Jesus & EMDR Therapy: A testimony of healing from post-traumatic stress disorder

If you would prefer to listen to this article, click the play button above.

An Important Introduction

Welcome! I am so glad you are here. Likely, you have found yourself here because you have some curiosity or experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy or post-traumatic stress disorder. I am excited–albeit a bit nervous–to share with you my own experiences, as I have already witnessed how my own testimony of healing has poured hope into those who may also be suffering from various mental and emotional trials. I am nervous because in the following testimony I am vulnerable, and who isn’t a little nervous when vulnerable?

What you are about to read is my own personal testimony of miraculous healing from post-traumatic stress disorder through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. Many have discovered healing through the process of EMDR, or similar methods of therapy, and I have witnessed those who are, at most, apathetic toward spiritual things admit the miraculousness of this psychological treatment for trauma.

I believe that the Lord allows mercies both to those who call on His name and sometimes to those who don’t–always for His glory, however He deems best. I fully attribute my own healing to my God and Creator and my Lord Jesus Christ who first conducted the far greater miracle by healing my soul by restoring me to a right relationship with God when I could not, in my own effort, possibly walk in a right relationship with Him. Jesus continues in the hard work of healing and restoration in my life, and my prayer is that this testimony of healing will display His love for an unlovable human and His willingness to answer the cries of the hurting and desperate person.

Our human tendency is to quickly seek the fastest method of escaping our suffering. We long to be whole and healed, to walk happy and confident–to be at peace. Several times when I have shared this testimony with others, they have hurried to book their own appointment with an EMDR therapist in hopes that they will also experience healing from deeply traumatic experiences, and I would never discourage someone from doing so.

My one caution to my readers is this: EMDR therapy is not McDonald’s therapy. It is in no way a quick-fix. It required hard work on my part, financial investment, and perseverance that would not have been possible without my supportive church community, patient and wise therapist, as well as a full surrender and trust in Jesus. My therapist said to me that if anyone visits a therapist who desires to launch straight into EMDR therapy, the patient should run for the hills. EMDR, like any intensive therapy, should be prescribed very carefully by a licensed professional who understands that EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all solution for trauma therapy.

I also had the benefit of being guided by a therapist who, herself, is a follower of Jesus and extremely prayerful and tactful in her work. Part of her great ability may come from the fact that she also experienced trauma–and healing from trauma–in her own life. Just as you might seek out a pediatrician who, himself, has kids of his own and therefore some empathy for your situation as a parent trying to seek healing and care for your child, so it is also probably beneficial to seek a therapist who knows something about trauma themselves, from experience. Having a therapist who understands the great healing that is possible through both modern psychology and faith in Jesus was an incredible gift from the Lord in my life. The Lord works all things together for His good, and I have seen this first-hand in my experiences with my therapist. 

For reasons that are beyond my own full understanding, the Lord allows people to suffer–sometimes for a long time. If you are suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, my heart goes out to you. Although it may feel at times that you are the only one of your kind, locked in a box of uncontrolled responses to life events that haunt you day-to-day, the reality is that you are not alone. Many suffer in deep and hidden ways. Although I can not pretend to fully understand why we suffer, I do believe that the Lord uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

What we can stake our hope in is that the God who created us is not only interested in public displays of His glory. He is in the business of healing the inner depths of our hearts, minds and souls so that we–in our secret hearts–will praise Him. He is interested in being Lord over your life and revealing Himself to you, whether anyone else sees it or not. He sees you. Standing on the other side of a decade of post-traumatic stress disorder and difficult battles as a result of it, I can tell you that my decision to hand my hurt to Jesus was entirely worth it. Seeking healing from your trauma is worth it.

The Lord healed me, and only my secret heart was a full witness to a healing that I never dreamed possible. My husband–and also my therapist in some ways– witnessed many of the incredible results of my healing, but most of the healing happened in the depths of mind and I continue to stand in awe of the freedom gifted to me, for me–alone.

