EMDR Treats Addiction by Treating Trauma

Friday, March 23, 2018 | By Mary

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, was originally discovered in 1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro as a treatment method to working with people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, but has since been found effective for those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.

Whereas EMDR was once just one of a number of treatment methods, it’s now regarded by many therapists as a complete therapy with its own underlying model. This model is called the adaptive information processing model, and it breaks down the problem of trauma to one of processing, stating that distress and other symptoms are the result of one or more unprocessed traumatic memories. When these traumatic events remain unprocessed, the memories and sensations linked to the memories continue to activate in the patient feelings of distress, anxiety, panic, and paranoia.

If it’s accepted that these unprocessed traumatic events, these unhealed traumatic wounds, play a significant role in causing or compounding the extent of a substance use disorder—this is the basis of what is known as a “co-occurring disorder”—then it follows that EMDR can serve as an effective addiction treatment.

EMDR: What Is It?

EMDR is an eight-phase treatment used to identify and address those experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s ability to cope. These include instances of violence, such as military combat, natural disasters, violent crime, or physical or sexual assault. Left unaddressed, or unprocessed, the trauma of these events will possibly cause the patient to seek out drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication, stepping up the dosages to higher and more dangerous levels.

The first phase of an EMDR treatment is the taking of a thorough patient history, identifying the traumatic event or events in question. The second phase is the preparation, where the patient focuses on the stressful memory and bring out the belief he or she might have connected to this memory. (For example, an assault victim might think something along the lines of, “I had it coming.”) The patient then identifies the physical sensations connected to this belief and attempts to switch it out for a healthier belief (“I am worthy of love”).

Next, the patient goes over the memory while focusing on an external stimulus that creates bilateral, or side-to-side, brain activity. Most often this is achieved when the patient follows the therapist’s moving a finger from one side to another, but it can also be achieved with pulsating noises or taps on the hand. After each set of bilateral movements, the patient describes how he or she feels. This action is repeated until the memory no longer seems so stressful, as the reprocessing taking place in both hemispheres of the brain continues.

As this is taking place, the healthier belief is installed in the same way. The reasoning here is that the bilateral stimulation bypasses the part of the brain that has been “stuck” due to the trauma and is preventing the left side of the brain (which performs logic-based tasks) from soothing the right side of the brain (which processes creativity) and returning to an overall sense of safety.

EMDR as Empowerment

The overall effect is patients feeling actually empowered by the experiences that once traumatized them. As a natural outcome of the EMDR process, patients’ thoughts, feelings, and behavior are show a new emotional health and resolution, all without the long, often painful work of talk therapy or the homework used in many other types of therapies. This is because, unlike other treatments that focus on altering the patient’s thoughts and feelings resulting from a traumatic experience, EMDR therapy focuses on the memory directly to change the way it is stored in the brain, thus reducing and eliminating the symptoms.

Because trauma so often plays a central role in addiction, becoming the untreated “block” to addiction recovery, EMDR therapy provides a highly effective means of focusing on the mental health issues the addicted person struggles with and providing real, concrete tools to overcome the problems underlying the addiction.

Types of Treatment with Journey Pure

JourneyPure offers several levels of care around the country. With facilities that offer Residential, Partial Hospitalization, and Intensive Outpatient from Kentucky to Florida, JourneyPure is confident that each program is equipped to handle any of the complex combinations of co-occurring issues that a client can struggle with. Substance abuse counseling coupled with psychiatric care and therapeutic modalities creates an environment where anyone can receive the type of care that they require to recover.

Call us today at (850) 424-1923 for a free benefits check and information on how to find the right type of treatment for you or your loved one.

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