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How Does EMDR Work?

Over 9 million Americans with addiction disorder also have mental illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Long-term recovery from addiction means also treating such co-occurring conditions. One common treatment is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro. 

How EMDR Works

The basic theory behind EMDR is that the brain can learn to see traumatic memories in perspective by associating them with relaxation-oriented eye movements. A typical EMDR therapy session comprises eight phases:

  1. History taking and treatment planning: therapist interviews patient and confirms goals
  2. Preparation: therapist explains basic self-calming techniques
  3. Assessment: specific traumatic memories are pinpointed, along with their present-day effects
  4. Desensitization: patient considers a trauma-provoking mental image while simultaneously practicing bilateral stimulation (moving the eyes from side to side, as when asleep and dreaming)
  5. Installation: patient focuses on a positive affirmation to counteract ingrained negative beliefs (e. g., “I am strong and capable” replaces “I am a helpless victim”)
  6. Body scan: patient reviews traumatic memory again, while therapist monitors patient for reduced physical stress

Phases 4­–6 are repeated until the therapist clears the patient for:

  • Closure: patient and therapist plan for patient to independently track and manage trauma-related issues
  • Re-evaluation: therapist evaluates progress

Is EMDR for Me? Considerations and Concerns

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes EMDR as a PTSD treatment, and the therapy is also used for addiction and anxiety disorders. Still, many people harbor misconceptions about the technique. EMDR is not a form of hypnosis, and it rarely re-activates the full pain of the initial trauma (there’s no requirement to “look” at a memory closer than patients feel ready for). On the other hand, it’s not painless: many patients, during and after sessions, experience light-headedness, panic sensations or vivid nightmares.

A greater risk is that the practitioner will be unqualified or insensitive, inflicting another painful experience rather than ameliorating the original one. If you’re considering EMDR therapy:

  • Deal with immediately active problems in advance (if you’re seeking EMDR help for drug addiction, complete physical detox first)
  • Confirm that your practitioner is certified and experienced
  • Schedule an initial interview to verify compatibility
  • Understand that you will be expected to be open and honest, and to track your progress between sessions
  • Be prepared to tell your therapist if, at any time during a session, you feel overwhelmed and need to stop
  • Expect that this will involve multiple sessions and initial “easing into it”

EMDR Treatment and the Long Term

Finally, be prepared for the long term. No therapy is a quick fix or provides full immunity from relapse, especially for patients with co-occurring behavioral illnesses such as addiction disorder.

Once initial EMDR treatment is completed, make the following items part of your long-term recovery program:

  • Don’t try to go it alone. Find a peer support group, and stay in touch with your therapist.
  • Keep practicing the stress-management techniques you learned.
  • Involve yourself in activities that feed your confidence and self-respect.
  • If you do relapse (into traumatic obsessions, drug abuse or any related problem), don’t give up hope. Contact your therapist and support group for help getting back on track.

Recovery isn’t a one-time thing: it’s a lifelong journey. EMDR can kick off that journey: long-term vision keeps it on track.

Trauma Therapy to Meet Your Recovery Needs

Spearhead Lodge provides a variety of addiction-disorder treatments, customized to each patient’s needs. Our specialists are trained in EMDR, individual psychotherapy and group therapy, and have experience with a range of issues from relationship problems to chronic relapse. We help you pinpoint the core causes behind your addiction, eliminate hang-ups and live a full, fun life.

Whatever your challenges, you don’t have to continue suffering with an addiction. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one recover!