Backstory: Therapeutic Technique Golden State Killer Survivors are Using

Invaluable help for victims of trauma. It’s worth trying if you’re struggling.

In July 2018, Paige St John released a podcast called Man in the Window. It’s a fantastic podcast that tells the Golden State Killer story, emphasizing the women and the times (the 1970s).

In the final episode, Resurrection, Paige talks about the therapist Phyllis (Victim #1) and Kris Pedretti are seeing, and she speaks briefly about the therapeutic technique. I thought I’d provide more information for those of you interested so you can investigate this kind of treatment for yourself. It’s beneficial for anyone with PTSD or deep trauma.

This method is like EMDR on steroids.

I didn’t realize I was doing the same thing as Kris and Phyllis until I spoke with Kris a couple weeks ago. As you know, what happened to me (and my family) was different. Most had personal contact with DeAngelo and managed to survive the monster. We had all the horror, and yet with us, things ended in murder.

Thankfully, as a group, we don’t bisect the two kinds of survivors, yet the trauma is different. I don’t have body memories as they do — I didn’t feel his breath on my neck, I didn’t feel his hands on my body. I wasn’t terrorized by him afterward (except in my head).

Yet, this kind of therapy works the same way regardless of how you’ve earned your trauma. It’s called Brainspotting (not to be confused with Trainspotting, the 1990s Scottish drug movie), and it manifests as a hybrid of EMDR

As I understand from my therapist, a psychologist in Santa Cruz, Brainspotting is new. The training is coming out of California, and most of the early adopters are in the Sacramento area. At first glance, it seems extremely easy, but that’s the rub. It works almost like popping a Pillsbury biscuit roll — once it’s open, you can’t shove the stuff back in and save it for later.

Let me slow down and explain.

The Brainspotting experience.

I have eleven planets in Aquarius, I’m up for almost everything, but when I first heard about Brainspotting, I thought it sounded like magic. In fact, I likened it to when Dumbledore pulls the memory out of his head with his wand and drops it into the Pensieve so Harry Potter can experience Dumbledore’s memories.

It’s kinda like that.

First, the client (you) think about the traumatic event you want to deflate (blow up, eradicate, choose your poison). I usually start thinking about it when I wake up on a therapy morning, knowing my appointment is at 10:45. It makes for a rather unpleasant morning. I get anxious knowing I’ll be spotting soon, and I make a point of avoiding caffeine.

Because I’m a big chicken, I usually babble a bit when I get there until Lilli looks at me and says, “Ready”? I say no, but I know it’s time. She hands me an iDevice with headphones, the soft music moving from one ear to the other. For me, just the music is highly stimulating. I carefully adjust the volume to be loud enough to hear but not so loud as to distract.

Someone call Hogwarts, we’ve found a wand.

The next step is where the wand comes in. My therapist calls it a pointer, my friend calls it a piece of shit. I think everyone has their own pet name for the damn thing. It is irritating. But it works.

While you are thinking about your trauma (and it’s usually just a slice of the trauma because there’s only so much one can handle in a single session), the therapist moves the pointer around. Slowly. Back and forth, up and down. They are watching to see if your eyes do a flicker movement. When they see that, they stop and either ask what’s going on or wait to see if you speak.

This is the moment that distinguishes therapists.

When there’s a hit — that point where your brain and memory come together and deliver feelings that can be breathtaking, how your therapist makes space for that moment is everything. In my case, my therapist says she will be quiet until I talk.

This works for me because sometimes, it’s almost like I’m having crashing thoughts.

I hear lots of noise, recall memories, feelings, words, images, skin-crawling, or numbness. It’s not predictable other than, for me, it will require Kleenex. I’ve found I rapidly move off the “wand” and fixate on an object in her office that’s in the same location as the wand, and I usually have her stop wanding (look how I made up a verb) and she just lets me sit and stare.

The science of Brainspotting.

Yeah, I don’t know how it works precisely, but something about the music bringing together both sides of the brain helps the memories come back. As they do, the tide of emotion is enormous. It is like a tsunami of emotion, and I can only do it for about 20 minutes. I often struggle to speak.

After 20 minutes, I typically need to spend the rest of the hour settling back down — like you might do to reduce anxiety. Breathing, observing, discussing critical parts of the memories all help to deescalate the situation. The rest of the day, I’m kind of trashed — I go back to work, but I plan to do the things that don’t take a lot of brainpower because I find I am scattered on. And I usually need a nap.

But this is vital. I’m digging up dirt. Long-buried pain, some of which I’ve never considered with an adult brain because it happened in childhood.

Lilli warns that self-awareness and self-care are crucial for anyone doing this kind of work. The door has been unlocked; the book has been opened, and memories can creep out when you least expect them. But the benefits — as far as I’m concerned — outweigh all the work.

I know I have PTSD from the murders of my dad and Charlene. I also have a few other things that have happened to me that fit PTSD. I did a ton of therapy in my 20s and did not want to go back. Dealing directly with the trauma at age 57 is about all I can handle right now, and it’s been incredibly successful for me.

It’s worth a try if you’re stuck.

My happy place. Post-therapy place. Walton’s lighthouse in Santa Cruz harbor. Author’s image.

If you’ve got PTSD or love someone who does, Brainspotting is worth your consideration.² If you can’t find a therapist in your area, you can start with EMDR. Now that I’ve done these sessions, when I’m struggling, sometimes I just put headphones on with EMDR music and meditate on the thing that’s troubling me. That can be enough to provide insight into why I’m sad or stuck.

One more thing: I’ve been advised the trauma will never really go away, but this process takes the sting out of it. I can’t understate this. What happened, happened. But removing the charge has been amazing. For me, it’s turned moments into memories instead of little movies I want to avoid. It’s also left space for many good memories to come back.

I think they all got packed away in the same suitcase. Brainspotting has let me open the suitcase, and like the kids at Hogwarts, it’s magically allowed the good memories to return.

¹If you aren’t familiar with EMDR, you might want to start here. It’s more broadly available, and it’s a powerful way to tap memories and feelings you’ve shoved backward. At a minimum, you can download or stream EMDR music, which will stimulate your brain. You’ll hear the sound move from ear to ear (use headphones), and I find it a good way to meditate because I can let my mind run free.

² If you’re a sexual assault survivor looking for support, Kris Pedretti has a private group on Facebook where you can get your toes wet. Please join her there for support.

With a master’s in Strategic Communication, I’ve helped more companies in Silicon Valley than a cat has lives! More

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store