes or file cabinets. He allows me space to feel all of my feelings, then lay down the parts too heavy to carry home with me. I am grateful to S, my previous therapist. She gave me a gift I didn’t understand until afterwards. She let me move on to a new kind of work. She allowed me to face my fear of rejection. She has proven to me that I am more capable than I thought. She acknowledged my immense pain, and directed me to a new kind of healing. By letting me go, she proved our time together had been successful. I have so much work to do, but for the first time in years, I think I am ready. Today, I am tired enough to try something new. Today, I am simply too tired not to try something new. I am ready. I am willing. I hope those things will be enough.