BY CELESTE DECAMPS
Do you remember playing “Connect the Dots” when you were younger? You would get a picture that was all dots with numbers. As soon as you connected the dots by drawing a line to the corresponding number than an image would appear. Suddenly, the picture made sense. That’s what it feels like when you can connect your past memories to present day anxieties or phobias. It’s finally understanding why certain situations can cause you to overreact emotionally. It explains our fear of abandonment, not being worthy of love, constantly seeking approval from others, and a host of negative feelings. Connecting the dots is what it feels like when you do EMDR Therapy.
EMDR was discovered and developed by Dr.Francine Shapiro Ph.D.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can, in fact, heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.
In her book, “Getting Past Your Past,” Dr. Shapiro explains how unprocessed memories can cause unresolved issues in our present-day life. She has worked with patients battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those with unexplained phobias that keep them from leading happy and successful lives. Using a series of eye movements or taps on the knee, the therapist guides the patients to visualize the negative belief they are holding onto about themselves. The patients just take notice of what pictures come up for them. Eventually, images appear, and little by little, they start to move to the front of the mind’s eye. Thoughts and memories begin to make sense. In one experiment, Dr. Shapiro asks the reader to remember a time in school that left a bad memory. Immediately, I remembered an incident when I was in the 3rd grade. The night before school, one of my dogs got hold of my textbook. By the time I realized it, he had chewed up half of the cover. I brought the book to the class and showed my teacher, Mrs. Tobias. She took the book and began screaming at me. We were standing in the middle of the room and the whole class watched in disbelief. I still remember the humiliation. I also remember how crazy I thought she was, and how she should not have been a teacher. It was an event that made me realize how much I disliked the misuse of power by authority figures.
Personal stories that are recounted in “Getting Past Your Past,” show how strong the power of the mind is in keeping the past ever present. Each of these patients experiences are varied and the one common denominator is how understanding old memories affect our present perception. Once these unprocessed memories are brought up and looked at, they can be processed accordingly. For example, a memory that happened at 5 years old, can now be looked at through adult eyes. Each patients’ story results in a clearer understanding of their present situation. The critical beliefs that they held about themselves melt away. A better understanding of the memory changes their attitude for the better. You may not have suffered a traumatic event, but if you are dealing with unexplained anxiety, fear or anger, it might help to try this type of therapy. Dr. Shapiro’s book gives a detailed guide on how to proceed to unlock your memories. She also suggests that if you feel you need the help of someone trained in EMDR, to check the last chapter for references. There are now thousands of clinicians worldwide that are available. The American Psychiatric Association and the US Department of Defense have recognized EMDR as an effective treatment for trauma.
The wonderful part about this kind of healing of the mind is that no medication is used. Past events in our lives are better understood and how they play a role in our perceptions today. We all have different experiences in our life, but how we react to them may very well be controlled by our younger, more vulnerable selves. The idea that our memories fade as we get older, is simply not true to our subconscious minds. I think we can all learn by revisiting the past and putting it into a more gentle perspective. In my case, not only do I feel I understand myself better, but I also feel a heightened sense of empathy for others.