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EMDR is an incredible therapy with the potential to change people’s lives. Unfortunately, not that many people have heard of it. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until 3 years after my head-on collision with a truck in 2011.
The car crash that changed my life:
I was driving in upstate NY, about to go hiking on a day off from my job as a social worker. It was a beautiful August day and I was enjoying the perfect sunny sky and the lazy clouds meandering above me as I drove up RT 17A.
Suddenly, the skies turned gray and then went completely dark. Oops, I thought, there goes my plans. No hiking today. The sky opened up with a torrential downpour that caught me by surprise.
I then saw a Rider tractor-trailer barreling down the narrow two lane road heading straight towards my car. The truck was out of control. I swerved to avoid being hit.
That’s the last thing I remembered before waking up with my car totaled, facing the opposite side of the road. My car had smashed into the low guardrail which fortunately prevented me from flying down the mountain to my immediate death. My car windows were completely shattered. I grabbed my pocketbook and phone in a daze and tried to open the door. No luck. I was locked in my car with no way out.
Despite the downpour, people started running towards me. My car had effectively blocked the road and traffic was at a standstill. People stretched out their hands to pull me out of the broken window, and escorted me to an ambulance waiting nearby. My neck and body were tractioned as the ambulance sirens started wailing. The truck driver was in the ambulance as well. That’s how I know what happened. He told me the story.
I lay there, semi-conscious, wondering where I was going. “Call my husband”, I said. I managed to give the medics his number. They reached my husband and told him to meet me at the hospital. Orienting to the present was difficult for me. The pain was overbearing. I felt like I was losing contact with reality.
The ambulance ride was nauseating. Looking at the truck driver who caused the accident was infuriating. Overhearing the medics made me anxious. The medics were joking about how many calls they had this morning. I thought it was so insensitive. Don’t they realize what just happened to me? This isn’t a joke! I felt very vulnerable in my unstable and physically compromised state.
Healing is a long & difficult process.
Arriving at the hospital, I felt deep shame. I’m a religious, orthodox woman and my snood (head covering) got lost in the craziness of the accident. I begged someone to call my husband to bring a head covering to the emergency room so I could be modestly attired. The attending doctor, Dr. Israel, was a wonderful and kind man that I knew from the clinic where I worked. However, I didn’t know where to put myself because he was religious too. The worries and shame about not being tzniut (modest) overrode my confusion and pain.
I was sent for X-rays, which thankfully showed that I had no broken bones. The doctors and nurses reassured me that, soon enough, I would be as good as new and would be able to resume my active lifestyle. I believed them. But in reality, they lied. Every one of those doctors lied.
My recovery was an uphill battle.
I kept going to grueling physical therapy and chiropractor appointments three times a week. I did brain MRIs to rule out damage to my brain due to the confusion and unsteadiness that I suffered as a result of the accident. Eventually, I started trying additional one on one Pilates and medical massages to regain the use of my hips and to stop taking strong medication which helped me walk.
Struggling through terrible vertigo was awful. I was in my 20’s, young and healthy. And now, I was grabbing staircases and chairs to stop me from spinning in these vicious vertigo attacks. My severe neck and cervical spine injuries wouldn’t let me sleep even though I wore the unwieldy neck brace all day. My ribs felt out of place and caused terrible discomfort whether I stood, sat, or lay down. The hip pain wouldn’t let go. I had to let medication kick in for 45 minutes to allow me to walk without pain. Just about every part of my body ached. I kept hoping it was just a matter of time, a few months perhaps until my life would return to normal.
I didn’t want to be on these powerful drugs every day. My spinning life was one hectic schedule of doctor appointments and trying to attend to my two little girls who were then 6 and 8 years old.
Recovering mentally is just as important as recovering physically.
A week after the accident, I drove to the site of the crash and said a prayer of gratitude to God for saving my life. I picked up the shards of my car headlights to keep as a memory of survival. My husband then drove me to the car lot where my smashed car waited for the insurance guys. I flashed a victory sign in a photo op. I had survived and was ready to move on with my life.
And, what does a good therapist do? Go to therapy. So I did. I sat on one therapist’s couch twice a week and spoke about my accident, the trauma that came with it, and how that trauma was affecting me. Every time I drove past a truck my body would physically react, leaving me feeling powerless and scared. It was as though my body had a mind of its own. When I passed a truck, my body moved away from the steering wheel as though the truck on the side was crashing into me again. This was dangerous and I was afraid. I had escaped death once but I didn’t want to test a miracle a second time.
My mind was another story. Even with all this support and treatment, I still couldn’t move on. The therapists I saw were wonderful and competent, but therapy only helped so much. I still wasn’t functional in the many areas of my life that I needed to improve in more immediately. Every time I drove by a truck, my body still reacted as though I was in the trauma again. A not so gentle reminder that emotionally, I still had a long way to go.
