The first 3 phases of EMDR therapy are planning, preparation and assessment. This can be in the form of a general discussion, timeline of events and dissociation questionnaire, where I was asked to explain my answers; with certain feelings and thoughts, including any physical reactions. The first of my sessions took place at my local hospital, however: due to the lock down situation I had to switch to phone calls and video links. – All sessions under normal circumstances would usually be in a private room face to face.
The therapist will explain the whole process to you, and ensure you feel trusted, safe and comfortable at all times. The first sessions can feel tough at first, and you may feel like nothings happening, possibly more anxious even; But remember to be patient! We can’t recover overnight, and its extremely important the therapist knows exactly what position you are, in order to give the therapy in the most effective way. So don’t feel like you’re not being listened to, or that they’re wasting time… However if you are concerned, you have every right to speak up and ask them whats on your mind.
Preparing for the reliving phase is tough as it requires a lot of focus and work outside of therapy in your own time. This is necessary for the most effective results. It includes many breating and grounding techniques to put into practice in day to day situations. A few I have listed below for you to try out yourself!
Once all the planning is complete, and you are both comfortable to move onto the next stage, you will go through the whole process and what to expect so you’re not shocked or unprepared. Now, here’s where all the information and coping strategies you’ve learnt so far will come into play, so its necessary to take notice during these sessions, as the more you can grasp the earlier, the more effective and less traumatic treatment will be.
One of the first things my therapist used with me, was grounding mantras aimed to challenge my thoughts and reduce anxiety/rumination. As i suffer mainly with panic attacks and flashbacks, my main mantras are – ‘I am safe’ ‘I am not under threat’ ‘I am not in danger’. Repeating these words to myself over and over when i’m in a state, give me something to focus on, and with the words spoken, your body eventually tricks your mind into believing it. In turn, our heart rates will decrease and we will return to a normal functioning state, with less anxiety. It may seem cliche, but once it clicks, these little words that take no more than a minute to speak, can change your mood and perspectives on life instantly.
2 – Visualisation
Another strategy i can use when i’m anxious, or beginning to feel like i’m back in a certain place, is visualisation. My therapist, asked me questions about a ‘safe space’ where i feel calm, protected and at peace. The image of this place, is described in detail using all senses; the therapist will repeat this to you with you in a comfortable position. Hopefully, you should begin to feel relaxed and at ease. Once learnt, you will decide on a prompt that will immediately take you to that place, maybe one of the descriptions is a good one to use. This can be used whenever we begin ruminating, or having flashbacks to our traumas. We’re forcing our mind to take us somewhere peaceful, where in turn our body will also respond and relax, reducing the physical symptoms.
3 – Realistic Alternative Views.
This last strategy i’m going to talk about, revolves more around our belief systems, and how external circumstances have moulded how we perceive yourself. For example, we may believe that we’re not the best looking, or jump straight to the deep end with ‘I’m not attractive and no one could ever love me’. Now to some of you, this might seem way over the top, but i resonate with this completely, and it hurts so much to feel such a way about yourself. RAV (Realist alternative views) can help us re-arrange this, and focus on the positives rather than the negatives… Using this example, we would begin to think about a time where we felt the total opposite – Amazing about ourselves and loved completely. Perhaps a day like your wedding, or a certain time when you felt utterly safe and loved unconditionally, with a family member or a partner/friends? Once we have our positive memory, we really need to concentrate on the feelings surrounding that memory, how it made us feel and how our body language may be. Now, you know this belief is true, because you felt it. You experienced it! So, it is possible to change your beliefs. You just have to truly believe and actively look for it, because believe me, they’re all over. We just chose to look away.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” Glenn Close
Follow my blog for the next post in this session. – The reliving phase.