15 March 2010
Janet has her first appointment with Dr Belinda Browne-Thomas.
Immediately before this, I call my friend, Erica, a practising psychologist, who tells me there are one or two treatments that Janet’s therapist might consider, one of which is EMDR or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, a form of psychotherapy developed in the 1980s which is used to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences. Erica uses this therapy extremely successfully with her own patients and recommends the speed and efficacy of the treatment.
“The basis behind EMDR therapy is bilateral stimulation using auditory, visual or kinesthetic (tactile) stimuli that tracks from left to right and back again,” she explains. I realise she is describing something that sounds very much like hypnosis to me, with the therapist moving her fingers from side to side in front of a patient’s eyes.
“This is thought to emulate the psychological state that we enter into when in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep,” she adds. “We are not entirely sure how this works but similar processes to those occurring during REM sleep – where we are able to make new links between memory networks very quickly – might be activated.”
Erica continues: “When a traumatic experience occurs, it may overwhelm the usual ways we cope with the stress associated with the experience. The memory of the event is not processed fully and is stored in an isolated memory network. When this memory network is activated, the individual may re-experience aspects of the original event, often resulting in inappropriate overreactions. This explains why people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic incident may have recurring sensory flashbacks, thoughts, beliefs, or dreams.”
I think immediately of Janet and her nightmares. Whatever she saw 34 years ago has obviously not been processed as a ‘normal’ memory but I am a little perturbed by Erica’s assertion that EMDR therapy could result in Janet re-experiencing aspects of the original event.
“I think Janet would benefit from EMDR,” says Erica. She is quiet for a moment at the end of the line. “But be careful; she will need a competent therapist, accredited and experienced. Remember; good follow up therapy is important. You don’t know what Janet has experienced. Anyone with an unprocessed memory of a traumatic event can retain high levels of sensory and emotional intensity, even though many years have passed.”