In this video, I’m going to tell you why I avoided EMDR for years, and why I decided to try it and to get trained in it, and what happened for me in just three short EMDR sessions. You’ll also want to stay tuned until the end of the video, because I’m going to you, my recommendations about who I think EMDR would work for and who maybe should stay away. Hey, I’m Tamara Ridge, the therapist that’s been there. I survived childhood trauma and healed it. I also healed the patterns of terrible relationships that followed in my life for 30 years. Those relationship patterns that were there, because my blueprint for connecting with other people matched my childhood history of not getting my needs met and my trauma habits of giving myself way to try to keep myself safe. I’m here to educate you about all of the aspects of healing childhood trauma, so that you can live a happy, healthy life.
Let’s talk about EMDR. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and it was discovered, and then developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro. By the year 2000, it was designated as an effective treatment for PTSD by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. But hear me out for a second, I started making serious discoveries about the impact of my childhood trauma in 1989. And I was pretty disappointed during my journey because therapists that I met didn’t really know what to do with complex PTSD, so I was pretty much on my own. I developed strategies that later became my process that I call the TraumaERASE Method. But here’s the thing, I got my marriage and family therapist license in 2001, the year after EMDR hit the scene as the next big thing and there was a lot of skepticism about it. You can even Google today and find that it’s still called a pseudo science and there are still articles that will pop up in Google that are fairly recent when you type in EMDR and controversy.
So to me, the idea that something that I’d worked so hard to heal in myself could be replaced by something that miraculously seemed to heal trauma faster and without talking about it, to me, that seemed completely ridiculous. So here I am, 20 years later eating crow. I’ve been helping people heal themselves in my private practice and through my TraumaERASE Method Academy and I found that there were some situations where talking just didn’t cut it. Yeah. I can teach you how to eliminate your triggers and I can help you understand how to your emotions, but some things just hang out in the body and refuse to respond to thinking it through or to the best top down strategies. So I would find myself helping people make great progress in their healing, but where actual threats continued in their life, the client would shut down because that trauma brain needed to be on board just to make sure that they’re still safe.
So for those clients, I found myself routinely referring to colleagues that did EMDR and the results were amazing. My clients took what I gave them as the foundation, when they were able to understand how to keep themselves safe and grounded well enough, so that the bottom up work finally eliminated trauma from the body could happen. And when we can eliminate the body’s response to the trauma, that automatic reaction that happens outside of our conscious awareness, then everything changes. It gives us the ability to see things that were previously acting on us outside of our power to recognize that it was even happening. So finally, I’d seen enough that I decided that it was time to stop referring clients out and learn to do EMDR myself.
So now that I’ve made my confession, that I know what’s going on behind the Wizard of Oz curtain, let me share my EMDR experience with you, with me as the client, I’ve participated that way three times. The first time was in 2009, I’d gone to visit my mentor that I first went into private practice with in 1997, after I finished graduate school and with a twinkle in her eye, she said, “I just learned EMDR, wanna try it?” I said, “Sure.” So we processed a recurring nightmare that I had since childhood, it was this huge Godzilla sized shadow. There was actually like a grizzly bear in my dream, just looming there and it was actually pretty terrifying for me. I realized during that reprocessing that the shadow was mother in my dreams. And my mentor helped me to take that dream and make it stop permanently.
On top of that, it also took away my awake fear of my mom enough, that I could see ongoing abusive relationship patterns with her and it gave me the confidence to stop participating in those patterns and it was actually easy, quite natural. But making the nightmares stop and losing my fear of my mother still weren’t enough to get me to pursue EMDR. I still thought it was a little strange and a little out there as a therapy strategy and I thought that the fact that it helped me was kind of a fluke. So fast forward to my recent training, part of the training included, participating in my own EMDR experience, so I had two sessions as the client.
In both sessions, I focused on the habit that I often notice in myself of not breathing, just holding my breath. There were two root experiences that were connected to this. The first was being run for by my dad in his flatbed truck when I was two, and the other was having been laughed at when I desperately needed nurturing, also beginning when I was 2-years-old. Both of these memories connected me to overwhelming feelings that I had as a small child of just wanting to belong and intense longing and desperation because that didn’t happen. Each reprocessing session took about 20 minutes and each one resulted in those memories, changing from this highly intense, overwhelming immersive kind of 3D movie into like postcard sized snapshots that didn’t have any emotions connected to them.
What’s more, I was able to replace the belief that I don’t belong, that started in childhood with the more accurate belief, that I am precious and valued. But here’s the best part, in the following days and ever since then, I sleep better, I don’t have any fear in my body, I’ve stopped fidgeting, I’ve stopped crying easily. I have a sense of connection with my partner that comes from inside of me, rather than being dependent on the attention that he gives or whatever he happens to be doing at the time. So I feel more secure, grounded, and connected in relationship. And it’s easier for me to chat with strangers and now I even catch myself breathing more often. I just feel happier and more grounded than I did before. So my conclusion, EMDR works and it works really well, but I do have some opinions about who it’s better for and who shouldn’t use it since I’ve been practicing it as an EMDR therapist.
So who is it good for? If you’ve done some great healing, but you still have some nagging trauma responses that you can’t seem to change because they seem rooted in your body, then EMDR may be great for you. I also think that it’s great if you’ve done some leg work already and you have some awareness that the triggers that come up and cause outer proportion responses really aren’t necessarily things that you trust as being real and true in the moment. I also think that it would work good for you. If you’ve done enough work to have good insights about how your childhood trauma is impacting you and your thought feelings and behaviors today. Finally, if you think your trauma is mostly healed, but you still get nagging trauma responses that pop-up now, and then EMDR may be the icing on the cake for your healing journey.
Lastly, if you’ve done a lot of work and you believe that you’ve healed, EMDR may be just what you need to finally become really comfortable in your body and in healthy relationships. Who do I think EMDR may not be the best for? Well, if you’re someone who’s learning to function while ignoring your pain, kind of putting it away and you don’t want to think about your pain, EMDR may not be the best thing for you because it will make keeping things put away too hard. Also, if you’re someone that’s just discovered that you have complex PTSD and you’re just beginning to feel and understand your emotions, then EMDR might be a little too overwhelming without the groundwork that you need for developing compassion for yourself and learning how to deal directly with your feelings.
I also think that EMDR may not be right for you, if you have lots of times when you kind of lose control of your feelings and you do and say things that really feel awful, but you can’t stop yourself. If this is you, I recommend that you do some other work with someone that you trust and feel safe with before you think about EMDR. If you’ve tried EMDR and you’ve healed with it, I’d love to hear your experiences.