I hope that this testimony encourages you to pause and look at Jesus. If you would like to know more about Jesus and the salvation that comes from making Him Lord over your life, my husband and I are more than willing to share the good news of Christ with you. We hardly have all the answers, but we would love nothing more than to encourage you to at least consider that the God of the Universe loves you and desires that you would walk the rest of your life in the light of His saving grace.

___

The Pit: Encountering the God who loves the wounded

I woke up completely empty. My navel felt like it was scraping my backbone as I lay in twisted sheets staring at the white ceiling above me. My limbs were heavy from the aftermath of too many vodka tonics and something else that tasted similar to cough syrup. I was alone. 

That morning did not differ much from many of the mornings before it. I had fallen head first into a routine of late night alcoholic blackouts that would leave me scrambling for my apartment keys at 3am, pushing aside hunger pangs for lack of money and the willpower to nourish any part of my failing body. Life had been hard, and I nursed my wounds with a type of reckless living that I figured would probably end in an early, tragic, and likely unnoticeable death. I was apathetic.

I refer to that morning as “the pit” when I’m telling someone my story in a more general way. I say “I was at the bottom of the darkest pit, completely alone and abandoned, when I heard God’s voice.” And I was completely alone and completely abandoned by all human companionship. Looking back, I realize that the young woman laying in that bed was a half-dead corpse that had washed up on the shore of complete despair after being churned in the dark stomach of a whale named Brokenhearted. I was Jonah, having run from a God that I supposed probably loved me — but I had run the opposite way into the arms of every kind of disappointment.

I began to methodically plot my exit from life. 

I was just getting motivated in my planning when I heard His voice. It seemed audible, as if He had removed the ceiling and was shouting at me from the apartment one floor above mine. Now that I think back to it, that audible voice may have blasted from between my ears out to the room surrounding me. I’m not sure how the sound moved, I just know that I heard it.

“Are you ready to worship me?”

Stunned, I began to worship Him. Alone, I worshiped Him. My dead soul and my lifeless body cried out to the One who created me. Fully steeped in rebellion, laying in the decay and refuse of my own sin, I worshiped Him.

And that is how I know that God is after the heart of the sinner and that He draws near to the broken. I experienced it firsthand. I was a woman—abandoned, broken, rejected, and afraid, openly embracing a life of sin and depravity. I was a woman who trampled my inheritance of a childhood salvation. To all who looked on, I was lost. But when everyone else sprinted out of the radius of my torment, He remained.  

The House Rebuilt: How the Lord gradually restored us

Eleven years later, I live in a beautiful house on a hill with my adoring husband and two precious boys. My husband and I have survived a storm that resulted from launching a marriage on an ultimatum and weathering chronic depression, apathy and shame in our early years. Five years into our marriage, we turned to stand face-to-face toward God together—in full repentance, we came humbly to a loving Father who embraced us, restored us, taught us His Word and Commandments, and began the lifelong process of pruning our hearts and renewing our mind for His glory.

Over time, we experienced many seasons: miraculous mental healing, emotional healing, forgiveness, the incredible pain of losing two babies—but not without the comfort from a God who knows the depths of every sorrow, the beginning of financial wisdom, a continuing of humble repentance, and working diligently in ministry together pouring into those around us from the overflow of our time with Him—pointing them to the Father and inviting them to learn from the ultimate Teacher with us. 

From the outside, and even on the inside of our hearts, home, and pillow talk—all was well and upheld by the Father. All, except a massive thorn wedged in the middle of my mind that threatened insidiously to unravel everything.

The Thorn: A short depiction of PTSD symptoms

For the sake of not glorifying the demonic and tragic memories that would rage within my mind, I’ll be brief. The trigger was physical touch and the torment would spin up like a movie reel at an old theater, only I could never turn it off. I would regress to childhood and become a victim in my otherwise safe home. Often this would turn into hours of me — hunched in a fetal position—begging God to end the torment. It was all real, it was all in my mind, and it pushed me away from the one who loves me most—my husband. For 10 years, the memories would portray as real as the day they began and I lived in the cyclical torment of a generational curse imposed by an abuser who, himself, died years ago.

