EMDR therapy for addiction treatment is based on the theory that the mind can be enabled to heal itself. Essentially, it teaches your brain to process things in a new way, releasing the trauma carried by certain memories. EMDR therapy focuses on removing these mental blocks and allowing your brain to move on from past problems.

There’s a lot of confusion about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, better known as EMDR therapy. Many don’t know what it is. Some mistakenly believe it’s dangerous. Very few understand the great benefits EMDR can have for treating people suffering from substance abuse or PTSD.

EMDR therapy has been around since 1989. Despite that relatively short history, there’s extensive clinical research backing this method. It has been the subject of numerous studies that support its use. The American Psychiatric Association and U.S. Department of Defense have recognized it as a form of treatment for trauma.

What Is EMDR Therapy In Kentucky For Addiction Treatment?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a treatment therapist use to help clients resolve the lingering effects of trauma in their lives. The treatment helps clients more fully recover from events that may have opened the door to their addictions.

Often a traumatic memory thought, sensation or emotion can bring up feelings of distress in the patient. EMDR therapy helps alleviate these responses by helping the patient process the trauma. In this way, the trauma remains a part of the patient’s personal history but is no longer emotionally activating.

EMDR therapy involves a combination of stimulating sights and sounds. (This is where the Eye Movement part of EMDR comes in.) The therapist uses these stimulating sights or auditory sounds to help the patient process their trauma or reach a point where they don’t experience overwhelming distress while reliving the memory.

The “Eye Movement” part of EMDR creates what is known as bilateral stimulation of the brain. This means both halves of the brain are activated so that they work together to process trauma, memories, and emotions.

EMDR patients often speak of feeling as if memories of their trauma are “stuck.” Bilateral stimulation of EMDR helps to “break up” these traumatic memories so they can be fully processed. Once these memories are processed, patients can get past them.

Addiction and Co-Occurring Mental Health Issues

Traumatic events feature in nearly every person’s life. They can range from the witnessing of or involvement in a violent crime such as murder, sexual abuse, or arson, or a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood, or fire. Other violent or life-threatening instances include car accidents, house fires, wartime experiences, and emotional or psychological abuse.

Living with the memory of a traumatic event can result in depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is believed by many addiction specialists that a person’s abuse of drugs or alcohol is often the direct result of attempting to numb themselves from the pain of past trauma. This very common pairing of mental health disorder with a comorbid substance abuse problem is called co-occurring disorders. Other terms for this pairing are dual diagnosis or dual pathology.

Sexual abuse is one of the most common causes of PTSD and substance abuse in women, according to the National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Combat is another common reason for PTSD in men. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, approximately 70 percent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for PTSD also require treatment for substance abuse. According to Alcohol Research & Health, many of those with PTSD will turn to alcohol as a means of replacing the feelings brought on by the brain’s naturally produced endorphins. But the positive effects of alcohol are of course only temporary.

EMDR therapy can treat a wide range of symptoms, many of which are experienced by those battling addiction, including panic attacks, relationship issues, low self-esteem, anxiety, phobia, insomnia, excessive worrying and anger issues. By helping patient process their traumatic memories through EMDR therapy, the psychological dependence on alcohol or drugs is removed.

What Happens In an EMDR Therapy Session

According to Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., the originator and developer of EMDR therapy, there are eight phases to EMDR therapy. These eight phases are:

  • History and treatment planning. The patient’s history and overall treatment plan are discussed, identifying potential target memories for EMDR.
  • Before beginning EMDR for the first time, it is recommended that the client identify a “safe place” or positive cognition. A safe place is an image or memory that sparks comfortable feelings and a positive sense of self. This can be used later to bring closure to an incomplete or upsetting session.
  • Prior to beginning the Eye Movement, a snapshot image is identified that represents the target and the disturbance associated with it. Using this image is a way to help the client focus on the target way to help the client focus on the target, or “negative cognition.” Then, a “positive cognition,” or something preferable to the negative cognition is identified.
  • The therapist asks the patient to focus simultaneously on the image, negative cognition, and the disturbing emotion or physical sensation. Then the therapist usually asks the client to follow a moving object with his or her eyes. The object moves from side to side so that the patient’s eyes also move back and forth.
  • The therapist asks the client about the positive cognition to see if it has changed for the patient. This is followed by a new set of eye movements.
  • Body Scan. The therapist makes sure that the patient is not in any kind of physical pain, stress, or discomfort. If so, the patient focused on the discomfort and a new set of eye movements occur.
  • The therapist offers more support and information.
  • Re-evaluation. At the beginning of the next session, the patient reviews new sensations or experiences.

Clients typically begin the process at a 9 or 10 on the 0-10 scale for high emotional activation. The goal is to move them down to a 0 or 1 activation. At that point, more positive cognitions are introduced and supported as clients begin to establish a stronger self-image and belief about themselves.

For example, a client might move from an initial negative cognition of “I am in danger” when recalling the trauma to a positive cognition of “I can take care of myself” once the trauma is fully processed through EMDR therapy.

In some cases, patients find they cannot handle following repeated eye movements back and forth. In these cases, clinicians offer other ways of achieving the necessary bilateral stimulation. These other ways include the tapping of hands, knees, or shoulders in rapid succession. Auditory stimulation via tones or sounds is another effective form of bilateral input.

People’s physical response to trauma varies, but they can include rapid heart rate, shallow and quick breathing, tension or pain, feelings of nausea, or even dissociation. By providing this resourcing at the outset, clients and clinicians have support to call upon if it is needed during the process of EMDR.

EMDR Therapy Benefits

The benefits of EMDR therapy include:

  • A decrease of emotional distress related to memory
  • Long-lasting behavioral changes
  • Successfully treating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that can often be linked to drug and alcohol addiction

EMDR therapy can be effective, but it can also be fast. People struggling with addiction often report feeling better and stronger after just one session. Better yet, there are virtually no known negative side effects of EMDR therapy.

A Customized Approach To EMDR Therapy In Kentucky For Addiction Treatment

Because JourneyPure Bowling Green offers each client a unique path to their own sobriety, we are proud to support our patients and recovering family members with cutting-edge therapies like EMDR therapy. Contact JourneyPure Bowling Green and find out how our real recovery approach can help you or a loved one re-engage with an active, healthy, and sober lifestyle.

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