Virtual EMDR offers relief during pandemic
Way, way back in the ancient times of 2017, fewer than half of Americans reporting a mental health issue were receiving treatment, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
With COVID-19, its devastating economic fallout, and a corrosive election season filling up 2020, that gap is only getting worse. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in May found that nearly half of Americans responded they were having mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19, and 19% said it was having a major impact on their life. That means tens of millions more Americans are failing to access mental health treatments that could improve their lives.
Unfortunately, even before this virus came along, many of us had our COVID-19 equivalent moments lingering inside our brains, years after a trauma.
I can tell you one of mine. It may not be the worst memory I’ve had to deal with, but it was so vivid that it was literally in flames. I could not stop remembering how my father made me sit down in front of the fireplace and watch him as he methodically burned my favorite toys, one by one.
Imagine the kind of household where this was not the most surprising development. Growing up, I was subjected to physical and sexual violence, from narcissistic, alcoholic (not alcoholic, say “addicted”) parents who seemed to think their main job was scrambling my brain for life. For decades, I let them succeed, channeling bewilderment and fear and rage into binge eating and substance abuse. When my past trauma was triggered by current events or thoughts, I’d be driving down the road pounding my steering wheel and screaming at the top of my lungs. Or fantasizing about pounding a brick wall with my fists until I had nothing left but bloody stumps where my hands used to be -- anything to replace the greater pain inside my head.
Believe me, as I grew older and remained haunted by this crushing past, I tried the most obvious mental health remedies. I tried talk therapy. It didn’t work for me. I know it brings relief and insight to a great many people -- for me, I was simply spending my self-reflective time sharpening images of my childhood I really needed to blur or erase if I wanted to move on. I knew perfectly well what was bad in my former life. What I really needed to do was find a way to move beyond it.
I had another more immediate problem: A family member I was still close to had a life-threatening illness, and an absolutely crippling fear of flying would keep me away unless I tried something new.
A friend going through serious troubles of his own asked me if I’d ever heard about “EMDR,” shorthand for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. I didn’t know anything about it, but was willing to try. I went to an in-person session with a therapist trained in EMDR, and the results were both immediate and long-lasting.
The premise of EMDR is that you allow yourself to focus momentarily on the trauma or the memories bothering you, then use guided eye-movement or hand-movement techniques to stimulate other parts of the brain that help process the memories in less traumatic ways. While researchers still debate the actual brain mechanisms that achieve the result, study after meta-study has shown EMDR to be at least as effective for many patients as prescriptions, older exposure therapies and other treatments.
What makes online EMDR infinitely more valuable than those other treatments, especially in our times of forced isolation and lockdown, is that it can be done by you, and just you, at home, without expensive or difficult-to-arrange help. It’s almost as if EMDR was designed knowing our enforced-virtual lifestyle was coming.
Therapist-led, in-person EMDR is still the right option for some clients. With EMDR and other exposure therapies, no one should tell you what works best for you -- you can decide that. But there are more people than ever, millions in fact, who either physically can’t leave home or work to drive to a $150-an-hour therapy session, or can’t afford it. And personal trauma is too important to be left untreated to that kind of societal failure.
It was my personal need that led to an online solution. We designed, with the help of trained therapists, academicians and software experts, a Virtual EMDR program you sign into from the comfort and security of your home or favorite place. You control when, how fast or slow, how often and how long or short sessions should be that work best for you. It’s inexpensive, it’s convenient, and it works. Ninety-five percent of our subscribers say they feel better and are recommending the service to others. That’s a lot of healing, and we’re very proud of that, and humbled by the challenge of bringing it to more people.
The Veterans Affairs Department is now using MDR, and we’ve given away access to more than 1,500 veterans and law enforcement personnel.
It’s easy to try. Read up on EMDR all you can, there’s plenty of good, credible information and backing research available online. Then try it out. It’s the most risk-free jump toward better mental health that you can find anywhere. No searching for a “good” therapist. No worries about cost. No three-hour round trip to drive, get therapy, get home. No paying for six months of getting to know your therapist and figuring out if they will help. If Virtual EMDR doesn’t help, dropping it is as easy as a mouse click.
Since COVID-19 hit, the American Psychological Association estimates 91% of therapists nationwide are now doing sessions via telehealth, with the great majority of those not meeting clients in-person. It’s a very short step from there to Virtual EMDR, where the software and careful research by experts leads you through the session without a therapist.
If there is any benefit to this pandemic, it seems to me that far more people are willing to open up about their anxiety, trauma and depression, and to seek help. We encourage you to do that in any way that feels comfortable and effective. My own life has turned around -- I wish the same for everyone who has ever tried to put their past in the right perspective.
Jeff Tejcek is founder and co-creator of VirtualEMDR.com, an eye movement therapy system offering treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD, addictions and more.
Virtual EMDR provides online behavioral health resources for individuals struggling with depression, trauma, anxiety, fear, PTSD and addiction through a unique, self-guided platform designed by therapists and mental health experts using the EMDR, eye movement desensitization reprocessing, technique.