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EMDR Therapy

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”

– Winston S. Churchill

A few clients have asked me lately how it is that I came to specialize in EMDR Therapy, and the timing of the question is interesting because I realized last week, I’m coming up on ten thousand people that I’ve worked with in psychotherapy over the past twenty-two years. Presently I’m working about ninety hours a week seeing people in psychotherapy and often for EMDR Therapy. I never initially intended to work this much, but it just kind of evolved this way ever since the COVID pandemic started in March, of 2020.

Prior to 2020, and going back those twenty-two years I’ve typically worked about sixty hours a week. That’s also a goal I plan to get back to in the next year hopefully but for now it’s very hard to turn people away when they need help and I know I’m a good match for them to get help. I truly do love what I do and feel honored to do what I do. EMDR and psychotherapy are things I always say that I “get to” do versus that I “have to” do, and that makes all the difference to me.

When I compare what I spend all my time doing these days compared to work I’ve done in the past, I just consider myself to be so fortunate. Early in my work life I started cutting grass, painting houses, and for many years in high school and college I was a building custodian in a large visitor center and museum, so I mopped many floors and cleaned many toilets. Later on, I spent many weeks and even months freezing and roasting in the desert while in the military, or being rained on and soaked to the skin and freezing in the elements. To this day I find myself counting my blessings to be inside out of the elements when it is raining or freezing outside.

My first job after the military was being an administrator of a correctional bootcamp for prison convicts whom the US Department of Justice thought a bootcamp approach could help rehabilitate. It didn’t take me long to realize that screaming in young men’s faces and making them march and do calisthenics was not going to do much to avoid recidivism, and later research proved my hunch correct. It was during that time I realized I really wanted to help people, but I needed some clinical training to understand how that works and to develop some skills in that area.

From there I became a Clinical Social Worker over the next few years and started doing individual psychotherapy following the traditional talk therapy model. I saw many people for weekly appointments, week in and week out, month in and month out, and even year in and year out. For many people, there never seemed to be a point at which we achieved any real outcome or improvement, and I finally asked the owner of that first private practice where I worked if individual psychotherapy ever has an end point. My boss said: “If they feel better each week after talking to you, you’re doing a good job.”

That wasn’t helpful information to me, and I realized sometimes I ran out of things to talk about, and it could be a struggle to make it through a whole therapy session. There were times clients would tell me they were reaching a time they needed a break from therapy and were going to discontinue but then I would hear from a colleague across town that they had just started seeing that same person who told me they were taking a break. Conversely, I would sometimes inherit patients from that other practice across town after people would go there for a few years and decide they needed a break, only to go start again with me as their new therapist for the next few years.

Around that time, I heard about EMDR Therapy in a continuing education class I was required to complete to maintain my licensure and it intrigued me because it reminded me of some of the things I had been trained in about reading body language and eye movement cues by Secret Service Agents when I was running the prison boot camp. So I convinced my boss at the time to pay for EMDR training for me and I obtained certification in EMDR at the basic level.

I was required to perform EMDR with about forty to sixty people so I would then be qualified to go and complete the second level of EMDR certification. I remember the very first person I asked if I could try EMDR on was a man who had suffered a severe beating in a bar room brawl some ten years prior and reportedly had never had a successful night of sleep in all the years since. He admitted he only came to therapy at the prompting of his wife as she was exhausted by all his sleepless nights and said his PTSD was threatening their marriage. So, he said he didn’t care what kind of therapy we did because his wife would be satisfied that he was in any kind of therapy.

I completed my first EMDR session then and remarkably a week later that man told me by the third night after our session he had started sleeping through the night. He said he wasn’t sure it was the EMDR, but he had just realized he needed to stop reliving the trauma and he was done with it and it didn’t bother him anymore and he was sleeping fine now so he was done with therapy. Needless to say, I was shocked as I had never seen a result like that before, but I also wondered if maybe the man was being dishonest just to be done with therapy. I was definitely intrigued that’s for sure.

I did a few more EMDR sessions with a few more patients and I continued to hear reports back from patients that their issues or concerns were resolved in as little as just one or two sessions. By that point I was stunned because I had just never seen results like that in therapy before and even some of my colleagues at the practice were wondering what was happening and why were we suddenly losing patients after just a couple weeks when normally we could expect to see them many months or a few years. For me though, I didn’t care about the business implications of shorter-term therapy, I was just thrilled to see people being set free from what had held them captive so much of their lives.

So many times, since then I’ve wished I could have taken a photo the day I first met a new patient to compare that to a photo if one was taken after they achieved complete healing or resolution after EMDR therapy. They often are visibly brighter and happier and look so freed from what had previously burdened them. They will often say things like “I just feel lighter” or “I can’t something could fix my problem so quickly.”

If you can imagine helping someone in that way, you might understand why I describe it as an honor to be a part of that process. It makes me feel like I was meant to do this work, and that I should be doing it as much as I can for as many people as I can and for as long as I can.

After so many years and so many people served, there's a profound sense of satisfaction that envelops me, knowing that I found my calling, my mission. That being said, it's not about me, it's about the healing journey of each of these individuals and how my work with EMDR Therapy has facilitated them to live more fulfilling lives. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.” I have lived a full life thus far, a life dedicated to service, to understanding the human mind and heart, and in being part of the honor of helping people to be set free and experience joy and happiness in their lives.

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