The Prayer Closet: Jesus asks me to do hard things

It was 2020, and despite a global battle with a vicious pandemic and all the complications that came with it—our family was thriving. The Lord walked with us through ambitious goals of contentment and financial wisdom in motion. I was excited to enter my prayer closet and bow myself before the throne of the Lord asking “What do you have for 2021?”

My excitement quickly waned. The Lord often speaks to me in pictures and I saw an image in my mind of a long, dark tunnel. Jesus stood in front of the tunnel and then slowly turned to walk into the darkness. 

We are going here, but I’m going first. I want you to follow me.

Oh no. I knew what this was — the dark tunnel represented the darkness in my mind and the hidden trauma that staked claim over the most sensitive part of my daily life—intimacy in marriage.

My body shook all over, but years of suffering in other ways had taught me that the Lord is trustworthy and the best thing we can do is trust and obey Him.

“Ok, Jesus.” I whispered. “But only because you asked.”

A Friend in the Boat: Meeting a therapist who understands

When I entered Sharon’s office, she asked me to take any seat that felt comfortable to me. I chose the far right side of a small loveseat. She took the seat directly in front of me. Beside her was an empty chair, and in my mind—Jesus took His place there.

Sharon began, “Tell me what is impacting your daily life today that you are hoping to resolve.”

I nervously wrapped a piece of tissue around my fingers. I rarely spoke to anyone about my difficulties at home—triggered by touch, spiraling out of control in the middle of the night.

Somehow I managed the gist of it.

She calmly listened and then, as if she had been there—behind my mind’s eye every time I experienced a massive panic attack—she explained to me what happens when I experience one of these episodes. She explained it methodically and in detail—that I regress to childhood, that I enter fight, flight, or freeze “mode,” that I disengage with my body and my spirit hunkers down to endure the frightful hurricane until somehow it ends. She explained that this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was stunned. No one had ever expressed empathy, much less had been able to describe what happened in my own mind during one of these experiences. 

“I am here to tell you there is absolutely hope for healing in this,” she said calmly. “I know there is hope and I am praying now that the Lord will give you the hope that will help you to courageously do the hard work required in the coming weeks.”

The room was quiet. She prayed over me, and I did leave feeling hopeful. It was hope that came from the fresh knowledge that someone was in the boat with me, that I wasn’t stranded on some broken piece of driftwood on my own—enduring one torrential storm after another.

Over the next two months I met with Sharon weekly. Sharon never led with verbal processing, but used methods of therapy that brought disturbing memories to the surface in broad daylight without overwhelming and suffocating me. I made timelines, drew pictures, and focused on my breathing. Somehow the Lord used those methods to bring to the surface the very root of the darkness that would overtake me at night, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. In reality, it was far worse—but as hard as it is sometimes for us to look at the truth of the things that haunt us, we who know Jesus know that His plans for us are good. He is not without deliberate intention, rather He turns on the lights so that all darkness will cease. We can trust that although what we view in the light is sometimes horrifically ugly, the Lord is able to work with clarity and clean up the sinful mess in our wake.

The Lord’s House: The enemy tries to interfere

Two months into therapy and another panic attack started suddenly. I couldn’t put my finger on what one thing may have caused the onset of the panic attack, but there I was sitting in a dark room sobbing uncontrollably between heavy bursts of hyperactive breathing. Likely, it wasn’t one thing—but many. 

I spiraled out of control. My mind began to play the movie reel of all of the terrible things that I had experienced in my life. Once that movie pressed play, I just couldn’t seem to find the stop button. My whole body sobbed as I regressed to my four year old self. My soul felt disembodied and I seemed to stare at myself from above, my mind slowly breaking.

“Lord, you are my Creator. You love me. You are near to me.”

“Lord, forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to heal. Lord, help me.”

I am here.

My sobbing waned and for a moment the room was quiet. And then it picked up uncontrollably again.

I am here.

My sobbing waned. All was silent for a moment or two once more. I was aware of the Lord’s nearness. I was aware that I was not alone. And then the real storm began and chaos erupted in my mind.

