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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach that has been gaining recognition for its effectiveness in treating addiction and mental health disorders. This post will explore how EMDR can be used as a therapeutic intervention for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

EMDR is a therapy technique that helps individuals process traumatic experiences and negative emotions by engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements. This therapy has been adapted and researched for use in treating addiction and mental health disorders with promising results. By addressing underlying traumas and beliefs that contribute to addictive behaviors and mental health symptoms, EMDR can help individuals heal and achieve lasting recovery.

What is EMDR and Where Did It Come From

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that is controversial within the psychological community. It was devised by Francine Shapiro in 1987 and originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

EMDR involves focusing on traumatic memories in a manner similar to exposure therapy while engaging in side-to-side eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. It is also used for some other psychological conditions like addiction and alcoholism.

EMDR is recommended for the treatment of PTSD by various government and medical bodies citing varying levels of evidence, including the World Health Organization, the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and the US Departments of Veteran Affairs and Defense. The US National Institute of Medicine found insufficient evidence to recommend EMDR. The American Psychological Association suggests EMDR may be useful for treating adult PTSD. Treatment guidelines note EMDR effectiveness is statistically the same as trauma-focused behavioral therapy, and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council notes that this may be due to its including most of the core elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

How Does EMDR Work

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) follows a structured therapeutic approach that makes it effective in treating various mental health conditions, traumatic experiences, and distressing memories. The therapy involves several stages and follows a specific protocol. The general EMDR process is as follows:

Preparation: The therapist begins by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the client’s history, trauma, and current symptoms. They establish a therapeutic relationship and ensure the client has adequate coping skills to handle emotional distress. If necessary, the therapist may teach relaxation techniques or other strategies to help the client manage anxiety during the therapy sessions.

Assessment: The therapist and client identify a specific traumatic event or distressing memory that will be the target of the EMDR session. The client is asked to bring to mind an image related to the memory, the associated negative belief about oneself, and the emotions and physical sensations associated with the memory.

Desensitization: The client is asked to hold the traumatic memory in mind while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation can be achieved through eye movements, where the client follows the therapist’s fingers moving back and forth horizontally, or through other methods such as auditory tones or tapping. The bilateral stimulation is believed to facilitate the processing of the traumatic memory by stimulating both hemispheres of the brain.

Reprocessing: As the client focuses on the traumatic memory and engages in bilateral stimulation, their thoughts and emotions are allowed to flow freely. The therapist does not direct the content of the client’s thoughts but rather encourages them to notice any spontaneous associations, thoughts, images, or insights that arise during the process. The goal is to promote the integration of new information and adaptive beliefs that can replace the negative beliefs associated with the traumatic memory.

Installation: Once the distress related to the targeted memory decreases significantly, the therapist helps the client install positive beliefs or self-statements that are more adaptive and accurate. These positive beliefs serve to counter the negative beliefs that were previously associated with the memory.

Body Scan: The therapist guides the client in checking their body for any residual tension or discomfort related to the memory. If any physical sensations are present, additional desensitization sets may be performed until the distress is fully resolved.

Closure: At the end of each session, the therapist ensures that the client is in a stable emotional state and provides appropriate grounding techniques or coping strategies to help them manage any residual distress that may arise outside of therapy.

Reevaluation: In subsequent sessions, the therapist reassesses the progress made and determines if there are any new targets that need to be addressed. The process of desensitization, reprocessing, and installation is repeated for each target until the client achieves a significant reduction in distress and the traumatic memories become less disruptive.

The Goal of EMDR

EMDR treatment plans play a pivotal role in guiding psychotherapists and clients through the healing and recovery process. By providing structure, clarity, and measurable outcomes, treatment plans offer a roadmap for therapy, ensuring that both therapists and clients have a clear understanding of therapeutic goals and objectives. EMDR treatment plans allow therapists to systematically address the client’s presenting concerns while adhering to the established protocol and principles of EMDR therapy.

Unlike other treatments that focus on directly altering the emotions, thoughts, and responses resulting from traumatic experiences, EMDR therapy focuses directly on the memory and is intended to change the way the memory is stored in the brain, thus reducing and eliminating the problematic symptoms.

Using EMDR in Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

EMDR has become widely used in treating addiction and mental health as it has strong efficacy in treating both conditions successfully. It works to address underlying trauma, its an excellent tool for managing triggers and cravings and works well to improve self-esteem and self-efficacy:

Addressing underlying trauma: Many individuals struggling with addiction and mental health disorders have experienced trauma in their past. EMDR helps individuals process these traumatic memories and reframe negative beliefs associated with them. By addressing these underlying traumas, individuals can reduce the emotional distress that often leads to addictive behaviors and mental health symptoms.

Managing triggers and cravings: EMDR can also be effective in helping individuals manage triggers and cravings associated with addiction. By targeting the memories and emotions that contribute to these triggers, individuals can learn to cope with cravings in a healthier way. This can help prevent relapse and promote long-term recovery.

Improving self-esteem and self-efficacy: Addiction and mental health disorders can often result in low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness. EMDR can help individuals reprocess negative beliefs about themselves and build a more positive self-concept. By improving self-esteem and self-efficacy, individuals can feel more empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, EMDR is a valuable therapeutic approach for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health disorders. By addressing underlying traumas, managing triggers and cravings, and improving self-esteem, EMDR can help individuals heal and achieve lasting recovery. Further research and integration of EMDR into addiction and mental health treatment programs can provide individuals with a comprehensive and effective approach to addressing their unique needs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or substance abuse TRUE is here to help. Our experienced team of professionals has helped hundreds to achieve successful long-term recovery. Give us a call today!