She reported seeing police, ambulances, yellow tape, family members crying or angry, hearing sirens, a crowd of neighbors standing outside the yellow tape, and the paramedics bringing a body bag on a gurney out the house to the ambulance. How unfortunate that she had to be there! This feels a bit like the face of your mind is a movie screen – the therapist’s office the theater – and the memories pass by one by one, like the images on a screen, but very actively tracking what’s coming to your mind, but not controlling the flow – just letting the thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations come as they will. Of course, they’re all stimulated by the bilateral stimulation, and, as those thoughts come up, they’re actually being re-encoded.
While we were doing that, at one point, she said, “I’m almost ready to freak out.” So she trusts me enough to work with me and disclose her state of upset. And I said, “Okay, let’s breathe a bit.” And I synced with her breathing and breathed with her, and I said, “Pretend that the light bar is two blocks away from you, and let’s continue and see how that goes.” So that seemed to help.
So let me say here that, for the most part, her mind was going from one memory after another, related to the memory that she came up with to begin with – the traumatic memory. That’ what we like to see, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, the mind can go blank, or we can find ourselves thinking about something that seems unrelated, or we can loop back to the same material we processed earlier, or many things can come at once. And when these things happen, some people worry that they aren’t doing it right. But all of those things happen for a reason and EMDR clinicians know what to do with all of that. So, if you ever do EMDR, don’t worry about it. Just report what you get and everything will be fine.
Okay, back to the girl. After about fifteen minutes of processing, her memory began to turn less fearful and more positive. I asked her if the image had changed any, and she said, “Yes, it’s further away.” “And on a scale from zero to ten, how upsetting is it?” She said, “Zero.” So that’s what desensitization looks like. The image – the memory of it – is no longer upsetting.
Now on to phase five – installation. The idea here is to strengthen the positive thought that has emerged. Her’s was “I am safe.” “And how true is it now that you feel safe?” And she said, “It’s a seven.” “So what are you thinking about that now?” She said, “Well, we’ve always had a burglar alarm, and we lock the doors every night, and my mom is always home, but before that never seemed to help. And now, it does.” “Where do you feel that sense of safety in your body?” “In my heart. And my stomach is relaxed.” And I said, “Okay, that’s great. Think about safe in your body and watch the lights.” So I left it on for two passes – I don’t mean passes; I mean sets – and nothing negative emerged.
So that’s installation – phase five. So we installed that positive view of self as safe. And then comes phase six, which is called body scan.
Now I said to her, “Start at the top of your head and scan down your body to see if you can find any stress anywhere.” She said, “Just a little in my stomach.” “Okay. Just focus on the feeling and watch the lights.” And after two sets, the stress was gone. I said, “How do you feel?” She said, “Good! That’s so cool!”