Hours later my husband was awake and by my side. Unable to tell him I needed help—I frantically threw my panic at his bedside. He sat up and grabbed his Bible to begin reading the Psalms over me as I lay curled in a fetal position gripping my stomach and pulling at my hair. I moaned in the agony of every horrible memory resurfacing, disconnected from one another, just pummeling my mind. When am I going to break? I thought. When will this end? Oh, God, please help this end.

And then I heard the voices. They were voices like those of passersby, average and human (not slithery and hissing like you might imagine). They were firm and planned. They, I am convinced, were demons. 

She’s breaking… she’s breaking, I think we can go in. I think this is it. Let’s move in. Come on…

I felt myself losing control. My soul, hovering above my body felt suddenly frantic—what if this is the end. What if this is the panic attack that breaks everything?

My husband’s voice whispered in the background—prayers of peace and pleading with our healing God to grant me sleep and protection.

Then suddenly the voice of my heavenly Father—my Creator, the one who calls me by name—called out above all of the voices and flooded my mind and my soul in an overwhelming warcry, THIS IS MY HOUSE. YOU WILL NOT ENTER.

A brilliant flash of light filled my mind and then almost as suddenly as it all began—it ended, and I fell asleep.

Feeling the sudden deadweight of my body against his, my husband put down his Bible and praised the Lord for another victory.

Jesus: The beginning and the end

The next day, exhausted, I sobbed on the phone to my friend and mentor—Karen. 

“I just don’t know if this is worth it. Karen, is it worth it? It’s just so hard… and it’s getting worse.”

“Reagan,” she said kindly and firmly, “Why did you start down this path in the beginning?”

I thought intently. I remembered Jesus in my prayer closet. “Because Jesus asked me to.”

“And what do you expect to find in the end?”

I truly wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know if I could survive such a frightening path into the horrific imaginings in my mind. I hesitated, and whispered “Jesus.”

“And is that not enough?”

Yes. “Yes. He is enough.”

He is enough.

The Processing Session: My experience with EMDR

“What is the belief you have about the event we are going to revisit today?” Sharon sat in front of me, calm and matter-of-fact.

“That I am unsafe.”

“And what do you want to believe instead?”

“That I am safe.”

At the beginning of our hour together she asked me to verbally describe the event we were going to revisit during our EMDR processing session. I could not successfully describe it without climbing the heights of emotional disturbance. I sobbed into my lap. She calmed me.

She played a metronome-like sound and safely led me to close my eyes and press play on the horrific film that so often haunted me in the middle of the night.

The memory began to play. There I was—a little girl in a room. A victim. The nightmare rolled, and my body shook. 

She checked in — I opened my eyes. 

“What did you notice?” 

I told her the details. It was the same three “scenes” that would play in the same order.

“OK — this time, I want you to see if you can remove yourself from the first person experience. Can you be in the room in your memory, an observer during the memory?”

“I can try.”

I closed my eyes — I was a child again, but an observer, and the memory played. The memory became alive and something demonic and frightening lashed out at me. It told me to stand still and be quiet. 

I sobbed. She checked in. 

“Ok, let’s do something different. I want you to see if you can be present in the memory as your current adult self. Can you try that for me?”

“I can try,” I wept. 

I closed my eyes — I was my adult self. The memory played, but this time—when the abuser walked into the room in my memory he saw me there and stopped. “You can not come in,” I said in my mind, “I’m watching you. I can see you. You cannot come in here.”

Suddenly the reel stalled and the memory could no longer move forward. What is happening? I whispered in my mind. The film began to slowly burn away and I stood in darkness watching the ashes flutter all around me. I heard a voice whisper, “I AM the Beginning and the End.”

Sharon checked in.

I opened my eyes, exhausted. I described to Sharon what happened. She seemed pleased. We prayed and I drove home, my mind raw and my body limp from the battle.

After the Battle: The first days of victory

In the days after our processing session I felt as if my mind was healing from a surgical procedure. I was nervous to think too hard in any one direction—nervous to hope, or to despair. But each night came and went without panic attacks. My dreams even seemed calm and restful within my mind.

