World Mental Health Day
October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Thought it would be timely to answer a very good friend’s inquiry regarding EMDR a.k.a. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I first learned about EMDR during my Nurse Fellowship in 2016 as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Salt Lake City Veteran Affairs. I was one of three Nurse Fellows who wished to further our practice. We each had different reasons for pursuing this program. For me, I wished to be a more competent and confident mental health provider and psychotropic medication prescriber.
Veteran Affairs is at the forefront of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) research. I would learn during my yearlong residency that Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) are the Gold Standard for PTSD treatment. I learned about EMDR during didactics with other residents and/or fellows in other programs such as Psychology, Neuropsychology and Diet/Nutrition. One of the Psychologists presented, and the reception was lackluster as it seemed like hypnotherapy since you followed the therapist’s finger movement or tapping your hands on your thighs alternately. The professionals and providers in that room were unimpressed because research was not as abundant as CPT or PE.
Dr. Francine Shapiro developed the EMDR methodology in 1990 and is now recognized for trauma-focused work. EMDR focuses on traumatic memories and through several sessions I would identify a few disturbing ones but the foremost would be when I felt abandoned. I am sharing this photo for context. I was five (5) years old when my mother left for the United States. My therapist had three (3) sensorial tools, which were all in one stand or tripod. She said that in the past she utilized her finger for eye movement but her arm would tire which made her lose focus on the task at hand, assisting her client in reprocessing. So when I sat on her chair, I had a light source I would follow with my eyes, I had headphones which would have a beeping sound that moved with the light; and held toggles in each of my hands that would vibrate to the direction of the light and sound. Movement would move from my leftmost and rightmost peripheral vision. So there were sight, sound and tactile movements during the desensitization and reprocessing of memories.
I never knew how “charged” that memory was until I sat on that chair and recalled the memory. Not only was I disturbed with the increased heart rate and the discomfort of being left behind, I was pretty aware of the pain. You are present with the pain, and your therapist helps you process the feelings and the negative thoughts associated with the memory. After a moundfull of tissues, she asked what I would like to say or express in that particular moment in time.
I look at this photo now and I am awash with love not resentment partly because of EMDR. There were other factors that contributed to my healing. I am eternally grateful that my folks were around last year with me when I was in the middle of my EMDR sessions because I was finally able to communicate how hurt I was. There were other memories that I processed and reprocessed and are no longer “charged.” And in my mother and father’s defense, I now know that they did their best in raising and providing for us as a family. My mom would say, “learn to forgive us.” I never knew what that meant until last year.
So this World Mental Health Day, take a chance at yourself. Center and meditate on your past. If there are charged memories, I daresay start taking your mental health seriously. Mental Health is Wealth.
For more scientific information and details regarding EMDR, please visit the EMDR Institute’s site https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
In Love and in Light,