JAN BROGAN - I might have mentioned once or twice that I had a debilitating plane phobia for many years. I would hyperventilate during takeoff, my palms would sweat, and once I even broke down crying. I tried just about everything. Drinking - didn't even touch it. Six weeks of hypnosis at Mass General Hospital was completely useless; desensitization tapes - even more useless, and psychiatrist-prescribed drugs - totally freaked me out. Cognitive behavioral therapy helped, but only a little.
Finally, I tried a new therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which involved bilateral stimulation (either by eye movement or alternating tones) during treatment. As a health reporter, I'd been assigned to write about this therapy by an editor, and although I first refused, calling it "snake oil," I later learned just how extensively researched and tested this therapy really was and about its tremendous success treating returning combat veterans suffering from Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Somewhere in the literature it mentioned it had some success with phobias, so I decided to give it a try.
After being burdened this incredibly resistant phobia for something close to 25 years, I was completely cured in about six sessions. For me, it was a miracle. In subsequent stories I've written on this topic, I've talked to returning veterans, rape victims and child abuse survivors who have told me their own miraculous recovery stories.
So.... in what is definitely outside the box for Jungle Red, but in hopes of reaching the quarter million combat veterans who return with PTSD and other people suffering from other life traumas - whether its loss of a loved one, a divorce or even a minor car accident, I invited filmmaker Michael Burns to JR to talk about his documentary "EMDR, We either transform pain or we transmit it."
Michael is a native of Connecticut, is the producer/director of four films on American politics, Third Party, Preventive Warriors, Majority Rules, and Laban. I asked him how he got from politics to EMDR.
MichaelBurns: It was 2007 and I was completing my doctorate in film at the University of Birmingham in the UK when I had EMDR myself. I had come across it in the late David Servan-Schreiber's best-seller Healing without Freud or Prozac. When I had a breakthrough myself- and this shows you how much I sympathize with skeptics- I chalked it entirely up to coincidence. In other words, I was convinced that the EMDR I had had just activated some psychosomatic reaction on my part. I remember thinking that there's no way something so weird could have helped me. Simply out of curiosity I started to do some research on it and found out that in fact millions of people have had massively life-changing experiences with EMDR. So I ate up everything I could find on the subject, realizing that the catharsis I went through was not so unusual after all.
At about that time, a good friend suggested I make a documentary about EMDR since it still was hardly known at all in the mainstream. Completing my degree, which took a lot out of me, I didn't think I had the energy for a new project, but it kept popping up in the back of my mind as something that needed to be made. In the end, it was the daily bombardment with PTSD stories in the news that made me realize that I wanted to do whatever I could to help spread the word about this amazing therapy. There are so many people out there who believe that they're destined to live with the pain, body sensations, and nightmares that are grounded in things from their pasts. It's just not true. EMDR can help many of them, perhaps most of them.
JAN: How long did it take to produce the documentary and what was the biggest obstacle?
MICHAEL: I worked on it, pretty much with just my cameraman, James Kloter, for a little over three years.
The biggest obstacle was getting people to tell us their personal stories. A friend of mine put it very well the other day when she said that it's hard enough to go to therapy in the first place, relaying those details to yet another person is nearly impossible for most people. I think she's exactly right. What happens in EMDR sessions is both deeply personal and extremely hard to put into words. So, on a low budget, it became tough for us to find compelling, personal success stories to put in the movie. In the end though, we found three that did make it in, and they might just be the best parts of the film.
JAN: Your hopes for this film?
MICHAEL: I sincerely hope that people will watch this film and get in touch with that one person in their lives- maybe it's a husband, a sister, or a friend of a friend- whose ability to reach their full potential is being held back by something that happened in their past, and to tell them about EMDR. Next step is to go to the emdria.org website and to find a therapist nearby or to get in touch with emdrhap.org to talk about sessions they're offering. It's critical that people go see someone with proper training, certified by the main national EMDR professional organization, EMDRIA.
So helping those who are in critical mental condition is one of my key hopes. Having said that, EMDR is not just for the person we might know who's paralyzed by the past. I always say that it would be a miracle if any of us have sailed through life without anything traumatic happening to us. There are things in all of our histories that are holding us back, preventing us from living life the way we want to. Therefore all of us can use EMDR so that we can put disturbing memories to rest, breaking destructive habits we have and living the lives we dream of living.
JAN: In that vein, Michael has generously sent me one free copy of the film, the DVD, to give away to a lucky winner. It's one of the best explanations I've encountered on how the brain processes trauma, why it sticks in the head for years, and why EMDR can shake it free and is very moving.
Enter by posting a comment and/or signing up for our mailing list -- I need an email address to reach the winner. But please, enter only if know someone (and it can be you) who it can help. The winner will also be announced on JR by Tuesday.
For more information about EMDR or the film go to: http://emdrmovie.com