EMDR Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is integrated for certain clients as part of the treatment process at FHE Health. EMDR therapy is used primarily for treating trauma as a part of addiction rehabilitation. It is a psychotherapy that allows people to have reduced symptoms of emotional distress. EMDR helps make the process of therapy faster and more effective. Treatment that may have once taken months can take weeks, allowing for more effective treatment during addiction rehab.

EMDR has been proven to desensitize the effects of stress related to trauma and negative experience. In addiction recovery, trauma often plays a significant role in contributing to addiction. EMDR is just one treatment approach to confronting past trauma and learning to move past it. EMDR has shown that when the brain’s functioning system is blocked or damaged by a traumatic event, it can continue to get worse and actually grow over time. This is why trauma can have such a prominent effect on substance abuse. As the emotional wound continues to grow, so does addiction. EMDR works to help clients activate their natural healing process of the brain.

According to the EMDR Institute, the following statistics have been found after over 30 controlled outcome studies were done:

  • Up to 90% of single-trauma victims were free of PTSD after three 90-minute sessions.
  • 77% of multiple trauma victims were free of PTSD after six 50-minute sessions.
  • Likewise, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in twelve sessions.

Trauma can come from a variety of things. It is completely personal and depends on a person’s unique situation. When many people think of trauma they think of death or accidents. While these events are traumatic, it can also be because of situations such as divorce, losing a job, losing a place to live, or even physical or sexual abuse.

EMDR Eight-Phase Treatment

In EMDR therapy, a multitude of different approaches is taken in order to maximize positive results. The past, present, and future is broken down so that the client can identify a past cause of distress, a current cause of distress, and how to approach these kinds of situations in the future.

The eight-phase treatment of EMDR includes:

Phase 1: Treatment Plan
History-taking session to assess the client and develop a treatment plan. During this first phase, the therapist and client assess where the client is at the current time to establish a baseline for treatment. Traumatic events or emotional situations are identified that can be targetted for EMDR so that behavioral change can be applied to those and learned for future events. Often, history-taking sessions begin at childhood and progress to current situations that need to be handled. Specific skills are discussed that need to be developed during EMDR therapy in order to address traumas from the past.
Phase 2: Handling Emotional Distress
Ways of handling emotional distress via imagery and stress reduction. Techniques like imagery and stress reduction are used to help the client work through emotionally charged events without acting out irrationally or compulsively. It is important for the client not only to use these techniques during the session but also in between sessions to intensify the impact of therapy. The goal is for the client to have more equilibrium throughout day-to-day activities so that they don’t act as impulsively. Impulsive behavior is a big part of addiction, and when this is worked on the chance of relapse can be greatly reduced.
Phase 3: Memory Specific
In phases three through six, a specific memory is identified and targeted. It is important for the client to identify it in three different ways, which is broken down in phases 4-6.
Phase 4: Identifying Event
The client identifies a strong visual image and description of the event. The therapist may ask a client to pick a single event they can focus on, and bring it into their mind in a strong mental image. Describing what is going on will help the client to identify negative feelings associated with it and then with the help of the therapist, how to best cope with those feelings.
Phase 5: Negative Self-Belief
The client identifies a negative self-belief. In addiction, people tend to talk down about themselves a lot. Things like “I’m not worth it”, “Nobody cares about me”, and “I deserve the worst” are just some examples of what addicts constantly have running through their mind. During EMDR, these thoughts need to be identified and written down so that they come to life and can be identified rather than having them be a steady stream of negativity in the mind.
Phase 6: Understanding Negative Emotions
The client identifies negative emotions and physical sensations related to the event. We feel negative emotions all the time, but don’t take the time to really acknowledge them and give them a name. In this part of EMDR therapy, we work to identify negative emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, lack of hope, and distrust and put them on the table to come up with solutions. Same goes with physical sensations like a tightening in the chest, headache, trembling, and not being able to swallow. All of these can be caused by negative emotions.
Phase 7: Finding Closure
Phase seven consists of closure. Mindfulness is a key part of EMDR therapy, so the client may be asked to keep a log of their behaviors and feelings for a week or more. This way, during the next session, the therapist and client can come together and analyze reoccurring patterns, how far the client has come in addressing them, and what still may need some work.
Phase 8: Progress / Future Planning
Phase eight is examining progress made and future planning. In the last phase, an analysis is done of how far the patient has come. If time permits and the need is there, EMDR therapy might be extended. The goal is that by the time this treatment is done, the client will have a new set of coping skills designed to help them overcome any negative circumstances in the future without turning to addiction or other negative behaviors of any kind.

EMDR helps to expedite the healing process from traumatic situations. What once may have taken months or years can be condensed and remain just as effective with the help of EMDR. It was once thought that extensive therapy was the only way to reverse trauma, but therapy and EMDR is an extremely effective way of helping individuals learn to cope with negative life experiences. EMDR therapy helps the natural healing process on a mental level. When emotional wounds are healed, it becomes much more possible to heal from addiction and move forward with a healthy and sober lifestyle.

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