This blog post is in celebration of my becoming certified by EMDRIA, the EMDR International Association! I have been trained in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and have been providing this powerful evidence-based therapy to my clients at JFS for six years. Qualifying for certification was a years-long process of group and individual consultations with other EMDR clinicians and continuing education classes to improve my skill.
I want to share a story about one of my counseling clients, Louise. Louise has a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Individuals with a PTSD diagnosis can be good candidates for EMDR therapy. For our initial sessions, Louise and I discussed the past events in her life that laid the groundwork for her symptoms. We established a good working relationship, which is essential for productive sessions. To start, Louise identified her current triggers and set goals for herself. I administered the Dissociative Experiences Scale, a standard assessment in EMDR. Traumatized people are more likely to dissociate to a problematic degree. The Dissociative Experiences Scale helps clinicians measure a client’s level of dissociation. Louise scored within the normal range for dissociation, so we could move on to the Preparation or Resourcing phase of EMDR.
During Preparation and Resourcing, clients learn skills to help them benefit from EMDR therapy, choose experiences to overcome, and select positive messages to replace negative ones. I taught Louise exercises, like tapping, to increase her ability to relax and ground herself in the present moment. Next, we identified a specific traumatic memory to target and help her overcome.
Louise was in a car accident six months previous to our meeting. While no one was injured, the car spun around and she heard her daughter’s head bang against the window. Logically, she recognized that they were fine, but she was unable to drive without very high anxiety. We identified the negative message that she absorbed during this event as “It’s my fault.” We identified a positive cognition, what she wanted to believe about herself instead, “I am a good driver, we are safe now” to replace the negative message.
Louise was able to connect somatically with the memory of the car accident when revisiting the experience in our session. This means that she was able to connect to the memory with her body; she reported feeling like the chair in my office was spinning as her car had during the accident. By doing short sets of tapping, a relaxation technique, she was able to remain grounded and allow the experience to pass. She also realized that it was actually her highly critical father’s voice saying it was her fault, and with this insight was able to dismiss her imagined version of him as being irrelevant to her experience. Using bilateral stimulation, such as moving the eyes from side to side and tapping the face on either side, Louise processed the experience of the car accident toward an adaptive resolution; meaning, she changed her mental and emotional response to the memory.
We continued with bilateral stimulation and added her positive cognition phrase, which helps to generalize her chosen phrase of “I am a good driver, we are safe now.” When the statement “I am a good driver, we are safe now” felt completely true on an emotional level, I directed her to do a body scan and notice any areas she was holding tension in her body.
We revisited the memory of the car accident in our next session, it was a zero on the subjective units of distress scale. In the time between sessions, Louise reported feeling calm while driving her car. We then did a future template exercise where Louise visualized herself being able to respond appropriately to a hypothetical future fender bender. With very few sessions, Louise was able to regain control and minimize her anxiety while driving.
What I love about EMDR therapy is watching my clients create measurable goals for themselves, identify specific traumatic memories, and de-sensitize them to improve their quality of life in the future. I am so thankful Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans provided the grant that allowed me to pursue the EMDR credentialing process. Thanks also to my whole team at JFS who supported my professional growth to better serve our clients. I hope more clients like Louise can find relief through EMDR.
*Louise is a pseudonym to protect this client’s privacy.
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