Now, almost one month since my processing session—I am completely free of panic attacks or triggers of any kind. My husband and I have slowly explored our time together, and we have wept together in praise that we are no longer haunted by the demons of PTSD that would so frequently invade our safe and intimate space.

I think the founder of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, describes the experience best. She describes the experience as “kicking the log.” The brain is not able to process some traumatic event, and that event gets lodged like a log preventing a river from flowing correctly. EMDR helps a patient to “kick the log,” allowing the brain to process the traumatic memory and move that memory to the resolved storage. The memories are not forgotten, they simply don’t have the same emotional drive and control they once had.

In my experience, this treatment is a complete miracle of the Lord. One month ago, heading into the EMDR processing session, I was completely without hope. Now, I am healed. My mind is at peace and the torture has ceased. 10 years of living with that traumatic landscape in my mind, resolved in a one hour processing session. Of course, it took months of preparation to get there, but still… healed!

I praise the Lord that He invited me to walk this difficult path. He promised to go before me, and He did. I would have never ventured into therapy on my own—too frozen by fear, too covered in shame. But my Lord is my Rock, my Salvation. Whom shall I fear? I will follow Him anywhere—even into the darkest terrors of the mind. Will we ever see the end of His goodness? We will never see the end. The Lord has won the battle! There is no better home than with Him.

___

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

“The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still.” Exodus 14:14

Five Ways to Love a Caretaker of Someone Living with Depression

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Romans 12:14-16

The endurance and love my husband showed me during the five long years I suffered from debilitating depression set an incredible foundation of trust in our marriage. When I was isolated by my condition–– emotionally, physically, and mentally separated from him––he showed great love for me by simply sticking around. To be honest, we both had resigned ourselves to the possibility that depression would play third wheel to our marriage, perhaps, forever. Praise God––that was not the case. He answered our desperate pleas for help and I have now lived free from depression for almost six years. 

In the wake of my healing, I found our marriage to be anemic. I can’t praise my husband enough for not abandoning me when I, although unintentionally, abandoned him for so long. However, anyone who has endured any difficult season of marriage knows simply sticking around is not enough to produce a successful life-giving relationship. It took years of prayer, marriage counseling, and additional therapy to restore all we had lost in the battle with my depression. My husband had suffered as I suffered. What depression robbed from me, it robbed from him also.

Providing love and support to a spouse, family member, or close friend of someone living with depression is one way the church can love the body of Christ well, and can intentionally share Christ with those who are somehow surviving depression without the incredible acknowledgement of Christ’s great love and mercy for them in their time of need.

Earlier this week, I posted five ways to love someone living with depression. In this post, I share five ways to love the caretakers of those living with depression. I hope this inspires you to reach out and love those who may get overlooked—those living in the pit with a victim of depression.

___

5 Ways to Love a Caretaker of Someone Living with Depression

Invite the caretaker to participate in life-giving activities.

Care-taking, especially caring for a spouse living with depression, can feel like a very lonely and unjust experience. Providing an outlet for the caretaker to enjoy a vibrant conversation, outdoor activities with friends, or a creative outlet with others can breathe life into a person caring for a spouse, family member, or close friend living with depression and it can fuel that caretaker with the endurance needed to care for their loved-one well.

Check in regularly.

Not every engagement needs to take up much time. A simple text to the caretaker asking how they are doing, how you might pray for them, or simply that you are thinking of them provides encouragement that they are seen and remembered in their efforts to love well.

Validate how difficult the situation is for the caretaker.

Often, much of the focus falls on the person suffering from depression, which is appropriate and helpful. However, validating the difficulty of the situation for the caretaker is equally important. As a friend, you can communicate compassion by providing a listening ear and showing sincere empathy by affirming that caring for a loved one with depression is hard. And trust me (and my husband)––it is.

Pray for endurance for the caretaker.

I think we often underestimate the power of prayer. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that we are to “pray without ceasing.” Getting in the pit with your friend or family member by praying consistently for endurance for that person will not only evoke the Lord to move in their lives, but also remind you of the battle the caretaker is in to love and care for someone living with depression well.

