by Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464
It’s not for everybody, and everyone isn’t necessarily ready for it when they walk in the door.
The following article is written from my experience as a psychotherapist who has been providing EMDR since 2014. If you’re reading this and you’re a fellow clinician, you’ll be happy to hear that my training was EMDRIA approved. I’ve been trained in the standard protocol and also in the Interpersonal protocol invented by Roy Kiessling.
If you’re not a therapy-nerd, then all of that was just my way of tooting my horn and letting other therapists know I’m legit – there are some wonky EMDR trainings out there that give this modality a bad name when those therapists start trying to use what they were taught. The EMDRIA part of that paragraph is the most important part.
But I digress… Why is it not for everyone and why are people not necessarily ready for it right away?
Because most people have had these memories locked away for a really long time. On their good days it’s not a good time to experience those painful memories- it’s a good day, after all. On their bad days it’s not a good time to experience those hurtful memories – we dont’ need one more thing to pile on an already hard day. So we keep those memories locked away with the key at the bottom of a deep, deep well.
So when we go trying to open those memories up it’s tough. We get blanks. We can’t access the feelings, beliefs about ourselves, or body sensations. Then we tell ourselves it’s not working or that we’re especially broken, and we give up. Other times, they might come rushing and racing out of our mind as we re-experience those events all over again. Neither of those options is ideal for someone’s healing and it usually ends with the person not coming back to therapy and feeling permanently damaged (which is false, but they don’t realize because they don’t come back).
When we start the process to begin EMDR the therapist usually spends a few sessions getting to know you. What is going on in your life right now, what are you coping styles, what are the relationships like around you, who is your support system? They ask you questions about what your current levels of coping, thinking, and zoning out are so they can create a baseline for later to see if you’re improving and healing so that coping isn’t happening as often, or if it’s increased which means you’re in more emotional pain than usual. They create a plan called a Target Sequence Plan and list your positive beliefs about yourself to help use these as resources later if that storm of thoughts comes up (we don’t know how our client is going to respond, so we prepare ourselves and you for either situation).
Last, we start teaching you what we call “Resourcing.” These are usually guided imagery exercises to help you have a tool to help reduce any emotional distress or to corral any racing thoughts down the line. We want you to be at work or with your family and if you feel more sensitive than usual, then you can re-regulate yourself and not get hijacked by a memory (which is what can happen when we start digging into our memories, even without EMDR). We want you to be able to continue living your best life as much as possible.
Then we start the trauma processing using EMDR.
Do you see how this can be 6-8 sessions before you ever start doing that thing you came to therapy for? We care so deeply about your emotional well-being while you heal your wounds that we’d rather go slow than scare you into quitting because all those emotions were too much for you and we jumped in before actually knowing you.
If you’ve tried EMDR in the past and you think, “this just isn’t for me” you might be right. No modality is right for everyone. We therapists who do EMDR have seen so, so many people heal such deep pain from it that we can have a tendency to get over zealous and offer it all the time. That’s genuinely coming from a good place. But before you tell your therapist no, I want you to think about that last time you did it – did that therapist take a ton of time preparing you for it? If they didn’t, it could be that it wasn’t the EMDR that didn’t help, it could be that therapist’s technique. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, take some time to ask this current therapist what their process is for preparing you for EMDR.
I always, always start someone with a topic that is not related to what they came in for healing from. This way their brain gets a chance to experience what EMDR is like without also trying to protect itself from its worst experience. On a scale of 0-10 I ask them to choose something that’s a 3. During EMDR that 3 will go to a 5 and then it will likely start going back down to a 0-1. The person’s brain sees what it’s like to feel a little worse, and then to experience relief. Then, when we start doing EMDR on the traumatic stuff my client can “trust the process.” (that’s the buzz phrase for EMDR therapists: trust the process. It helps new therapists get confidence).
Jessica Wilkerson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Chico, California. She also owns Inspired Life Counseling while also working as a therapist and clinical supervisor in the business. Jessica got her own EMDR for an auto accident and a few sad things in her childhood while she was in grad school and was so taken aback by her healing that she knew when she was a “real therapist” she would pursue being able to provide the same relief to her clients.
And she did. She follows through on most of her goals, and if she can’t do it within the bounds of her existing circumstances, she creates new circumstances. Jessica uses this tenacity and business acumen to also connect with many clients who are also entrepreneurs. There’s a level of stress that feels traumatic even when it’s not actual trauma, and her talk therapy skills along with EMDR help many other business owners find peace within the storm. If you would like to learn more about Jessica click the button for her bio. If you’d like to see her rates and schedule with her, then there’s a button for that, too.