And then I was introduced to EMDR therapy.
It was about that time that I asked a colleague for advice. I was looking for a new therapist who could potentially help me. She recommended this strange therapy called EMDR. A client of hers had gone to this therapist and asked her to come along to the session. The client was asked to think about her trauma while following the therapist’s moving hand with her eyes. My colleague thought it might be worth a shot.
I was ready to try anything, so I made the call. It was the best call I ever made.
Several months after starting EMDR therapy, I was driving on the highway when suddenly, whoosh, another downpour. I clearly remember not having any vision because the rain was coming down so hard. And I was at peace. “Whatever will be will be”, I heard myself say. My body was ok. I was not gripping the steering wheel. It felt like an eternity, but I knew that I had witnessed a miracle that afternoon: the power of EMDR.
I knew that I had discovered something that was powerful, yet almost a secret. No one I knew had heard about EMDR. It felt like my special secret sauce that I now knew could help me and others who tried it. I went on to do a lot of EMDR work in many different areas of my life. Not every part of my EMDR therapy offered an immediate miraculous recovery. Healing takes time. I worked on healing by utilizing the power of EMDR to help me become the person I wanted to be.
What exactly is EMDR?
EMDR is a powerful therapy that offers patients genuine hope for healing.
Our brain has many components to it. The left side stores the logical parts of our brain, the section that does the math and solves problems. The right side of our brain is the emotional center. This part of our brain takes in sight, sound, smell, taste, and is non-linear and imaginative. The amygdala is in the back of our brain, and stores traumatic memories that get stuck there. These trauma memories can’t be processed in the front of our brains.
Trauma memories, emotions, sensations, feelings, and beliefs are stored in different parts of our brain and can trigger us without warning. Therefore, a person can have flashbacks where trauma memories feel like they are happening in real-time, even though they are long over. EMDR helps process these traumatic memories with the use of eye movements and bilateral stimulation (such as tapping right to left) which trigger the brain’s natural healing capacity.
According to one theory, EMDR replicates the natural healing mechanism of REM sleep by using eye movements to help clients process trauma memories. Other theories focus on the concept of taxing working memory, which is our brains cognitive system that holds our ability to make decisions and is responsible for our behavior. In this theory, our brains heal from trauma memories by having the brain focus on trauma while doing bilateral (right and left tapping) movement at the same time. Much research has been done with EMDR in the past 25 years and has been scientifically validated in many randomized trials, making it a tier 1 trauma treatment for PTSD.
What EMDR did for me:
This is exactly what happened to me. In EMDR therapy, my therapist waved a wand in front of my eyes as I thought about the specific trauma memory that was bothering me. I thought about the accident, my feelings, my body sensations, and my negative beliefs about myself in relationship to the trauma.
Periodically (approximately every 30 passes of the wand), we stopped and I took a deep breath and shared what had come up for me and what I felt in my body. There was never any pressure to share if I didn’t want to talk during the EMDR sessions. My brain brought up different pieces of the accident with details I didn’t even remember, along with the visual components and the deep feelings of helplessness that I had that day.
And then, slowly, it all started to bother me less and less. And one day, I realized that downpours and trucks no longer triggered me at all.
Why I chose to specialize in EMDR:
This miracle of my recovery had me shouting EMDR from the rooftops. I was on fire to get people to try EMDR! I organized a weekend EMDR training for Devout or pious orthodox Jew. To be frum (Yiddish: פֿרום;... More therapists, canvassing door to door, or more like phone call to phone call, extolling the virtues of EMDR therapy. And finally, success! In 2012, the EMDR institute partnered with me to fly Dr. Gary Quinn from Israel to train 20 religious Jewish therapists.
People often ask me, “So, why EMDR?”. They wonder if there’s anything else I use in my practice. Of course, I’m trained in many different modalities.
However, I love EMDR because it will help people heal faster from trauma and with less emotional pain than any other modality I am aware of.
Originally developed to treat PTSD, this therapy has far-reaching applications. In my practice, I use EMDR to treat childhood trauma, sexual abuse trauma, internet addiction, medical trauma, fires, phobias, and hate crimes with children, teens, and adults. I’ve done recent work with the victims of the Monsey stabbing to help families reeling from the effects of witnessing this terrible hate crime.
Because I work with children and families, I have learned to integrate EMDR into play therapy. I also use EMDR to help parents who are stuck in their parenting. I’ve helped teens overcome many challenging problems with EMDR.
Although EMDR is not magic, people often experience breakthroughs through EMDR that they haven’t had even after many years of various other therapeutic modalities. To reiterate, EMDR is not a panacea. The client must still do the work. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, EMDR can offer you new hope and healing.
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