Ellen was a married woman in her early 50s with two high school aged kids and a challenging job. She had been in therapy off and on as an adult, and she had found it helpful. Unfortunately, she continued to overeat, oversleep, and to shrink away from confrontations with her boss and husband. These actions left her feeling, once more, like a failure. They were part of a familiar pattern that started in reaction to stressors in her family life during childhood.
When she started therapy, Ellen was committed to doing all it would take to make lasting changes she could feel good about. She wanted to believe in her heart all the wise things she knew in her head. Therapy began by reviewing her coping skills. Ellen began practicing by challenging her distorted beliefs as they arose. She learned and practiced relaxation and mindfulness skills. These skills helped to reduce tension that prompted her to eat when she wasn’t hungry. She also learned to be gentle with and kind toward herself when she fell into old habits, and this helped loosen the hold of that “failure” label.
While Ellen’s heart felt better when she used these skills, she still found it easy to buy into those old, negative messages. She was ready to try EMDR therapy to reprocess the experiences from childhood and at work that shaped how she saw herself and the world. Although the EMDR therapy was different from anything else she had tried, she found it offered a deeper change experience than in previous therapy. She began to notice ways she could stay in conversations with her boss that she used to find scary. After a few reprocessing sessions, she and her family were aware that her confidence had begun to increase, and she had even fewer episodes of overeating and oversleeping. She enjoyed more of her time with her family.
Her heart was definitely more in line with her head. She could see herself using her coping skills to handle current situations, and she could even see herself coping effectively in imagined future scenarios. By the end of therapy, Ellen reported improved satisfaction in her marriage and family life, more enjoyment at work, and a stronger sense of confidence in her ability to handle the next challenges life might bring.
What made Ellen’s experience successful?
1. She was committed to reviewing and learning coping skills even when they meant facing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
2. She was ready to practice the coping skills every day they were needed even when they took extra time and energy.
3. As her coping skills became consistent and effective, Ellen was open to identifying and addressing the most distressing memories from her past that were influencing her present behavior and her expectations for the future.
4. She was willing to accept responsibility for her emotions and for taking steps to heal. She wasn’t interested in placing blame, seeking legal recourse, or defining herself as a victim.
5. She felt trust in and comfort with her therapist.
Note: Ellen is a fictional character. Names and identifying features have been changed, omitted, or blended as a composite of several clients to preserve confidentiality. This story is meant as a reference point that demonstrates the value of applying various techniques and maintaining a helpful mindset about therapy.