Untraditional: My Experience With Trauma Therapy

When people think of therapy, they usually think of psychotherapy, or what is more commonly known as talk therapy. According to psychcentral.com, psychotherapy is a “process whereby psychological problems are treated through communication and relationship factors between an individual and a trained mental health professional.”

The idea of regularly attending therapy seems to be more common now. But whether you have a mental illness or not, therapy can be a good resource for you. Think of therapy as a specialized doctor for your brain—chances are you regularly see a dentist or optometrist, there’s no shame in adding a psychologist to that list.

However, it’s lesser known that there are many different types of psychotherapies. I’ve gone to therapy multiple times in my life, but I’ve only ever received traditional talk therapy. This therapy always consisted of the same thing: I talk about how I feel, and the therapist and I work together to find a solution to these feelings. But recently, I’ve received a different, more controversial type of psychotherapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is defined by psychologytoday.com as a “unique, nontraditional form of psychotherapy designed to diminish negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events.” Essentially, EMDR utilizes the way your brain processes your day through rapid eye movements (REM) when you’re asleep. When you enter REM, your brain goes through the bits and pieces of your day to process the overwhelming amount of information you’ve encountered that day.

Youtuber and licensed therapist Kati Morton actually has a fantastic video explaining EMDR and its techniques. It works by focusing not on the trauma itself but rather the other thoughts surrounding the trauma. I was recommended this therapy for disturbing recurrent post-traumatic memories. My therapist and I worked together to diminish the pain these memories made me feel. Essentially, EMDR tries to trick your brain to process trauma as neutral or, in some cases, positive.

It starts out with traditional talk therapy, where the therapist might suggest EMDR. It’s followed by a consultation where you outline your distressing feelings. For me, I was given a list of positive and negative connotations and I was told to pick the one I most closely identified with. I picked the negative connotation, “I should’ve done more,” which was followed by the positive connotation, “I’ve done all I can.” This way we focused on removing the negative and replacing it with the positive.

Then, we got into the desensitization. At first, the therapist used her fingers to make my eyes dart left and right. This is similar to the way your eyes shift during REM sleep. Then she tried tapping on my left and right knees, to mimic the same REM technique. For me, the knee tapping worked better, because I could more closely focus on my thoughts.

We would do the tapping for a few seconds, then she would ask me what the first thought that came to my mind was. My thoughts raced from the trauma itself to something funny that happened at work to what I was worried about in school. Then, after about ten minutes, she would ask me how I felt about the traumatic image on a scale from one to ten, ten being the most disturbing.

We did this for about three hour long sessions. Slowly but surely the traumatic image that was once so visceral in my mind became so foggy I could barely see it. Every session, I began to rate the image lower and lower until it was nearly gone out of my mind.

It’s important to note that some psychologists claim that EMDR does not work. In some aspects, EMDR can be controversial since it’s not necessarily proven how it works. However, some psychologists absolutely swear by the process. In fact, there is a whole collective of therapists who practice EMDR in Canada.

For me, I was unable to function with this trauma. I couldn’t go into work without crying or get any sleep at night. However, three sessions of this therapy I had never heard of seemed to have changed my brain. In reality, EMDR laid out a map of my mind. I could figure out what was taking up the most space in my brain and try to find solutions to them.

If you’re struggling to cope with a traumatic event, I strongly recommend asking your therapist if they think EMDR is a right fit for you. I know that this may not work for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you’ve experienced an intrusive type of trauma that seems to be clouding your brain, it’s okay to ask for help. If you have can’t get up in the morning, it’s okay to ask for help. If you just feel like you need a wellness check up, it’s okay to ask for help.

If you’re looking for help, here are some numbers to mental health resources on and off-campus:

Psychology Services: (519) 661-3031

Student Health Services: (519)-661-3030

Anova Sexual and Domestic Violence Helpline: English: 519-642-3000 French: 1-877-336-2433

Campus Police: Emergencies: 911 Non-emergencies: 519-661-3300

Good2Talk: 1-866-924-5454                

Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600

Reach Out: 1-866-933-2023 and 519-433-2023

Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Voice Treatment Centre: 519-646-6100 ext.64224    

Student Emergency Response Team (SERT): 519-661-3300

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