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Struggling with how honest to be with EMDR practitioner

sidptitala

Confident
Hi to all,

I have recently started doing emdr for events I experienced in war. I have so far met the practitioner three times- twice for assessment and once for the first session about a 'small t' trauma to practice. The session on the 'small t trauma' knocked me out for several days last week, and i wasn't able to work the day afterwards or able to feed myself, walk around etc.

I have a history of complex trauma that stems from sexual abuse as a child, and continued physical abuse as an adult from the same person. This is not what emdr is addressing for me, although I did include it in a timeline I made with the practitioner during the second assessment session. The practitioner was enthusiastic about addressing it because it seemed perhaps the root of some things, but I have been very adamant about focusing on the war stuff only. This is because I struggle to articulate what happened to a man I don't know very well, i still feel a lot of shame about the fact that it happened and i only half remember the sexual aspects of it also.

On a daily and weekly basis, I am more bothered by my personal trauma and less by the wartime one. But I have to address the wartime one in my academic work sooner, and it is primarily that which prevents me from sleeping. Also, because I was a competent professional when it happened and it isn't deeply personal, healing it now seems an awful lot more possible to me.

I have access to emdr at the minute and also another counsellor (who I have been talking with more about my general life crisis, and personal history). Splitting them up like this seems to be working well at lessening the type of crisis I've been in. But I have been in crisis, and am not fully out of it. Having experienced sexual abuse is something i'm alternating between being in denial of and suicidal about, i might be going through a relationship breakup and if emdr impacts my ability to work i might lose my job and the roof over my head.

The emdr practitioner encouraged me to email him between sessions and I'm guessing I could possibly email him about this. I'm worried that if I'm too honest about where my life is at I risk him saying I am not suitable for emdr- but I am desparate for any help I can get so am reluctant to lose this. I suppose I will email him anyway and see what he says.

I'm curious to hear from anyone here who has experienced emdr- did you find it this terrifying? Were you able to hold back things you didn't feel comfortable sharing, or was doing that counterproductive? And how did you manage the hangover-like effect?
 
The emdr practitioner encouraged me to email him between sessions and I'm guessing I could possibly email him about this.
Sounds like a good idea.

I'm worried that if I'm too honest about where my life is at I risk him saying I am not suitable for emdr-
You wouldn’t be unsuitable for EMDR, although they might be unsuitable as a therapist (if they haven’t had the advanced training that would make EMDR safe, instead of suicidal, for you).

Which? Would be a VERY good thing to know.

It’s not often than minefields are signed.

If they haven’t had the advanced training? That’s a whole series of signs -in a language you speak- wrapped in razor wire. And fenced.

I’ve actually walked across a minefield, before. A real one. (TBH I was being chased, so it was flip a coin and die, or definitely die.) So I DO get the desperation that drives someone, to do so. Real, or figuratively.

IF they haven’t had the advanced training for complex trauma & EMDR??? Do. Not. Do. It. Skirt the field, no matter how much “extra” time it takes… and get someone who has.
 
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thank you for your reply to this. i really weighed it up.

in the end, i talked to the practitioner about the long recovery time. his response didn't fill me with a whole lot of confidence (basically he said, 'i don't want to use the word excuse but don't use emdr as an excuse for not doing things'). i clarified i was talking about physical exhaustion mostly, as in- can't lift hands, make a cup of coffee, walk downstairs sort of stuff (ie i have not generally been avoiding life by thinking myself out of it, and being actually exhausted and able to be still like this is something i haven't felt in a long time). he also said that i had very little to lose by doing emdr, which im not sure is true. we don't know each other particularly well, there's minimal other talk than diving right into the process of emdr. so im not sure he has enough information about me to tell me this.

after we had this discussion, we then did the first emdr session about a 'bigger' trauma. i went into it guarded, and felt very resistant somehow about actually having any feelings- not letting my mind wander away was hard for me. this is different from last time when i engaged more easily in the session. i feel different about it afterwards also- i had maybe 25% of the reaction and 25% of the intensity of relief of the time i was more into it. this reassured me that if i don't feel confident with sharing something, i have enough control of myself even in that state to hold it back. but also showed me it may not be as effective as a treatment if i do that.

