EMDR Therapy for Addiction

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

When it comes to addiction treatment, there are so many different techniques and modalities that have proven to be extremely effective; however, not every individual will respond to or experience optimal results from the same therapies. It’s for this very reason that addiction rehabilitation has come to be associated with a very broad spectrum of seemingly disparate or irrelevant therapies, and when some of them seem to be unrelated to addiction, it’s often because they address factors that are more indirectly associated with the development of substance abuse problems, including trauma.

At Coalition Recovery, we recognize that each patient has unique needs. For those who have experienced some type of trauma in their pasts or otherwise show symptoms of post-traumatic stress, a psychotherapeutic technique known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing may be a prominent ingredient in their individual recipes for lasting recovery.

What is EMDR?

There are many different types of therapy used to treat mental and emotional afflictions besides traditional psychotherapy and counseling. Although techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy and integrative therapies have proven to be extremely effective, there are other techniques that have more specific applications. EMDR — which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — is a psychotherapeutic technique developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s when she realized that certain types of eye movements were able to reduce the intensity (and, therefore, the effects) of disturbing thoughts. Upon making this discovery, Shapiro conducted a study to assess the level of benefits offered by these types of eye movements, and the study was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989.

There were some specific connections that Shapiro made that led to her development of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. For one thing, Shapiro noticed that when she was having so-called “disturbing thoughts,” her eyes tended to move more quickly than they normally did, suggesting that this type of thought had some connection to the way a person’s eyes move. At this, she made an attempt to bring her eye movements under more conscious control, preventing them from moving as rapidly as before. When she did this, Shapiro noticed that the anxiety that was provoked by disturbing thoughts largely subsided.

Initially, Shapiro had intended for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing to be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a psychological condition that is commonly experienced by individuals who have suffered from some sort of trauma wherein the experience of past trauma results in continuous psychological symptoms long after the inciting trauma. It was Shapiro’s belief that these past trauma upset the brain’s excitatory/inhibitory balance, resulting in a pathological change in numerous neural elements. Whether the connection between past trauma and eye movement was direct or incidental, Shapiro found that many patients who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder showed a marked improvement in their symptoms after eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

According to recent studies, it’s been determined that eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is roughly congruent to cognitive behavioral therapy, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and exposure therapy in terms of efficacy, particularly when treating conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

How Does It Work?

It might seem that eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is as simple as moving one’s eyes around in deliberate ways, but it’s actually more complicated than that. Basically, this therapeutic technique has been structured into eight phases, each of which are intended to address either the past, present, or future effects of past trauma or some type of distressing memory. The first phase, referred to as “History taking,” amounts to the therapist and client working together to review past events in order to uncover whatever experience or trauma is inciting the psychological distress. Next is “Preparation,” which amounts to finding ways to compensate for or mitigate the distress the client may experience during the desensitization phase; more often than not, this involves choosing a safe place to visualize so as to help stabilize the client during desensitization sessions.

The third phase of EMDR is “Assessment,” amounting to the recording of the negative effects the client experiences holding the negative event or trauma in mind. This even includes any physical symptoms the client may experience. Once the assessment phase is complete, the fourth phase is “Desensitization,” which involves the use of eye movements, tones, and taps to essentially “reprocess” the disturbing thought or event. Next is “Installation,” which equates to replacing the disturbing thoughts with more positive ones. After the installation phase, the sixth phase is “Body scan,” during which the individual’s body is assessed for tension and physical stress, indicators that the installation phase is not yet fully complete. “Closure” is the seventh step and is little more than a “winding down” of a session that might involve a simple discussion of the session or some guided imagery. Finally, there’s “Reevaluation”, which is the evaluation of the remaining level of disturbance as well as the strength of the targeted beliefs; if the results are deemed insufficient, the therapist may choose to recommence with stage four (“Desensitization”) or schedule another EMDR session.

EMDR and Substance Abuse Therapy

As we’ve learned, there are many different scenarios that can lead to a substance abuse disorder. For some, addiction occurs after having been exposed to substance abuse during one’s childhood, which would be the case for the offspring of alcoholics and drug addicts. Then there are those who enter lives of substance abuse due to their peer and social circles. But arguably the most common scenario is that addiction develops after an extended period of time of an individual using alcohol or drugs to self-medication, often due to having experienced trauma at some point previously. For this reason, many individuals who suffer from forms of addiction are often dual-diagnosis patients who also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is why eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has become a staple of substance abuse treatment.

EMDR Therapy at Coalition Recovery in Tampa

If you or someone you love is interested in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or if you’d like to learn about other holistic therapies in Tampa, call Coalition Recovery today. Whether it’s to get answers to your important questions or to schedule a free consultation, our experienced staff is always available to help you or your loved one take the first steps in the journey toward lasting sobriety and health.

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