Many addiction treatment professionals are turning to the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for their clients.
Although EMDR is specifically designed to treat trauma, not addiction, many addicted people also have co-occurring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by any number of traumatic events, like violence, assault, abuse, and more. Often, individuals suffering from PTSD begin to self-medicate, creating an addiction or dependency. In addition, people living with an active addiction can experience trauma due to situations that result from substance use.
Treating trauma in addiction can assist with the healing process. Studies have shown a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms after EMDR and suggest that “EMDR may be regarded as a general model for psychotherapy for a wider range of conditions, such as addiction” (Leeds, 2009).
EMDR therapy can be likened to removing a foreign object from a wound.
Trauma in the brain festers like a foreign object in a wound. EMDR therapy removes the blocks that keep individuals who have PTSD from living a productive and healthy life. EMDR sessions begin with a treatment professional gathering a history of traumas from the client. This can include any current issues that are stressful for the client and past events of trauma that began in childhood. The next phase of treatment involves instilling a coping mechanism. Coping mechanisms can include imagery and stress reduction methods. The coping mechanism is designed to act as a balance in the brain when the trauma becomes forefront.
Throughout the course of treatment, the clinician and client will work with the memory of traumatic events individually by focusing on negative beliefs, body sensations, and emotions related to those events. Eventually, negative beliefs (“The world is dangerous”; “I deserve to be punished”) are replaced with positive beliefs (“I am safe and protected”; “I am a good and lovable person”). EMDR uses bilateral stimulation throughout this process, which is designed to activate both the left and right sides of the brain. The bilateral stimulation can come in the form of eye movements, tones, or light taps (left and right knee, shoulders, etc.). Activating both sides of the brain helps the client transform the traumatic experience into a positive belief about themselves. Clients can continue to use this bilateral stimulation to invoke a positive thought process or coping mechanism to deal with stress or anxiety in the future.
Leeds AM. A guide to the standard EMDR protocols for clinicians, supervisors, and consultants. New York: Springer Publishing Company; 2009.