You Might Not Connect With the ‘Most Successful’ Type of Trauma Therapy, and That’s OK
When we are offered therapy modalities that are presented as the gold standard of treatment, it can make us feel like a failure when we have trouble with the treatment. However, sometimes it just takes reminding our therapists that we are individuals and that even though one treatment might be the usual option, it might not be the best option.
My first time in therapy and I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The most effective modality treatment for my complex PTSD, which was primarily affecting me, was eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR is a type of therapy that reprocesses traumatic memories by focusing on the target memory and then stimulating each side of the brain, using eye movements, sounds or tapping. By doing this, the target memory is reprocessed and the event becomes less distressing. Usually, EMDR allows people to process trauma without going into detail of the event. This can help people process trauma that might take years through talk therapy. Originally I thought it was the best treatment process for me as well. I was a visual person. I’m autistic and I think in pictures, and I wasn’t always great at communicating. However, after some sessions, I had trouble with EMDR and I quickly started to self-doubt.
It took me some time to truly understand why I had trouble with EMDR therapy. During my EMDR sessions, I was asked to identify three things with the target memory. The first being to visualize the most vivid image related to the memory. Second, a negative belief about the self that is tied with the memory. Third, the related emotions and body sensations. While accessing the core memories and letting my mind try to go to these events, I had trouble letting my mind drift from each memory during the session and then, after, not really analyzing the events. I felt I needed to process each memory by talking about them instead of just acknowledging the memory and letting it pass. After a session, I had trouble with answering questions related to body scans. Due to being autistic, I wasn’t sure how to rate my emotions and didn’t know how to correlate bodily sensations that related to each memory. If you ask me how I felt about the memory, I would often not know how to rate. If you asked me where I felt tension or pain from the memory, I would confuse it with my chronic pain that I felt in my body already. All of this made it hard to reprocess memories.
At first,, when I had trouble with my treatment, I thought it was my fault. I thought maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough, maybe it was a part of my PTSD and it was my avoidance behavior. After some sessions, I started to avoid EMDR and talking about my trauma altogether. But the more my therapist asked why I had trouble with EMDR, the more I realized it was because the type of therapy really wasn’t for me, and that’s OK.
My experience with EMDR might be different than yours. Sometimes it takes time and understanding to learn about what works for ourselves when it comes to therapy modalities to be able to succeed in therapy. Don’t force yourself to stay in a treatment that isn’t working for you because it has been said to be the most successful. Just because it’s the most successful doesn’t mean it’s the most successful for you. Talk to your therapist and explain why you are having trouble with the current treatment modality and maybe you can figure out one that is better suited to your needs. I am currently in the process of switching to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has helped me feel more in control of my therapy and continue my journey of recovering from PTSD.
Have you ever had issues with a therapy modality that a therapist recommended to you? What did you do?
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash