Disclaimer :: I am in no way a medical professional; this is solely my experience with the EDMR. Please consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding your own health and mental health.
My mental health came crashing down in 2020 with the birth of my second child and a global pandemic. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was just the stress of lockdown, a newborn, both, or otherwise. I was drowning.
All my life, I’d been working really hard to keep all my emotional pain and childhood trauma shoved down beneath the surface. I couldn’t keep it down any longer. I was constantly triggered by my children and try as I might, I could not get myself to be the calm, patient, unruffled mother that I never had and that I so badly wanted to be for them.
Having experienced quite a bit of childhood trauma, I’d been in traditional counseling off and on for nearly 20 years. During a session at the end of 2020, I’d been describing how hard it was for me sometimes to take care of my daughter because of feeling so triggered when my therapist looked at me with kind eyes and asked, “Do you think you’re mad at your mom?”
She then suggested looking into eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as a way to heal the emotional pain seeping into my everyday life — perhaps take the sting out of mothering.
>> LISTEN :: Mom & Mental Health :: Momfessions Podcast :: Episode 41 <<
She warned me I would have to revisit my trauma in order to heal it, which is exactly what I spent my life trying not to do. I was scared but decided the end result would likely outweigh the pain of the process.
I worked on healing my trauma through EMDR therapy for a year and a half with a specially trained therapist. Now that I’m on the other side, I can confidently tell you that what I accomplished in that year and a half was more life-transforming than the nearly 20 years of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — and that is not a result of my therapists over the years.
I am so lucky to have had wonderful, competent, and compassionate clinicians during the past two decades.
I am fully convinced that if we as parents do not heal the emotional pain and trauma from our past, we will never be able to be the parents we want to be. And if traditional CBT isn’t getting you where you want to be, give EMDR a try.
What Is EMDR Therapy?
According to EMDR.com, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy “designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.” In EMDR, the client accesses trauma to reprocess it with an adult brain in order to relieve the distress, reformulate negative beliefs, and reduce (or even eliminate) triggers.
MY EMDR therapist described it like this: If trauma/pain is a room in a house, traditional talk therapy tends to want to close the door on the past in order to move on. In EMDR, you go into the room and clean it out, essentially once and for all, so you don’t have to continue going back to it.
How It Works
EMDR is different from traditional talk therapy in a few ways. The client accesses traumatic memories and thoughts in a brief sequential manner while also focusing on an external stimulus. The therapist typically uses lateral hand movements for the client to follow with their eyes while accessing trauma, or the client can use hand tapping. Researchers believe the physical component is connected to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, in which internal associations arise and clients can process memories and disturbing feelings.
The therapist and client decide on a place to start, visualize any negative beliefs associated with the memory or event, and then the eye movement or hand tapping starts.
After a brief time (30 seconds to a minute), the therapist stops the client, asks what came up during that time, and guides the client through any thoughts or feelings that came up. The client does not always need to share details of events (especially in cases of sexual abuse) so long as they can access them in their mind.
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EMDR is incredibly effective, especially at relieving PTSD and even adult onset trauma (for instance, a traumatic birth experience, sexual assault, or car accident). But that’s not to say the process isn’t painful. I spent most of the summer of 2021 feeling like an open wound. While I tried to remain calm and present during my son’s meltdowns, there were times I had to leave the room in tears to calm myself.
Another thing that makes EMDR unique is that the client gains insight based on their own interpretations and healing, not necessarily from the therapist. Wounds don’t just heal; they are transformed.
Life After EMDR Therapy
When I first started EMDR therapy, I told my therapist I didn’t feel like a “whole person,” like I was forever untethered and floating around with a strong family of origin or home base to return to. I felt like emotional safety and support were missing, that I was broken beneath the surface, and it felt like a chunk of me was missing while everyone else seemed to “have it.”
And in addition to that, I could not fathom having compassion for all I experienced as a child and how that played out throughout my teenage years and early 20s. I beat myself up for not being “better,” for not being able to get myself together despite having no idea how to cope or any support to do so.
But after the year and a half of EMDR therapy, I can tell you none of that is true anymore. I have gained a sense of self-worth and self-compassion that never could have happened in any other way. Events from my childhood have lost their sting. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am healed. I am whole. And most important, I am the mom I want to be.