Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries shares her experiences of a fairly ground breaking therapy.
I got to a point where I would shake when my twelve year old son got angry. I utterly feared the possible outcome. Mass sort of hysterical thoughts, of the worst possible situations we had already experienced, and more, would flood my mind.
I explained this to our social worker and later to the therapist assigned to work with us. The therapist suggested a course of EMDR, Eye movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Therapy.
So what is this and what does it involve.
Firstly I think it’s important to identify what was actually happening to me. Often in adoption the transfer of a trauma from a child to a parent, or main care giver, is called secondary trauma and this is what I was suffering from.
This is when the parent/care giver is exposed to constant behaviour which is angry, aggressive, impulsive, defiant and disruptive. As a result of this, the parent/care giver can feel over whelmed and unable to cope with the prospects of living through these repeatedly traumatic incidents.
The therapy involves working in detail with a particularly traumatic event. I was asked to describe in detail what had happened and verbalise my emotions and thoughts related to this event.
For me there was a very difficult night at the end of our last summer holiday when my son really lost it. I could see how it happened but what followed seemed inconceivable to me. The things he did and said were exceptionally painful. I knew I had never fully recovered from it.
I found it very difficult to relive and talk about how it had made me feel, it was like revealing my inner most awful self to someone. However, having been through numerous types of therapy, in the past, I was able to be open and honest. This is very important for this therapy to work; you have to be able to say exactly what it is in your mind at the moment you are thinking it. You can’t feel inhibited or awkward about these thought or the process will not work.
The therapist took a very detailed report of the event and asked me to pinpoint a specific image which was the worst moment of the incident. Whilst visualising this image I had to recall what my thoughts were about myself and my son. Bitter honesty is required.
I’d like to say that was the difficult bit out of the way but it’s not. Our next session we started the actual EMDR.
Whilst sitting across from each other the therapist holds up two fingers and moves them from side to side, almost as if she may be trying to hypnotise you. I watched the fingers and moved my eyes from right, left, right, left, following the fingers. I was able to do this; there are other methods (one is, the therapist taping your left and right knees alternately) which can be used if following the fingers is difficult for the patient.
Once the method to be used is established, the therapist asks you to recall the moment you have specified as the worst moment. When you are reliving the moment she takes up the method you’ve agreed. You keep with the memory whilst watching the fingers go back and forth. The therapist asks you to stay with the memory whilst she repeatedly moves her fingers back and forth. This process is repeated many times.
Initially this intensified the event for me, and I was flooded with fear and anxiety whilst I sobbed. After watching the fingers for what seemed an eternity but I’m sure was less than a minute, the therapist stops moving her fingers and asks “how do you feel?” She then records your reply. So initially my response was “I can’t believe it happened to us” or “why didn’t he stop.”
We continued this process for almost an hour, with brief breaks, in which the process took me through many aspects of the event, recalling the lead up to the event and the aftermath. I also went through my own range of emotions around the event and how it had impacted on all of the family.
By the end the crying had stopped and I felt a lot calmer when being repeatedly asked to recall that single image, in fact the image was starting to fade.
In our second session, we returned to the image again and continued to explore different aspects of it whilst I watched the fingers go back and forth. By the end of this session, I was thinking about how, as a family, we might be able to enjoy a family holiday together this year and the recalled vision, whilst I could still see it, had no huge emotional connotations for me.
We have encountered a couple of mid level outbursts from my son since the therapy and whilst there is a level of anxiety, it is appropriate to the situation. Also I have definitely felt more able to cope and been calmer in dealing with the incidents. So for me this therapy has definitely been really successful.
The science of how this works is not something I can explain but if you want to read more please follow the links below.