Sweating, heavy breathing, uncontrollable weeping, darkness, yelling, sheer terror…it was like I was back there all over again, but reliving the scariest moment of my life was completely worth it in the end. In this post, I will share with you my experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and why I highly recommend it, especially for fellow survivors of the troubled teen industry. While it can be a terrifying process to go through, the results can be absolutely life changing.

Since you are reading this, I’m sure you are familiar with the troubled teen industry and the many dangers of their practices. However, you may not be familiar with the abusive seminars primarily practiced in the WWASP programs. These seminars lasted for several days. They restricted your food, allowed very little sleep, and made the children participate in humiliating, degrading, and psychologically torturous exercises in an effort to “break” the child so they could be built back up again. In the first seminar that I completed, I was tormented into admitting a sexual assault I had experienced. Later on, I was made to bang a towel wrapped in duct tape on the floor, screaming at my abuser while fellow program boys yelled in my face, “You’re a dirty whore! You’re a little slut! You deserved this! You were asking for this!” At one point one of them pushed a pillow against me simulating the pressure of my abuser while I continuously yelled at them, “I’m worthy! I’m not dirty! I’m not a slut!”

This is the incident that haunted me for twenty years. This defined my worth, my self-respect, and my lack of confidence that affected every aspect of my life. This is the moment I wanted to confront. So once my therapist and I had done some preliminary work discussing the details and how the process would work over several sessions, I was finally ready to face this event and rewrite my emotional history. She began by extending a pointer that reminded me of a short antenna and began moving it back and forth horizontally within my line of sight. I was told to follow the pointer with my eyes. Once I got comfortable following the pointer, my therapist asked me to recall this traumatic event.

She asked me to smell the auditorium, feel the towel in my hands, hear the boys taunting me, smell the sweat dripping off of them, fully embrace the sheer terror of being tortured and having no control over the situation whatsoever. I began retelling every moment as if I was back there in this exact moment giving my therapist a play by play. As this is happening, for reasons believed to be connected to Rapid Eye Movement (REM), internal associations began connecting and I began processing the memory and the traumatic feelings as if I were right back in that auditorium. I began to shake and lose my breath. Just short of a panic attack, the therapist intervened. With her soothing voice she assured me I was safe and temporarily brought me back into the moment while I caught my breath.

Once my breathing became more steady, she asked me to go back to that memory but as who I am today. To picture myself standing up in the middle of that auditorium and telling those boys that I was incapable of being broken. She asked me to imagine that this event motivated me to live my life with dignity and respect for myself. She asked me to imagine that I left that program stronger than when I entered. That this moment defined my strength and not my weakness. I did. I began feeling feelings of warmth and acceptance and worthiness. Most importantly, I felt strong, powerful and like a true survivor. My therapist simply acted as a moderator of my own solitary healing process. Through my own emotional intelligence, I was guided into restoring a huge part of my mental health.

This event that defined so many aspects of my life in such a negative way, had now empowered me and transformed my entire belief system regarding what this event used to mean to me. All of this occurred within a 90 minute session, which I find miraculous. This wasn’t something that simply changed my feelings about this memory temporarily. Every time I think about this memory, I am reminded of my immense strength and resilience. While I still suffer from PTSD, the symptoms revolve around other aspects of my time in the troubled teen industry, and the effects are not as strong as they once were. While EMDR worked for me for that excruciatingly painful memory, it is not a guarantee it will work for everyone. Every brain is incredibly different, but it is definitely worth a shot. If you don’t have success with this treatment, please don’t give up. The Breaking Code Silence website has plenty of resources to seek out alternative treatments. Whatever you decide to do, please know that you are worth it.

By Haywood Robinson

Picture of the author of this blog post, Haywood Robinson, in mirror images