The trauma therapist sat a few feet away from the middle-aged woman who had been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The middle-aged woman, whom we will call Cheryl, is a survivor of an abusive marriage. Cheryl used EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), an integrative psychotherapy approach, to jumpstart her recovery.
The therapist handed Cheryl two small discs connected to electrical wires that the therapist controlled. She held one disc in each hand and her therapist asked her to state her false belief. Cheryl answered, “I’m unlovable.” Then, the therapist asked her on a scale of one to 10 how she would rate this belief to be true. The woman answered: “It’s a 10...some days I believe it's a 12.”
The therapist asked her to think of a positive belief to replace her negative and false belief. Cheryl responded, “I guess it would have to be that I am lovable.”
Cheryl was told to close her eyes and repeat to herself the words, “I am lovable.” As Cheryl repeated the positive belief to herself (thinking it, not speaking it), the two discs began to vibrate in each hand. First her left hand holding the disc would feel a sensation, accompanied by a low humming sound, then her right. Sometimes Cheryl felt the sensations at the same time, but mostly she felt the discs vibrate back and forth, alternating, right-left or left-right.
She thought about the positive belief, felt the discs vibrate, and sat with her eyes closed as the therapist asked her to recall a time when she was made to feel unlovable. “Tell me what comes to mind. What do you see?” asked her therapist.
Cheryl began to see images. One, two, then a flood of memories came back to her. As each "memory snapshot" appeared, Cheryl described what she saw to her therapist.
According to the EMDR Institute:
"EMDR psychotherapy is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of pathologies. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health."
This session was in the early phase of Cheryl's EMDR treatment and here is only part of the dialogue taken from Cheryl's EMDR session (omitting questions the therapist asked and directions the therapist gave her to help her re-process the information.) :
“He’s in a rage. He's yelling at me because I spent too much for groceries. I was $10 over budget. He’s in my face screaming. He's calling me stupid. He wakes up my son. My son is yelling from his bedroom, 'Dad, quit bullying Mom,' but he doesn't stop. I just take it. I don't do anything to stop it. I don't want it to escalate.