A long time client came back to see me. She'd been ill and after weeks in bed, depression had colonized her, again. She mentioned, " that it's stupid, but what was really bothering me is this itch on the back of my head." She'd been to the doctor, who found nothing wrong with her scalp, used dandruff shampoo and cortisone cream, to no avail. I explained to her that her itch could be like phantom limb pain. I'd read Atul Guwande's New Yorker article http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/06/30/080630fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=all about intractable itching. Guwande said that researchers found that when a nerve cell that could report itching dies, the brain starts sending signals that itching is occurring. Since nothing is actually happening to the skin, there's no way to shut it off. It mentioned cases of people causing damage to themselves scratching. One poor woman actually scratched through her scalp and then her skull and did brain damage to herself in her sleep, and was hospitalized, in restraints.
I explained that this kind of itching sounded like phantom limb pain–the brain sending pain signals out, about body parts that aren't there anymore, and that EMDR can sometimes eradicate the pain. Let's do it! We did.
I had her focus on the day the itching started, and then the sensation itself. We did the standard EMDR protocol set-up, and I handed her the bilateral hand buzzers. The itch started moving around on her head, a good sign. She cleared emotions about it, and kept feeling it transform and move. As it faded, I suggested she talk to her brain about the itch, based on the article: "Brain, you think I've got lice or fleas over there. I don't. There's nothing there. Stop telling me there is! There's no vermin!" She laughed and told her brain to stop. I had her visualize the scalp she had–whitish pink and healthy. By that time, the itch factor had gone from a 6 out of 10 to a 2. An email yesterday, 5 days later, let me know that the itch had gone completely away.
Tinker, R & Wilson, S. 2005.The Phantom Limb Pain Protocol in R. Shapiro, EMDR Solutions: Pathways to Healing. Norton.