Unlocking Healing: My Intensive Journey with EMDR Therapy

For Mental Health Awareness Month, New York Times bestselling author Bassey Ikpi shares her experience with EMDR therapy, revealing how a single day of intensive treatment reshaped her understanding of trauma and healing.

After years of struggling with anxiety and the lingering effects of past trauma, I found myself constantly searching for a way to break free from the grip of my own mind. Traditional talk therapy helped to some extent, but I often felt like I was intellectualizing my emotions rather than truly processing them. One day, my therapist mentioned a different approach called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which was developed in the late 1980s to treat PTSD. Intrigued yet skeptical, I decided to look into it further.

As if by fate, I stumbled upon a TikTok video from The Cognitive Corner, a black female therapist I admired. She explained how EMDR uses bilateral stimulation—through eye movements, taps, or tones—to help the brain reprocess traumatic memories. Hearing her describe it as an alternative for those who, like me, tend to overthink their emotions, I was sold. It sounded like the key I had been searching for.

Despite my newfound hope, the day of my intensive EMDR session was filled with dread. Sitting in my therapist's office, I regretted my decision to dive into a one-day intensive rather than easing in with weekly sessions. However, as the session began and my therapist guided me through the process, I started to understand the power of EMDR. 

Mental Health Awareness Month: Addressing Underdiscussed Mental Health Issues in the Black Community

With my therapist's guidance, I was instructed to mentally bring up and focus on a traumatic memory or disturbing feeling from the past. I was resistant immediately and went into my usual "self-aware act." To her credit, she entertained it but noticed how often my eyes roamed around the room. If she saw me fixating on a spot, she would ask me to stop and tell her what I saw. It all felt like a waste of time until specific memories and bodily sensations fought through. Still, I resisted and fought back anything that felt uncomfortable. She told me that my "protector" was doing its job – the side of me created to protect me since childhood, since whatever core memory I was fighting kept showing up.

It's then she went into EMDR mode and initiated the bilateral stimulation by having me follow a wand with my eyes from left to right. It was weird, and I kept breaking into nervous giggles. Periodically, she would stop me, ask me to close my eyes and initiate butterfly hugs – crossing my arms and alternating soft taps across my shoulders, a self-soothing technique to calm my central nervous system when the "weirdness" of fear and discomfort arose.

As I tracked the movements, I noticed my mind wandering to related thoughts, feelings, and memories. The therapist encouraged me to "go with that" rather than steering things. With each new memory that surfaced, we would pause, and she would have me describe what I was experiencing before restarting the eye movements. Some memories felt too heavy, and I would immediately move on, landing on others that left me more numb or disconnected. But the back-and-forth created an almost trancelike state where I could stay present with the emotions without becoming overwhelmed.

Soon, I could feel my perspectives shifting. When I finally reached the core memory, I was overcome with emotion, recounting the experience that shaped my life since age four. Traumatic experiences that had filled me with shame began to make sense, helping me connect the dots from my finances to relationships with men. I was able to contextualize previously shameful actions that had left me with anxiety.

By the session's end, I was exhausted but also felt a profound calm I don't remember ever feeling. In eight hours, I understood more about myself than I ever thought possible in twenty years of therapy. I learned how much my fear of the discomfort of anxiety ruled my life. Where I thought my actions created my anxiety, I learned that my anxiety was the root cause that motivated my shameful actions.

It's been three months, and there's still work to be done, but that day gave me a tangible experience of reprocessing the past in a way that unbinds you from its weight. The urge to "go back home" to what's easy is one I fight daily through the discomfort—and it is very uncomfortable.

But that single day profoundly changed my relationship with my past and my physical relationship with my body. It changed everything for me.

Bassey Ikpi is a mental health advocate and the New York Times Bestselling Author of I’m Telling The Truth But I’m Lying.

Need some help? Here are a few resources to get support. 

Black Therapists Rock 

Therapy for Black Men 

Therapy for Black Girls 

Therapy in Color 

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