In an interview last month with Oprah for her jointly produced documentary series on mental health, The me that you can’t see, Prince Harry made a deep divulge. Harry said he sought out a special therapy program, EMDR, to process the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. He described how living with the trauma of his death makes him feel “helpless,” “hunted,” and as if there is “no escape.”
Before I was officially diagnosed with PTSD, painful childhood memories consumed my daily life and sometimes made me unable to complete daily tasks. My PTSD was caused by a tumultuous childhood in a home with an alcoholic father and an angry mother who lashed out at everything around her, including her children.
I am a writer and teacher and often have tight deadlines; my flashbacks, which could appear at any time, wreaked havoc on my ability to work. Sometimes I had to turn down important assignments and other opportunities in the name of personal care. I was completely unable to concentrate and was not convinced of my own abilities and worth. At best, traumatic memories would leave me exhausted and numb. In the darkest moments, the emotional pain was disabling and excruciating. I’d huddle in the corner of my dark living room and wish for a different brain, a brain that wasn’t mired in chaos and dysfunction.
Last year, under the care of a therapist who specializes in trauma, I began Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) to process my chaotic and emotionally unstable upbringing. When I am in these sessions, my therapist sits me with a pulsing light bar, a machine that helps in treatment – and helps me revisit and ultimately resolve painful and raw childhood memories.
EMDR was developed in 1989 by Francine Shapiro, a California psychotherapist, as trauma treatment. It operates on the theory that, as Robbie Adler-Tapia and Carolyn Settle explain, “emotional, behavioral, and mental health symptoms originate from maladaptively stored life events. As those stored events are triggered, the client experiences disturbances and dysfunctions in their current life. “EMDR aims to help patients with painful memories of trauma better manage anxiety-inducing stimuli. A typical harsh EMDR session 60 to 90 minutes, during which the customer is asked to visualize a traumatic event. Practitioners use repeated physical stimuli, such as sounds, blows, or a pulsing light bar, to facilitate “information processing” until the client can report that the memory is less disturbing. The International EMDR Association (EMDRIA) has more than 10,000 members trained to provide this therapy.
EMDR is not without controversy. Harvard psychologist Richard McNally has argument that “what is effective in EMDR is not new and what is new is not effective.” As an academic, I am personally skeptical of people, business organizations, conferences and the like that charge a premium for training and professional development. EMDR training ranges from $ 445 to $ 890. And it costs patients up to $ 200 per session if they are uninsured or not covered by their insurance.
That said, the therapy continues to grow in popularity in the US and around the world and has been increasingly accepted by conventional psychologists. EMDR can also provide a alternative for those who find talk therapy a challenge. Frontiers in Psychology, the largest peer-reviewed journal in its field, considers EMDR “an evidence-based psychotherapy that has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a first-line treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder,” and cites a “growing interest” in treatment. The past controversies that plagued the therapy are now considered outdated and are said to “come from misinformation”.
In the weeks and months after the treatment, I could feel that the therapy was working. Today, I no longer experience debilitating flashbacks, chronic anxiety, or depression. A year later my panic attacks, some of which would cause me to have to emergency park on the side of the road, unable to breathe, are now so few and far between that I am hopeful they will even turn into something of last.
I have been through 10 years of therapists, each with their own approaches. Several relied on talk therapy, which has been helpful to some extent (it’s true that talk therapy actually made me feel worse at times). Another was heavily invested in cognitive behavior therapy and suggested that I put a tight rubber band around my wrist. She instructed me to tap the rubber band against my bare skin whenever I noticed my mind drift to darker thoughts. This approach was minimally helpful to me: I often forgot to wear the rubber band, and when I remembered, I forgot to break it. EMDR has been the only therapy that allowed me to challenge my family’s legacy of generational trauma and take control of my mental health.
I credit therapy for not only saving my sanity, but my life as well. I commend Prince Harry for working to change his family’s mental health legacy; I know firsthand the consequences of being born to parents who do not resolve their own trauma, even if only for the sake of their children. My hope is that you have some insight into the lives that you probably improved by sharing your own story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism