EMDR Therapy for Addiction

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In June, Dr. Frances Shapiro, a leader in trauma therapy, passed away. Dr. Shapiro was the creator of a controversial, but popular therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

While this therapy was originally created for the treatment of PTSD, it can also play a role in addiction treatment. In honor of Dr. Shapiro’s legacy, we want to look into this therapy and how it may help you or a loved one.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Dr. Shapiro discovered EMDR by accident. While walking through a park as a psychology student, she recalled an upsetting memory. She began distracting herself by darting her eyes back and forth quickly.

She found moving her eyes distracted her and took the sting out of the memory. She began trying the technique on herself and on friends and family. Over six months, she worked with more than 70 people and made EMDR the subject of her PhD thesis. In 1989, she published a study of the technique in a professional psychology journal. While the reception was mixed, many therapists found the technique actually worked and began using it in their own practices.

EMDR therapy is a type of exposure therapy. During the therapy, you recall a painful memory and try to process it. While you are thinking of the memory, the therapist asks you to track their fingers with your eyes. They move their fingers rapidly from one side of your vision to the other for about 20 to 30 seconds.

Many patients reported that this therapy made memories less painful, allowing them to better process and cope with their painful past. Many studies, conducted by Dr. Shapiro and her followers, showed great cure rates for some types of PTSD. However, other researchers found little to no positive effect.

It’s not clear how EMDR therapy works, but it is clear that it does help some patients. Some theories say that moving the eyes helps disrupt the imagination, making the images in the memory less harsh and vivid. Over time, as more theories on how it works have come about, more therapists have started to use EMDR in their practices along side psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

How EMDR Therapy Helps People with Addiction

Many people with addiction also face other mental health conditions such as PTSD. PTSD from abuse and other traumatic events can lead to nightmares, flashbacks, fear, depression and anxiety. In many cases, people use substances to cope with PTSD. This may initially be subconscious and ultimately lead to addiction.

To achieve long-term sobriety, it is vital to deal with the root causes and triggers of substance abuse and addiction. EMDR allows patients to deal with trauma and memories in a safe way so they can begin to heal and feel a lesser need for alcohol or drugs.

EMDR therapy begins with learning about what traumatic events you have faced. Your therapist may talk to you about the events leading up to the trauma. They may also discuss with you the emotions surrounding the trauma.

Next, they’ll teach you stress relief techniques you can use during therapy and outside of therapy when memories surface. These can help you as EMDR therapy continues and even for years afterward.

When you understand how to use stress relief techniques, the therapist will begin EMDR therapy by asking you to recall bad memories and track their fingers with your eyes. You may repeat this many times until the memory feels less stressful and you are able to use stress relief techniques to cope.

Is EMDR Therapy Effective?

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that most people, up to 90 percent, found relief from PTSD symptoms within four to seven sessions of EMDR. However, if you are a combat veteran or experienced repeated abuse as a child, you may need additional sessions of EMDR to see symptom relief.

EMDR is considered effective enough to be one of only two therapies recommended for PTSD by the World Health Organization. It is recommended for use in children, teens and adults. Some studies consider it the most effective treatment for PTSD. However, it’s important to note that other meta-analyses find little to no benefit of moving the eyes over traditional exposure therapies.

EMDR alone is not enough to cure addiction. If you experience both PTSD and addiction, you’ll need EMDR and additional, more traditional addiction therapy to achieve abstinence. While PTSD may have triggered your addiction, addictive substances change the chemical make-up of your brain. It takes different types of therapies to begin to undo this damage.

Where Can I Receive EMDR Therapy?

Not all addiction treatment centers offer EMDR. In fact, some research suggests that less than 40 percent of treatment centers offers care for PTSD.

If you are interested in using EMDR as part of your treatment program, you should look for centers with psychologists who are experienced in using the technique and who offer programs tailored to people who have experienced trauma. Ask about the center’s experience with the therapy and about any other therapy techniques they use to care for trauma.

At Harmony Place, we provide comprehensive therapies for addiction, trauma, and mental health conditions that may play a role in addiction. Our experienced therapists use EMDR in addition to other practices like cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients cope with distressing memories that may trigger substance abuse and play a role in continued addiction.

We’re ready to help you overcome trauma and addiction. Take the first step toward a sober life and contact us at 1-888-789-4330 at any time day or night for assistance. At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options. Contact us today at 1-(888)-789-4330 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center.