Today was my third EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) session in an attempt to fix the annoying PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which crept into my head just over a year ago - a delayed reaction to the trauma of getting my teenage son through anorexia. EMDR is supposed to be really effective against PTSD and - on the face of it - it's really weird, but it seems to be working. So what, in my extremely laywoman's terms, is EMDR and how is it supposed to work?
Basically, with PTSD, all the traumatic memories are thought to get trapped in the rear section of the brain - the primeval part which, if you like, assumes the threat is still present. So if you hear a sudden loud noise, for example, you're suddenly on Red Alert primed to face the worst.
This rather silly part of the brain can't get its head round the fact that the trauma is now over; instead it gets into a kind of stuck record position where it replays the trauma / emotions over and over again - hence things like recurring nightmares, extreme reactions to situations, noises, etc which may remind you of incidents you experienced while your child was at his or her anorexic worst.
By a seemingly crazy process of holding a pair of pulsating pieces of plastic, one in your left hand and one in your right hand, and re-living parts of the trauma in a guided way, it's supposed to 'process' these memories and transfer them to the front part of the brain which is sensible enough to know that the trauma is over.
If you get my (extremely laywoman's) drift.
By 're-living' the trauma, I don't mean that you have to take yourself to hell and back again. An example would be where the therapist says to me: "Okay, so sudden loud noises affect you badly, like when your husband's football team scores on the TV. You say this reminds you of the sudden noises your son would make before he'd 'go crazy' while he was sick. So you're instantly in a state of Red Alert and extreme anxiety, feeling sick, with thudding heart, etc. Pick a scene from your experiences where this sudden noise was the most distressing. Okay, you say it's sitting at the dinner table. Something's happened, something to do with the food. Your son is suddenly silent. You know there's about to be an outburst. Now, just stop your mind right there; put it on pause at that scene."
And then the therapist says: "What are you feeling?" I tell her. So she says: "Just feel it. Don't judge it, don't try to analyse it, don't try to force it or take it anywhere; just let whatever happens inside your head happen naturally." And at the same time I'm holding these plastic pulsating things... left... right... left... right... just letting the thoughts flow naturally.
Then, after a few moments, she'll ask me to stop and we'll explore where my feelings/emotions took me and how I feel now.
This is then repeated for lots of different memories / experiences that took place when my son's anorexia was at its worst.
After today's one-and-a-half-hour session I came away feeling as if the inside of my head had been to a kind of spa and cleansed. If felt quite good, actually.
No-one knows why EMDR works; it just does. Apparently.
The EMDR Association UK says: In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like 'ordinary' memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.
Watch this space to see if the therapy continues to be effective!