Self

The Secret Healing Technique Most Therapists Won’t Tell You About

Photo: Fotema / Shutterstock
woman looking at therapist's fingers during emdr

As a former licensed therapist and a former therapy client, I have to admit that I found myself reluctant to return to the therapeutic process. In truth, I loved the experience, and it made a huge impact on my life.

Yet, having to return to therapy so many years later felt a little like admitting defeat. I had learned coping skills. I had all the professional and personal training to handle the challenges in my life. So, why wasn’t I able to handle them?

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It became obvious that I needed professional help. I was having regular suicide ideation, heightened anxiety, and recurrent depression. But what tipped the scales between powering through it and going to therapy was losing someone I loved.

He didn’t die. He just decided that he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. Even though I kept the friendship for a while, the loss was devastating — perhaps even more so when I was trying to be his friend while wanting to be so much more.

While he was kind about it the breakup, the sense of rejection was overwhelming. I couldn’t understand how I could keep loving people who did not love me. It brought to the surface every past trauma, and I knew that therapy wasn’t something I could avoid any longer.

While I’m not grateful for the heartbreak that got me there, I am grateful that it was the push I needed. I ended up with a therapist who shared with me the secret healing technique most therapists don’t mention — either because they don’t know about it or aren’t trained to do it themselves.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique that was developed in the 1980s. It is used primarily to treat trauma. Here’s what studies have shown about the effectiveness of this treatment:

  • In only three 90-minute sessions, 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer qualify for a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.
  • All single-trauma victims in one study were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions.
  • For multiple trauma victims, 77% were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after six 50-minute sessions.
  • It has been found to reduce combat 77% of PTSD in combat veterans in 12 sessions.
  • It is recognized as an effective therapeutic treatment by the World Health Organization, the Department of Defense, and the American Psychiatric Association.

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While talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are often effective, studies show that EMDR works faster and lasts longer than traditional treatment modalities. Yet, no one seems to be talking about it. I was a therapist, and I never heard it mentioned. I was a therapy client earlier in my life and never knew it existed.

EMDR is a process where clients revisit and reprocess traumatic memories. To be completely honest, I didn’t enjoy this part of the treatment, but I needed it. I spent 45 minutes of each hour session crying my eyes out as the past became very present indeed. I was able to remove emotional blocks that were preventing me from healing.

What I found interesting about this process is that it worked like building blocks. When the foundational block was removed, the rest came tumbling down. In short, some of the triggers that I used to experience were alleviated simply by addressing early trauma. After four months, I was able to reduce therapy visits to every other month and then moved to an as-needed basis. I can only imagine how many visits I would have needed in traditional therapy to achieve the same results.

I know that having built strong coping skills earlier made me a good candidate for EMDR, but I sometimes wonder why more therapists aren’t referring clients out to qualified EMDR therapists to process their trauma. While I don’t believe that it’s the only effective treatment, I do think it is one of the most powerful.

Three reasons why EMDR is the best-kept secret in therapy

1. Fear of the Unknown

First of all, the name of the therapy may seem strange to anyone who hasn’t been through the process. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a mouthful, and it may even seem like it will be a strange process. Yet, my sessions looked much like any other with the exception of the fact that I held sensors in my hands that gave me something external to focus on during the sessions.

Even therapists can feel uncertain about referring clients to another therapist. Many either don’t know about EMDR, feel skeptical about its effectiveness, or believe their technique is equally effective. While I valued my previous experience with a cognitive behavioral therapist, I also needed direct trauma therapy.

The short-term nature of EMDR can mean that it could be used in conjunction with standard treatment modalities. In other words, clients don’t have to give up the therapists they’ve bonded with in order to treat their trauma, and therapists don’t have to lose their clients simply to provide a referral for a specific therapeutic issue.

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2. Normalized Trauma

Another issue is that we sometimes normalize our experiences of trauma. We brush off tough and even abusive childhoods. We invalidate the trauma of loss in all its forms — the loss of beloved pets, the loss of lovers, and all the other losses up to and including death we experience in our lifetimes. We downplay the things that happen to us or simply find other ways to cope. If we don’t acknowledge what we’ve experienced as trauma, we might not recognize that we need trauma therapy.

While not every tough experience qualifies as trauma, it’s important to ask ourselves if we have old memories that still create visceral experiences. Is there a story we can’t tell without crying or having another strong, physical reaction? We may be experiencing an unhealed trauma.

3. Accessibility Issues

There may be a third issue preventing EMDR from being more popular: lack of accessibility. I have insurance through my workplace, but it doesn’t cover therapy. EMDR sessions can range from $100–250 per session. While it’s considered one of the most cost-effective therapeutic options, it can still feel inaccessible to someone who has to pay for it directly rather than bill an insurance company for their treatment.

Because it doesn’t require as many sessions, it could still be a more affordable option than traditional therapies, but it’s important to understand that affordability is relative. It’s important to consider socioeconomic and even cultural factors when it comes to accessibility of care. As we work to reduce stigmas surrounding mental health, we may increase access for all.

EMDR has been life-changing for me. Yet, it’s still relatively unknown in the mental health community. Research continues to demonstrate its effectiveness, and every single person I know who has tried it shares similarly powerful results. While it is used primarily for trauma, it could be as effective in dealing with stress, depression, and other mental health factors.

It’s not a failure to reach out for help. We don’t have to live under the shadow of our traumas. There’s help and hope available.

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Crystal Jackson is a former family therapist who writes across genres to encompass blog posts, poetry, short stories, children's books, and literary fiction. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.