My Experience With EMDR Therapy

Last updated: September 2022

I work in the mental health field and have IBS. As you can imagine, both my job and my IBS take up a lot of my time and tend to dominate my thoughts. I try to stay as healthy as I can, so as to deal responsibly and effectively with both mental illness and IBS. I am a huge proponent of psychotherapy of various kinds to help me manage my IBS. My IBS is at its worst when my stress, anxiety or depression is getting the best of me. Typically, I see my therapist (with whom I’ve been with for five years) for your standard CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). This allows me to work out my feelings and gives me the benefit of a good therapist who guides me by asking me pointed questions to get to the crux of what is triggering my struggles. I have tried different types of therapy in the past (DBT, Hypnosis, Music Therapy) and have had a lot of success with my recovery. Recently, I decided to revisit EMDR therapy to see if it might alleviate some of the very particular pain that IBS causes.

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is not as wild as it sounds. What it is intended to do is to help you focus on very specific things about yourself, whether they be triggers, memories, irrational thoughts or painful experiences. A good way to explain the intention of EMDR is to remove emotional blocks that we have created to keep ourselves from experiencing pain. These blocks, however, do not allow the pain to heal in a healthy manner and thus, continue to cause us stress and anguish. I’m sure that IBS can cause this type of thought process because I have experienced it myself. From what I’ve read, there are various types of external stimuli that can promote the EMDR therapy. My particular therapist applied ‘pulse pads’ to my temples and had me hold pulse paddles in my hands. Then she asked me to think about a time or image that had caused me stress, anxiety or extreme discomfort. For the sake of this exercise I chose the day that I was told I had IBS. I remember the shame and complete denial I experienced when the doctor explained IBS to me. The therapist activated the pulsing sensation (this is not painful…actually feels nice :)) and asked me to close my eyes and concentrate on the memory for about three minutes. When the time was up, she stopped the pulses and asked me several questions about the memory. I started to cry uncontrollably…but not out of; this was catharsis.

For several days afterwards, I seriously felt like a certain part of my emotional being had been cleansed…cleaned out. My dreams were vivid and I felt more confident and whole. My IBS symptoms were completely manageable and I felt really, really good…for about a week. Then this sort of cathartic feeling subsided. I wanted to try again.

I’ve revisited EMDR with my therapist three times now, choosing a different point of pain each time. I won’t say that this is a 'cure all' or some kind of magic elixir. What I will say, for me at least, is that it is a powerful way to remove obstacles that we are faced with during our recovery from illness. Just a thought…

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