Tartan Patterns and Porcelain Ducks: Intuitive EMDR in action

Ward

Thanks to Rachael Ward for sharing the following touching client story, inspired by training in September with Laurel Parnell in London in the Attachment-Focused approach to EMDR. (Names and identifying details have been changed.)

I loved the AF approach and one of the reasons is that it has validated some of the things I was instinctively doing, but feeling ‘bad’ for doing them as it was against standard protocol.

One such case was a young woman I saw seven years ago as a client of a Mental Health Service.

She had a diagnosis of NEAD (non epileptic attack disorder) and was suicidal due to the impact it was having in her life.

The Neurologist had done all he could for her and she had received CBT, Psychodynamic therapy and a raft of other interventions that had been unsuccessful at helping reduce the 20+ seizures a day.

She couldn’t be left on her own, drive, work and was incontinent during the fits. She wanted to stop it, even if that meant suicide.

As a last resort I offered EMDR, but I was clear with the client, “Angie”, that I could find no evidence that this could work. I wanted her to be clear that she would be entering into this as an experiment. I was nervous but she was so clear that she had nothing to lose and wanted to go ahead.

Angie had been sexually abused when she was seven years old by her then piano teacher’s husband, who would take her into a room with a frosted glass door and abuse her when her lesson should have been happening, while his wife sat next door.

However Angie assured me that she had had counselling for this from sexual abuse specialist team and no longer felt any distress about it. Her DES (Dissociative Experience Scale) score was 21.

In order to get ready for EMDR, we sat on the floor and drew on big A1 paper people and things that made her feel good and her safe place.

Having installed this we carried on drawing on the floor, just doodling as we spoke over the next couple of sessions.

Angie drew similar things each week in amongst other images; the first was a tartan pattern and the second was three birds in flight.

Having nothing else to go on, I asked if she’d be willing to target one of these images, and she chose the tartan pattern. She couldn’t get a sense of what it was about or of herself in relation to it. Neither could she get negative or positive cognition, VoC or SuDs. She did, however have an “uneasy feeling” in her stomach.

I targeted this and Angie made immediate connections as it lit up in her brain.

The tartan pattern was the pattern of the piano teacher’s husband’s golf trousers, and she immediately associated with the grief, rage, confusion and fear from which she had dissociated at the time.

Over the following 12 powerful sessions, her seizures initially increased, to my dismay, and to her joy; she ended up reassuring me “don’t you see it’s doing something, it’s changing and that’s got to be good!”

Angie came to realise that the flying birds she’d drawn were the porcelain ducks that were on the wall that she watched as she was being abused.

In processing she ripped that room to pieces, made the frosted glass clear, ripped out the smelly carpet and made the walls white. That felt good to her.

Angie needed few interweaves, although there was one session where we were running out of time, and I asked what her frozen little girl needed.

Angie responded by saying she, as her adult self, went back, physically smashed the abuser and gathered up her small self; beautiful!

Angie’s seizures reduced after the first couple of processing sessions and then stopped altogether. We completed EMDR with a woman who was looking forward to her life.

I heard via a Christmas card she sent about a year later that she had a job and had been granted a provisional driving license.

Then last Christmas, six years after EMDR, she sent another card with photos of her husband and new baby thanking me and saying how well she’d been.

My supervisor encouraged me to write this up at the time, but I’m not great at writing and I was concerned that the EMDR community would criticise my unorthodox methods and kick me out!

I want to tell you because I think you’ll get it Mark, as would Laurel. Putting the patient first is the most important.

Thanks for reading.

Rachael Ward

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