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Women, EMDR and Healing Our Spirits

By: JoAnn B. Kurek, MSS, LISW
EMDR Institute Facilitator and Consultant

Initially I intended to introduce a series of articles about women's issues. A staunch advocate for women's self-actualization, I was undecided whether to write about the former or getting out the word about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). I have combined topics by addressing how women use EMDR to deal quickly with many life issues, find peace, become empowered, and achieve their dreams.

According to U.S. statistics, more than 60% of clients seeking counseling are women. These numbers speak to the way women live, thrive and heal. We talk to other women, our sisters and friends about our day, our lives, hopes and dreams. We vent, we cry, we laugh alone and with our sisters. We run corporations, climb phone poles, change diapers, and celebrate triumphs. We multi-task with grace and flair. We joke about how much better our country would be if a woman was President of the United States. Can you recall another time in history when women have the opportunity to reach their goals if they pursue them?

At times we seek counseling, an objective opinion, in search of a better sense of ourselves, our coping skills, or getting back on our feet. EMDR is an option some women have chosen. What is EMDR and how can EMDR help? If you have used EMDR successfully, you understand how powerful it is and how it has made life-changing experiences.

EMDR was developed by psychologist, Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., more than 25 years ago. Although it was conceived of during the '80's when a lot of pop-psychology was alive, EMDR withstood its fledgling criticisms. It has survived the pop-psych culture era and is now recognized as a therapy method for "overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma" (Shapiro & Forrest, 1997).

EMDR is an acronym for a method that is used in concert with traditional types of counseling. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is used for many types of problems and issues from trauma to performance enhancement. It is most recognized for the clinical data on trauma. For many, this accelerated processing information model reduces symptoms and the length of stay in counseling.

Unless the problem is organic or biochemical, everything we do or feel, every action we take is guided by previous life experiences. All of them are linked together in an associated memory network. We react naturally to our internal, associative reality. To allow us to make sense of our experiences, our perceptions of present events automatically link up to the past in the memory network and the stored negative emotions can flood through someone. (Think of tasting a lemon and note how quickly you react).

In EMDR, the counselor works with the client to identify the client's negative experience, her perceptions of the present event, and the negative experience that set the problem in motion (Shapiro, 1997). More simply put, EMDR is a means to process information held unprocessed in the brain by stimulating feelings about ourselves and associating past experiences.

Collectively, women who have used EMDR have moved forward, found peace and put balance back in their lives. I am grateful for the opportunity to witness their transformation. With their permission, they are sharing their stories with you so others might heal with EMDR. All identifying data has been changed to ensure confidentiality.

Before we begin, let me note that many of the women thought "it was weird." Many asked if it is hypnosis. It is not hypnosis. EMDR brings you new insights about yourself (the good kind) and desensitizes you to issues that have caused you trauma, anxiety, or depression. Usually there is no recidivism. That means whatever it was usually won't come back in a few years like issues may with some traditional therapies. What many women said when they finished their treatment was, "I couldn't understand until we started…..but it changed my life." Here are a few of their stories.

Eileen, a 38 year-old woman, came in for relationship issues. She reported she always seemed to pick "the worst guy in the place" in her quest to find Mr. Right. She had anxiety as long as she could remember." She thought back as far a as she could and recalled that when she was about she was six years old, her babysitter used to lock her in a closet each time he babysat. She can remember hearing him laugh out loud. This scared her. She tried to tell her parents, but they dismissed it as wanting attention. Her mother never confronted the babysitter. No one understood how the events affected Eileen. As she thought back, it seemed to Eileen that it was about the same time, her mother told her, that she started withdrawing and not trusting men in general. Eileen had experienced trauma. The scary incidents lurked in Eileen's mind, creating a sense of helplessness and anxiety.

When Eileen was ready, we began EMDR. After a month, her stomach problems stopped. She started feeling better about herself. After two more months, she stopped jumping when someone at work came up behind her. We kept working. One day about a few months later, she told me she had met a really nice guy. We laughed. How could she tell? She looked at me, smiled and said, "Now I get it. I'm OK the way I am. I was a scared kid in a lot of ways when we started this; now I'm not." When she smiled again, her eyes gleamed. At that moment we knew she was OK.

