Monday, 14 May 2018

What Does Therapy Look Like? My Experience Of EMDR Therapy

Have you ever wondered what going to therapy actually looks like?

I talk about going to therapy on my blog pretty often, it's not something I make a secret of, but I often wonder just how many people know what the task of going to therapy is really like. What the visual is, and what happens once you're there.

I know I used to wonder. If I'm honest I probably imagined something a bit like the stylish offices you see on shows like The Sopranos with the long couches and the bespectacled woman in her glamorous skirt suit making notes as you lay there, talking over your thoughts.

The reality, for me at least, was a little different.

Every Wednesday, for the past two years, I've taken myself off to a little office above the Tesco Metro in the town centre.

I often wonder as I go past the Tesco shoppers on my way up to that bland little office space, what would people think if they knew where I was going? Would they be surprised? Would they judge me somehow?

Not that I care...but I do wonder.

Inside that room on the third floor - with its spread of the usual waiting room magazines and it's one window with an uninspiring view over the town - I wait for my name to be called. There are usually a couple of other people sitting there, and we all try not to stare at each other or make it too obvious that we're wondering what each other is there to talk about.

There's no receptionist, you just go in and wait for your therapist to come and find you. Which ironically tends to make me feel anxious if I'm running late, which I usually am.

After a few moments, the therapist appears and leads you through to another bland little room. There are two bog standard office chairs, a desk which lays empty apart from a solitary laptop, and a smaller window with an equally uninspiring view.

There's usually a clock balancing on the radiator.

My therapist doesn't wear a Gucci skirt suit - she usually wears odd socks and long layered tie dye skirts with a massive oversized cardi that doesn't match, and she always looks rushed off her feet and exhausted. She usually forgets what we last spoke about and has to check her notes, but she's always pleasant and we usually kill the first two minutes or so talking about the weather or whatever was on TV last night.

And then, just like that, we dive right in and get down to business. And begin whichever form of therapy we're working on.

It's been two years since I was referred to them by my health visitor following the birth of my third son.

I was first referred because, after living with generalised anxiety disorder and panic attacks for most of my adult life, it was becoming difficult to manage and I was starting to show signs of developing agoraphobia. My social anxiety was also becoming much worse, as was my health anxiety. And fear was basically ruling my life.

I couldn't focus on anything, I was constantly terrified that something awful was going to happen - especially to my children.

I couldn't allow them to go anywhere without me, not even out in the car with their Dad. I was always terrified that they were going to choke on everything they ate, scared they were going to run out into the street and get hit by a car every time we were out anywhere, worried they were going to catch some terrible disease and die.

I was living in a constant state of fear and panic, and it was just exhausting. Mentally draining. And emotionally it was torture.

I have always had a very active imagination, and I felt as though I was living through these awful experiences day after day - because I was vividly picturing all of these dreadful things happening to the people I love the most.

I did around a year of CBT before my therapist decided that I also had PTSD which was causing a mental block and was stopping me from being able to fully complete the CBT and get the full benefits from it, so she referred me for EMDR.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing - and it's used in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. It helps the brain to reprocess traumatic memories and negative thought patterns, and reduces the physical reactions the body can have to them.

Each week, the therapist gives me a little device to hold in each hand - they buzz, one after the other, rhythmically and as I hold them, she guides me to bring to my mind certain images - images relating to my traumatic past experiences. She instructs me to think about all of the negative beliefs I hold about myself, too. And we do this over and over again.

And as crazy as it sounds, eventually - my mind seems to somehow start to make sense of the memories. And after a little while, my physical and emotional responses to them seem to decrease.

When I first started EMDR, my emotional and physical responses to certain memories were measuring at a 10 - and after, they measure at 0. I can talk about memories now that at one time had me in fits of tears. Now I can talk about them as if I was talking about the weather.

I can't believe how much of an effect it's had on the emotion I associated with these memories, and I can't begin to pretend that I understand how it works - I only know that it HAS.

Since starting the therapy, I've done things I never thought I'd ever be able to do.

I took a course to help me conquer my fear of flying - something that has plagued me and controlled my life for years - and now I can get on a plane again, something I couldn't do for over 10 years.

I'm able to socialise with people and hold my own in social situations without becoming a blubbering, hyperventilating shell which is something I never used to be able to do.

And I've found techniques that help to ease my panic and anxiety when they do come - because therapy isn't a complete cure. The bad moments still come, but they come much less frequently than before and they're so much easier to manage now.

Going to therapy is honestly the best decision I've ever made in my life.

It hasn't been an easy path, it's taken 2 years of weekly commitment and I'm sure I'll need to go back again at some point, but it's been so completely worth while.

If you suffer with anxiety or mental health problems, I'm not promising you that therapy sessions will cure you.

But I do think that is worth a good try. There's nothing worse than living with the torment that mental health problems bring. You deserve the chance to loosen their grip on you.

There's so little to lose and so very much to gain.

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