Excerpt from Chapter 4...
I told Ralph that the way this technique worked, the therapist would first ask the client where they held the picture of their trauma. Ralph said that his was right in front of him, about two feet away, in a square area that roughly encompassed his chest, and he started to tremble and tears came to his eyes as he pointed at it. I told him and the group that it had been my experience that most people with PTSD held their traumatic memories in roughly the same place, and when memories were elsewhere they were usually not the source of true PTSD symptoms. I then told Ralph that to do Eye Motion Therapy a therapist would not have the client look in the direction of the traumatic picture, but would instead direct his eyes everywhere else. As he looked away from that spot, he regained his composure.
Ralph sat opposite me, facing me directly, our knees about six inches from each other. I held up a felt marker pen just above his eye level and told him that with EMT the therapist would ask the client to hold his head steady and just follow the tip of the pen with his eyes. I suggested that he consider the intensity of the emotion he was experiencing right now as 100 on a scale of 0 to 100, and we’d check it again as we went along. Then I began moving the pen around in regular, rhythmic patterns, from side to side, going just to the edge of his field of vision across the top of his field of vision, sort of like I was wiping a blackboard at that height. I continued this for about two minutes, then stopped.
“What’s the intensity of the emotion now?” I asked.
Ralph glanced down and said, “Around 80 percent.”
“Fine,” I said, and repeated the process, this time moving through the center of his visual field as well as above it, but always being careful not to move the pen into the area where he said the painful picture was located. After another two or three minutes of having his eyes follow the pen from side to side again, I stopped and asked how he was doing.
“It’s down around 60 percent,” he said.
We repeated the process again, and this time he said it went to about 40 percent.
One of the keys to doing EMT and avoiding abreactions is to not enter the picture until the intensity is below 50 percent, so when he reported it was at 40 percent, I again moved the pen from side to side but this time did it across his entire visual field, from top to bottom to top, as if I were thoroughly washing a blackboard. Whenever I noticed his eyes tic--seize up for a moment and interrupt the smooth flow of motion following the pen--I’d revisit that area a few times until his eye motions were smooth there. After about two minutes of this, he took a deep breath as his eyes were following the pen, let it out, and began to grin broadly, then chuckled under his breath.
I stopped the pen and said, “What’s up?”
He looked at me with an expression of mixed amusement and astonishment. “I can’t believe what a dummy I’ve been all these years,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I should have just let that go and gotten on with my life. Instead, I’ve wasted more than thirty years.”
“Are we talking about the event that was bringing you to tears fifteen minutes ago?” I said.
“We sure are,” he said. “I was with a medivac unit in Vietnam, and after a really nasty firefight I called in two choppers to carry out the wounded. I was pretty sure all the enemy were dead, so after the choppers were loaded, I signaled them to take off. They got about two hundred feet up into the air and two rockets came out of the jungle and exploded them both, raining down helicopter parts and bodies on those of us on the ground.” He shook his head with an expression of regret, although his tone was matter-of-fact. “I blamed myself for their deaths, and every day since that day in 1970 I’ve seen those choppers explode and heard those men screaming as they fell out of the sky.”
He lifted his shoulders and dropped them. “I still remember it. But while you were doing that last pass there with the pen, suddenly it seemed like the pictures flattened out and took on the quality of an old newsreel. And I heard my own voice in my head say to me, ‘You did what you thought was right at the time. It was a mistake, but you did it with good intentions. You wanted to get those men to medical care, and you saved a lot of other lives while you were in that war. And now it’s over and done with, there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s time to forgive yourself and get on with your life. If nothing else, that’s what the guys who died would want you to do, because it’s what you would have wanted them to do if the situation had been reversed.’”
“And what’s the intensity of the emotion right now?” I said.
He shrugged again. “Close to zero. I mean, damn, it’s been thirty years. It’s over and done with.”
It’s been several years since Ralph participated in that teaching demonstration, and Stephen tells me that he’s doing well in his life, has a job, and is no longer tortured by his past. He’s cured of his PTSD.