EMDR therapy – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a psychotherapy that was originally developed to help people that were suffering from PTSD or other forms of deep, heavy trauma. Since the development of EMDR by psychologist Francine Shapiro, PH.D. in the late 1980’s, this approach to treat patients has expanded beyond the focus of just PTSD to include treatment for underlying trauma that may be at the root of addiction.
Trauma: A Central Element of Addiction
For many, trauma plays a key role in their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Negative life experience such as violence, abuse or serious emotional distress can all lead to an underlying desire or sense of “need” to self-medicate and feel better. As a result, many people that are struggling with deep trauma resort to substance abuse as a means of covering up or coping with memories of traumatic events or experiences.
Traumatic experiences, especially those that occur during childhood, increase the risk of adult substance abuse and negative lifestyle habits later in life, according to a study referred to as ACE and conducted by the CDC. Experiences such as any of the following could increase an individual’s risk for substance abuse or addiction requiring a later need for treatment in drug and alcohol rehab:
- Emotional abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Family violence
- Separation from parents
What is EMDR?
According to the EMDR Institute, “EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences to bring these to an adaptive resolution.” During EMDR therapy, the client is actively processing traumatic experiences while also focusing on external stimulus. Most therapists will use lateral eye movement such as having the client follow a light or finger or other visual aid back and forth, laterally, without moving their head from side-to-side, as the external stimulus. Other forms of external stimulus include hand-tapping, music, or other audio stimulation techniques.
Anyone who has experienced the type of trauma that causes deeply rooted anxiety and emotional distress understands how it feels to be almost “frozen in time” when a trigger such as an image, sound, or smell instantly brings back the traumatic memories and it’s as if those feelings are happening for the very first time all over again. EMDR directly effects the way that the brain processes information allowing the individual to get past triggers without reliving the negative experience all over again each time.
EMDR Therapy Phases
EMDR has 8 phases. The amount of time spent in EMDR therapy for addiction will vary based on individual patient needs and history. Like other types of drug and alcohol addiction treatment, EMDR can be used in both an individual and a group setting. The full treatment process includes the following phases:
- History and treatment planning – a thorough evaluation by a therapist detailing the client’s history and treatment plan.
- Preparation – the therapist defines expectations for the treatment and there is discussion of underlying trauma and the role it plays in the client’s addiction. This helps the client to better understand how the treatment will take place and help him or her to heal.
- Assessment – a memory that evokes a negative self-belief is identified and the therapist works with the client to develop a positive thought process or statement to counteract or contradict the negative belief that was previously discussed. During assessment, the client gains an internal sense of self-control and realizes his or her ability to overcome negative thought processes and patterns. Processing and reprocessing a single trauma can take an average of 3 sessions with a therapist. This is the process of identifying negative beliefs such as “I am helpless,” or “I am unlovable,” and replacing them with positive cognition of what is actually appropriate and creates an internal sense of control such as “I am safe now,” or “I am loved.”
- Desensitization – the therapist uses eye movements, as previously discussed, to encourage the client focus on the negative patterns thought processes discussed during assessment and allow other similar thoughts to come into the mind naturally. The therapist guides the client to a solution and then, when the series of eye movements are stopped, the therapists asks the client to block out the negative thoughts or whatever he or she was focused on.
- Installation – during this phase, the client is to build upon and increase the strength of the positive believe or solution that was identified as a replacement for the negative thoughts. If the client was abused as a child, and felt powerless, desensitization would involve the client reprocessing the fear and shame that came from being abused and then realizing that as an adult he or she has strength that he or she did not have as a child, and therefore, they now have positive cognition such as, “now I am in control.” If the client does not feel strong and in control, installation may include taking a self defense class or learning other skills to help them believe in their strength.
- Body Scan – now that the client has a positive solution associated with the traumatic experiences he or she may have suffered through, the therapist will ask the client to bring up the negative targets that previously caused that “frozen in time” feeling. The therapist will monitor to determine whether there is any residual tension when thinking about the trauma. If there is no tension, and positive self-beliefs are all that come up when the client is triggered, EMDR is considered a success.
- Closure – the therapist ends every treatment session with closure, ensuring that the client feels better when he or she walks out of the treatment session than he or she did when entering treatment.
- Reevaluation – each new therapy session begins with the therapist checking to make sure the client is maintaining the positive results that came from previous sessions. Any new areas of trauma that arise are identified and reprocessed to help the client maintain relief from the trauma.
The Role of EMDR in Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Clients that enter drug rehab center have often been previously diagnosed with PTSD or other serious forms of mental illness. These patients can immediately be evaluated and, through EMDR therapy, a treatment plan can be set up to improve their recovery success. Allowing the therapist to approach the client’s situation with a trauma-centered treatment protocol can appropriately address the root cause of the individual’s addiction.
Whether the individual faced trauma as a child or later in life, most all cases of addiction come with some form of traumatic experience underlying somewhere behind the scenes of his or her everyday life. EMDR offers the following benefits for those in drug and alcohol rehab:
- Relief of psychological symptoms of underlying trauma or PTSD
- Physical relief of symptoms associated with trauma such as upset stomach or tension.
- Reduced stress or emotional disturbance from “bad” memories
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved ability to recognize triggers and resolve negative thought processes
While it may take several different types of treatment to overcome addiction, EMDR therapy can help an individual overcome the traumatic experiences that often hinder or block the healing process. When paired with cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of treatment, clients can fully heal from the devastation of addiction and take back control of their lives.
Feel free to get in touch for any further questions.