As you know, I do quite a lot of EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming is an effective way of dealing trauma, so effective that all psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists are trained in it before being deployed in war zones. It involves using bi-lateral stimulation [that is stimulating both sides of the brain in any number of ways. My favourite is using little buzzy machines that people hold in their hands. What seems to happen is that as both sides of the brain are stimulated, the brain is able to join up those sensory memories with the word memories, and so the brain can usefully understand the two together, deal with it and push it to the back of the brain.
Children come because they are suffering from intrusive memories and nightmares. So these are often very ‘ordinary’ individuals who have suffered some experience that is now interfering with their everyday lives.
Recent cases involve two children who witnessed nasty deaths, and two girls who have been sexually assaulted. There shouldn’t be so many people who have had that experience in their lives, and certainly not as children. When something amazing happens – bad to good – we are left with the word memories but also all those sense memories that we barely notice when they are happening. The smell of the grass as he fell to the ground, the touch of the chair as you fell on it, the sound of heavy breathing, or a pop song in the background, someone’s perfume. All those things barely register at the time, which means that when the person comes across them afterwards, they can not understand why they are suddenly reminded of….. .And, of course, the memory often remains that of the child who experienced it, and is not modified by age.
A mother I saw very recently, was terrified of labrador dogs. She had been knocked down by one when she was about 4, and ever since had crossed the road when she saw one and refused to visit anywhere with dogs. She explained which dogs she meant by saying ‘it’s this high’ about three foot off the ground!!! So Not True but reflecting the feeling she had as a small child. And we did EMDR and she realised that she had been a small child and had nothing to fear from a friendly dog now that she is of average height. That was easy.
More complex are those young people who were assaulted when they were small and believe that they ‘brought it on themselves’, or caused it to happen somehow. When this is a ‘shameful secret’ that they don’t tell anyone about for ages, it becomes more and more likely that their own private thinking becomes entrenched until they ‘know‘ that this is their fault. Rubbish, of course, but hard to dislodge as an idea.
I have just seen a lovely girl who had believed that she had ‘got over’ whatever, but was reminded at the weekend of the type of carpet in the house where she had been. ‘It doesn’t bother me’ she said, but then mentioned that she always drinks more when she remembers like that. These are the sorts of things most would be ‘bothered’ by; how sad that so many children – despite knowing they are loved – still feel they have to cope alone and that there is no help.