EMDR in Addiction Treatment

distressed man in therapy session

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur following someone’s involvement in or witnessing of a traumatic or life-threatening event. It often involves compulsive remembering and reliving of the event, causing the person to feel the same powerful emotions they did at the time of the event. These strong emotions can be extremely debilitating, contributing to periods of anxiety, anger, and loneliness.

Those suffering from PTSD may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to numb the emotional pain they are suffering, and eventually, they may come to depend on it. This is when PTSD becomes a co-occurring disorder with addiction. When that happens, one cannot be healed successfully without treating the other.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is one of only two therapy methods recommended by the World Health Organization to treat PTSD effectively. What is EMDR, and how can it help those suffering from both PTSD and addiction?

What Is EMDR?

EMDR is a psychotherapy that aims to help patients reshape their emotional associations with distressing memories using a variety of techniques, but mainly through guided eye movements. It was developed in 1987 by psychologist Francine Shapiro, who concluded that PTSD was the result of the brain being unable to completely process a disturbing memory due to its traumatic nature. By allowing the brain to complete the process, the memory would cease to have distressing effects on the patient.

During treatment, the patient is asked to recall a traumatic memory while focusing on the therapists’ moving hand. The hand acts as an external stimulant, drawing the eye while the internal mechanisms of the brain focus on the memory. Patients are then asked to think of a new association with that memory, such as an empowering phrase or positive feeling.

EMDR is completed during eight distinct phases of treatment:

Phase 1—The therapist creates a client history, looks for traumatic memory targets in the clients’ past experiences.

Phase 2—The patient learns new stress-relief techniques, as well as when and how to use those skills in real life between therapy sessions.

Phase 3-6—Middle sessions focus on specific traumatic memories and events, wherein the patient is asked to identify:

  • Image/images associated with the memory
  • Any negative feelings about themselves
  • Related physical and emotional feelings

Then, the patient focuses attention on therapists’ hand movement while re-associating the traumatic memory with a positive feeling.

Phase 7—Now the emphasis is put on closure, identifying thoughts or feelings as they occur naturally plus practicing stress-relief techniques.

Phase 8—Progress is examined and future possibilities for new coping skills/techniques are identified.

By targeting a traumatic memory and connecting it to new skills and positive feelings, the brain will be able to properly process and store it, virtually eliminating its debilitating effect on the sufferer and allowing him or her to move on.

Washington state drug rehab

When PTSD co-occurs with addiction, both must be treated effectively to achieve full long-term recovery. EMDR can be incorporated as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan that addresses the addiction and PTSD simultaneously.

If you or any of your loved ones are struggling with addiction, PTSD, or both in Washington State, there is help available for you. At Recovery Village Ridgefield we will work with you to develop an evidence-based treatment plan designed for your individual needs. Contact us today for a confidential conversation about your options.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.