Share or remind the caretaker of the gospel.

My husbands says this is probably what he needed most during my time living with depression. Caretakers need to be reminded of the hope they have in Christ––that He is writing a redemptive story that, in the end, conquers all sickness and pain and provides abundant life everlasting. Intentionally sharing the gospel with the caretaker is one of the best ways to remind them of the greater picture––the one where Christ, who moves in towards the desperate and broken, reigns as King.

For an example on how to share the gospel, read or listen to my recent article The Gospel in Five Minutes.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of ways to love caretakers of those living with depression well. If you have experienced caring for someone living with depression, we would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment on what has been most encouraging and helpful to you.


Thank you for visiting! I’m happy to come to you, next time.

Sign up to receive a monthly newsletter summarizing new content and providing a glimpse into my journey as a writer. I promise this not Avon calling… spam is neither in my diet nor my promotional strategy.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Five Ways to Love Someone Living with Depression

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Philippians 3:12-14

If you’ve never suffered from depression, it can be a difficult thing to understand. It is understandable for those who have never experienced depression themselves to grow frustrated and weary with their loved ones who may struggle with the condition. 

I have a lot of empathy for both those who are living with depression and their caretakers, because for five years early in my marriage I was the one living with severe depression and my husband was my caretaker. There were many times when my completely hopeless state of mind would rub off on my husband and he would become hopeless for me and for our marriage. After all, depression—for so many years––kept us worlds apart even while sharing the same living space. 

I no longer live with depression. Five years ago, from the date of this article’s publication, I experienced miraculous healing for which my husband and I are so grateful to the Lord. In many ways, the years I struggled with depression feel like years wasted, but I’ve come to realize they have provided great empathy and wisdom that I have been able to pass on to both those living with depression and their caretakers.

In this article, I offer five ways to love someone living with depression. Later this week, I will also share five ways to love their caretakers well. 

___

Five Ways to Love Someone Living with Depression

Pray for endurance both for you and the person living with depression.

Living with depression requires endurance to continue day-to-day life and it also requires the endurance necessary to continue searching for and praying for healing. You, the friend of this person, will also need endurance to continue to be available and present to a person who may be unable to give back to the relationship in any substantial way.

Allow for space when requested or needed.

This can be difficult sometimes when there may be concerns of how a person living with depression may react to their own feelings of hopelessness, but being around people can sometimes feel overwhelmingly draining to a person living with depression. Whether or not they are truly an introvert in their healthy state of mind, depression requires more energy and focus in order to interact with society. Alone time does not always mean a person is in danger, sometimes it is needed so that the person can muster the endurance to continue in the normal day-to-day. 

Be present, even if silent.

Being a willing and consistent presence in the life of a person living with depression is a wonderful way to love them well. Try to be comfortable with silence when needed and know that the physical presence of a friend who is not demanding of the person’s attention can be a beautiful reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

Encourage therapy with a trusted therapist and offer accountability for therapy, if requested.

Therapy can be very helpful in assisting a person living with depression navigate the source of their condition and begin to heal from the root causes. Although this person should likely not be compelled into therapy, a gentle nudge to consider therapy, as well as an offer to help hold the person accountable for the next step towards beginning therapy, is an act of great love and support if provided at the appropriate time.

Share or remind the person of the gospel.

The gospel is powerful. For one, it’s true. It is also the good news of the greatest act of reconciliation imaginable between us and our Creator God. Taking the time to simply review the good news of Jesus Christ with someone living with depression can provide great hope to help them get through a difficult day or a long season of hopelessness. Many times we often forget this beautiful resource, but there are times when simply sharing the gospel is enough.

For an example on how to share the gospel, read or listen to my recent article The Gospel in Five Minutes.


Thank you for visiting! I’m happy to come to you, next time.

Sign up to receive a monthly newsletter summarizing new content and providing a glimpse into my journey as a writer. I promise this not Avon calling… spam is neither in my diet nor my promotional strategy.

Processing…
Thank you!