I’ve actually walked across a minefield, before. A real one. (TBH I was being chased, so it was flip a coin and die, or definitely die.) So I DO get the desperation that drives someone, to do so. Real, or figuratively.

thank you for this metaphor. this is exactly how i feel about it- flip a coin and die or die anyway. weirdly i have been through a similar scenario and it's one of the things i can't seem to learn, on a reptilian level, has ended.

i have to try and use the tools i have available to get out of this place that will kill me for sure. for all the collapse emdr about the 'small t trauma' caused me last week, it has helped a lot since. i am going to keep going and try and open up slowly, and try to trust that if there's anything i don't think is safe to engage with that comes up in the session, i will be able to push it away.
 
I've been doing the whole emdr thing for way longer than I ever thought I would and ya, it's a bitch. I agree with @Friday - your emdr t needs to be skilled in complex trauma, and needs to be very careful about explaining what is happening and what you can expect.

but I have been very adamant about focusing on the war stuff only.
ya.....so. bout this. I said the same thing - I'm only going to work on A and B, never C and D.

The problem is that emdr doesn't always work that way. Your brain will go wherever it wants to go, and sometimes that can be problematic. Dont get me wrong - you still have control and can stop the process if it gets to be too much.

But sometimes it opens doors you don't think you are ready for. Which is when my t inevitably says "yes, you are ready - that's why the door opened" 🥴
That took a long time to believe, but she was right. Do I think that will happen for you today? Nope. Just tossing it out there so you know that if it does happen so it won't come as big of a shock.

For me EMDR is often exhausting and physically painful and some sessions will knock me on my ass for a good 24 hours afterwards

So that's the bad news

The good news is that when it works it is AMAZING. Those memories that are wrecking your life and your soul become simply things in your past that were once a problem but are now just things you can look back on and say "ya, that sucked."

It changes everything and makes it worth the ride. That 25% improvement you are already seeing? That's just the beginning. And ya, it can be messy and painful and sometimes downright nightmare inducing. But it's totally worth it.
 
I've been doing the whole emdr thing for way longer than I ever thought I would
do you mind me asking how long you've been doing emdr for?

The good news is that when it works it is AMAZING. Those memories that are wrecking your life and your soul become simply things in your past that were once a problem but are now just things you can look back on and say "ya, that sucked."
i think it's already kind of helping with this, which is INSANE to me. i haven't slept in 4 years about this stuff and have somehow never been able to think about it in detail either- then all of a sudden in emdr i seem to recall crazy amounts of detail about everything- and also how i felt about it, which i barely experienced at the time.

your emdr t needs to be skilled in complex trauma, and needs to be very careful about explaining what is happening and what you can expect.
i know it's stupid of me to not heed the warning from both of you- but i am a little too desperate to care. what i am most terrified of is new sexual abuse memories popping out (they might, because some of the war stuff brought them up in the first place and there are things like, i remember being dragged towards a bed and then nothing, blackness). im terrified of knowing that blackness. but then another part of me actually wants to know in order to finally be free of it.
 
do you mind me asking how long you've been doing emdr for?
almost six years Ya - not a typo. LOL

EMDR is usually expected to take 8 to 12 sessions, and then everything is processed and over. Easy Peasy
One reason I was willing to do it in the first place was that I had a 911 call that went south and I wasn't coping with it well. My agency sent me to an emdr specialist who did the finger wavy thing and POOOF! The call was just - gone. Now when I think of it it's just a sad memory instead of something that makes me want to throw up.

So ya - one session and done.
And that's usually how it works.

But when you have complex trauma that's all tangled you have to think in terms of 8 to 12 sessions per trauma. Which is why I'm still bang bang banging at it years later. That's why a trauma therapist is important - because they understand that it's not always as simple as "make this one bad memory go away".