Kathy came in with a fear of hospitals. Kathy had the opportunity to be a pharmaceutical salesperson. She really wanted the job but just couldn't go near a hospital. We identified the time when she was hospitalized for tonsils, age six. She remembered the anesthesia mask on her face and not being able to breathe. At the end of our first EMDR session, Kathy reported feeling tired.

When she returned the following week, Kathy said she did not feel as upset when she thought about hospitals and that she had actually driven by one on the way to her session today. By the end of that session, Kathy had no anxiety and felt good about herself. At her third session, Kathy reported driving by a few local hospitals with no anxiety. She felt she could go into the hospital. We talked about her progress and she decided she would go in one with a friend. Kathy called me the next day from the cafeteria of a local hospital. "I did it," she said, "and I went alone." I heard the confidence and joy in her voice

Gwen is a 16 year-old adolescent. Her first serious relationship turned out to be an abusive one. Duke, the boyfriend, was 17 at the time. She knew him for about a year. One day he asked her to go to the movies. She was flattered since he seemed so nice and paid attention to her. Over time, the relationship grew. Duke became jealous and overprotective. About eight months later, Gwen came home with a black and blue mark on her arm. Her mother asked how she got it. Gwen said she had walked into the corner of her dresser that morning. Her mom was concerned and brought her to counseling. Gwen was reluctant to disclose the real problem. After several weeks of counseling, she finally shared her concern that she was afraid to break up with Duke, because had a bad temper and threatened that if he couldn't have her, no one could. Eventually she told me about the abuse. We spoke with her mother and decided to use EMDR.

Gwen processed the events in three sessions. Both she and her mom were amazed. Gwen said she knew the incidents happened, but she was no longer bothered by them. She also said she felt much better about herself. She was able to date and was no longer triggered by similar situations. She told me: "It's not my fault." She moved on in a few months. If we had not used EMDR, she would have probably spent a year or more in counseling.

Bea was a delightful retiree who was afraid of heights. She reported having the problem for most of her life. She was planning a vacation and wanted to fly in a hot air balloon, she quipped, "before I'm 80." We worked with EMDR on her fear of heights for a few weeks when she told me, "I don't think this is working." Then she went to the edge of my office window on the sixth floor and looked down. Bea thought it was a fluke. We agreed to continue just in case EMDR did do something. During that week her had son asked her to have lunch in town. She really wanted to go, but he worked on the 55th floor of Key Tower. She swore she could never go up that high but agreed to "give it a try."

When Bea came in the next time, she was ecstatic. She told me she had taken the elevator up to the 55th floor, went to her son's office, and looked down….. and kept looking down. The last time I saw Bea, she was leaving on vacation. A few weeks later I received a note from her along with her picture in a hot air balloon minutes before she left the ground. Her note read, "Thanks for making my spirit soar!"

Others have commented:
"EMDR provides a proven approach to address the trauma that can interfere with healthy grief and mourning following the death of a loved one."- Theresa Rando, Ph.D., Founder & Executive Director, The Institute for the Study & Treatment of Loss.*

"The FBI has found EMDR to be extremely effective when used on individuals exhibiting symptoms of posttraumatic stress…..The bottom line as I see it is that it works."-Charles McCormick, unit chief, Federal Bureau of Investigation Administration, Employee Assistance Program*

EMDR has bridged the Mind-Body Connection and moved psychotherapy into the 21st Century. -Ronald Doctor, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of Scranton.* * Reference: EMDR, The Breakthrough Therapy, Shapiro & Forrest, 1997)

Ms. Kurek has achieved the highest credentials for an EMDR therapist: EMDR Trained Clinician and EMDRIA Consultants

EMDRIA, the companion association, is made up of a nonprofit group of EMDR trained volunteers who offer, at their own expense, free crisis counseling all over the country and overseas. EMDRIA volunteers have been in Okalahoma City, New York City, Bangladesh and Chile during bombings, floods, earthquakes, wherever natural disasters occur or where terrorism exists to treat victims and train professionals. Ms. Kurek participates in the organization.

Courtesy of the Cleveland Women's Journal

Cleveland Women's Journal

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