EMDR Therapy

How Does EMDR Therapy Help Treat Addiction?

Approximately 21.5 million Americans over the age of twelve currently struggle with some kind of substance abuse disorder.

If you’re part of this group, you may feel like you’ve tried everything in your efforts to stay clean.

If you haven’t yet found a treatment option that works for you, you might want to consider a highly effective type of therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Read on to learn more about EMDR therapy and how it can be used in addiction treatment.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy originated in 1987.

A psychotherapist named Francine Shapiro noticed that, when she was struggling with anxiety and disturbing thoughts, her feelings improved when she moved her eyes back and forth and observed her surroundings.

In response to her observation, Shapiro started experimenting on her patients with what would later become EMDR therapy.

While working with patients who had struggled previously with traumatic events, she encouraged them to use lateral eye movements. These movements helped patients process past events without letting strong emotions interfere.

How Can it Help with Addiction?

EMDR therapy was originally designed to help patients suffering from trauma-related conditions, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorders

EMDR can also be highly effective in helping people who struggle with addiction.

There are a number of reasons that explain the efficacy of EMDR in addiction recovery. First, there is the fact that many addicts also struggle with PTSD or other trauma-related disorders.

EMDR also utilizes other components of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The following components are often beneficial to addicts:

Alliance Between Patients and Practitioners

Like many other types of therapists, EMDR practitioners work to develop an alliance between themselves and their patients.

This alliance helps to make therapy a safe place for addicts to explore the events and feelings that contribute to their addiction.

Exposure Treatment

During an EMDR therapy session, patients are told to reflect on traumatic and distressing experiences. These are experiences that they may have spent years trying to block out or forget about.

Facing trauma head-on is a type of exposure therapy, a technique that has long been used to help people overcome anxiety and phobias.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is another technique that is utilized in both CBT and EMDR.

Cognitive restructuring requires a patient to restructure their negative attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts and see them in a more realistic and healthy way.

EMDR helps patients change the way they view traumatic experiences and other aspects of their lives. By reframing these difficult things, addicts can start feeling empowered to overcome their addictions.

Regular Homework Assignments

As with traditional therapy, EMDR patients are almost always given homework assignments. They will need to complete these assignments in between sessions.

These assignments allow addicts to practice and develop new techniques to deal with stress, triggers, and difficult emotions.

What to Expect from EMDR Therapy

You now know more about how EMDR therapy can benefit people who struggle with addiction. But, you’re probably wondering what a typical treatment looks like.

Every session is different. This is because therapists tailor their approach to each patient’s specific situation. But, the basic approach to EMDR can be broken into the following eight phases:

Phase I

This first phase is all about getting to know the patient and understanding their history. The information gathered here allows the practitioner to create a highly individualized treatment plan.

During this phase, the therapist and patient will work together to define targets that will be addressed during their sessions. These targets often include things like specific addictions or past traumas.

Phase II

After gathering information about the patient, the therapist will start formulating a treatment plan. They will also teach the patient some specific breathing and relaxation techniques that they can use to manage stress.

Phase III

During this phase, the patient and therapist continue working together to identify and evaluate targets.

This phase involves developing functional approaches to dealing with these targets. The patient and therapist will also come up with an individualized way of rating and measuring feelings of stress.

Phase IV

This is where the actual EMDR technique comes into play. A patient will start reliving traumatic events and the emotions that come with them. While they do this, a therapist will use sound or finger tapping to guide the patient as they move their eyes.

The therapist will also try to insert positive emotions. The purpose of this is to help patients change the way they look at past experiences.

Phase V

During this phase, therapists will continue working on inserting positive feelings to help patients change their perceptions.

Phase VI

Phase six involves a body scan. During this phase, the patient and therapist look for and deal with remaining tension in the body that is related to stress brought on by past trauma.

Phase VII

This phase is all about finding closure and reassessing patients to see if they are responding to treatment.

Phase VIII

Finally, the therapist and patient will reevaluate the whole EMDR therapy process. They will make sure that they met their goals and have established techniques for dealing with negative emotions and behaviors.

There may still be issues that need to be addressed. If this is the case, the therapist and patient may need to return to earlier stages and continue working through them.

If the patient is satisfied with their treatment, they won’t need to continue their EMDR sessions. Instead, they’ll be able to practice the techniques they learned on their own.

Get Help Today

Are you interested in trying EMDR? Are you worried about finding the right therapist to help you or a loved one through the addiction recovery process?

You may want to check out our clinician EDU. Here, you can hear interviews with therapists from all over the country. This information will help you find a qualified individual whose treatment methods resonate best with you.

Looking for resources to help a loved one? Be sure to head to our blog for tons of free posts on addiction and recovery.