Has you t given you the safe space exercise yet? It's where they use emdr to cement a place you can retreat to when things get overwhelming.
im terrified of knowing that blackness. but then another part of me actually wants to know in order to finally be free of it.
yep.
I had NO idea how much trauma I had (which is also why I'm still doing emdr ☺️) when I started therapy. I thought I was there for trauma A and B - but what came out was much worse. So you are already ahead of me by knowing that you have a blackness that needs to be addressed!

My t constantly repeated "your mind is wise - you are uncovering these things because your mind knows you are ready." So if you have a part now that is poking at you to look it means you are ready.

When I actually allowed myself to walk into the darkness I always came out the other side. It was ugly and painful and messy, but once I was thru it was just.... over. Kinda like ......

i think it's already kind of helping with this, which is INSANE to me. i haven't slept in 4 years about this stuff and have somehow never been able to think about it in detail either- then all of a sudden in emdr i seem to recall crazy amounts of detail about everything- and also how i felt about it, which i barely experienced at the time.
Yep - the only reason I've stuck with it all these years is because yes. It works. And it can work amazingly fast. Some of my traumas were processed in just one or two sessions, then we could move to the next.

Have you read the book The Body Keeps the Score ? It's kind of my trauma bible. It's not an easy read, but it's been super helpful along the way.
 
But when you have complex trauma that's all tangled you have to think in terms of 8 to 12 sessions per trauma. Which is why I'm still bang bang banging at it years later. That's why a trauma therapist is important - because they understand that it's not always as simple as "make this one bad memory go away".
I'm gonna throw in here because my T liked my picture for what happens with complex trauma therapy.

Don't know of you have ever seen one but its like a beaver dam. Its a tangled mess of branches, twigs mud trees and everything else that got tangles into it. Taking it part is pulling out that next piece on the top and dealing with it. A part, a piece something small, or a branch - still attached to a tree you can't see.

That's the complex part, figuring out what needs to be worked on next to keep moving forward.

And for you - when you are ready for the next step. My T mentioned yesterday that most of her patients that get into trouble just keep pushing forward and pushing. Learn to stop and take a break while you are reprocessing memories and adding to it will put you in a bad place.

EMDR is fabulous and works very well - you just need to make it a partnership with your T where you are the one saying "I'm ready for more" and not just blindly following and getting overloaded to where bad things happen.......
 
My T mentioned yesterday that most of her patients that get into trouble just keep pushing forward and pushing. Learn to stop and take a break while you are reprocessing memories and adding to it will put you in a bad place.
yep. I'm the poster child for destructive pushing - and it actually slowed my progress for a long time. I just wanted to get thru it and be done - but it doesn't work that way. Took me a loooonnngg time to get that into my thick head
 
I’ve been going through EMDR for a few weeks now and so far have had positive results. It took approx 5-6 sessions of just talking to get to the EMDR stage. I do some research of my own and try to think of imaginative ways of processing things in between sessions which I have found to be very helpful. One example is that I was bullied as a kid (I’m now in my 60s and have not lived in that area since I was 12) and I revisited via google earth the place where I was often bullied. I realised those ‘kids’ were no longer waiting to get me. Like me, they no longer existed there and could no longer harm me physically or mentally. I happened to notice on a street post there was now a bin. I mentally gathered and conjured all that negative and hurtful stuff and kept hurling into the bin until there was nothing left inside of me. I then imagined the bin being emptied and all that emotional stuff being carted off to the tip and gone for good. This has greatly helped with my hyper vigilance. Gradually I’m feeling more able to face and more importantly embrace the ‘tougher’ issues. At times I’ve felt extremely vulnerable and I gather strength from knowing I‘ve now got the confidence to address the PTSD side of things. I now realise I’m worth it and deserve better for myself. I’m now at a crucial and emotional stage and feel I’m in a really safe pair of hands with my therapist.
 
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