Life experiences have effects on our beliefs, thoughts and behaviors, both negative and positive. When experiencing neglect, abuse, violence or emotional distress, it can cause long term issues and mental illness, often resulting in addiction.

When treating a person who is suffering from addiction it is important to treat any co-occurring disorders, trauma, or PTSD. These traumatic events and the aftermath of symptoms play a major role in the person’s addictive behaviors and without proper treatment it leaves the individual at great risk of relapse. To overcome the addiction is important to treat the root cause to be able to fully recover.

The Impact of Trauma

In the late 1990’s a study known as the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study was conducted. The research results of this study have shown that trauma plays an important role in how we live our lives. The study found that traumatic experiences in childhood can increase a person’s risk for developing substance abuse, among many other unhealthy lifestyles and habits, later in life.

The ACE study looked at many important factors. The first as abuse; mental abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse. It then looked at the household challenges; was the mother treated violently, was there substance abuse in the household, was their mental health issues in the household, were the parents separated or divorced, and/or were any of the household members incarcerated. It also looked at neglect, was the child physicals and/or emotionally neglected. Of all participants in the study, almost two-thirds reported experiencing at least one of these factors. One in five participants experienced three or more of these factors. According to the results of the ACE study, participants who reported experiencing five or more of the above factors were seven to 10 times more likely to suffer from substance abuse later in life

The ACE study opened up the clinical significance of the relationship between trauma and addiction, affording clinicians the knowledge needed to treat the client as a whole not solely the addiction.

What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is a nontraditional form of psychotherapy that is designed to remove the negative feelings associated with memories or traumatic events, developed in the 1980s. This is a more unique form of therapy, unlike most forms of talk therapy. EMDR does not solely focus on the trauma itself, it is more focused on the emotions and symptoms that are the result from said trauma. During the treatment the therapist will use a hand motion technique to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side. While this is an controversial intervention, with many psychologists denying its effectiveness, there are some studies that show it is an effective tool used in treatment certain mental health conditions.

What is EMDR Used to Treat?

Originally EMDR was developed to treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and anxiety. It has been used in the treatment of depression, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, schizophrenia, stress that is the result of chronic disease and substance use disorder.

How It Works

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment is done to help those who have experienced trauma to move past it, replacing the negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones. The ultimate goal of the EMDR treatment process is to learn how to handle stressful situations.

The Phases of EMDR Therapy

1) History and treatment planning

2) Preparation, to establish trust and explain the treatment in-depth

3) Assessment, to establish negative feelings and identify positive replacements

4) Desensitization, which includes the eye movement technique

5) Installation, to strengthen positive replacements

6) Body scan, to see if the client is now able to bring up memories of trauma without experiencing negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary

7) Closure, which occurs at the end of every session

8) Re-evaluation, which occurs at the beginning of every session

What to Expect with EMDR Treatment

When beginning EMDR treatment, you will discuss your problems and symptoms with the therapist. You will not get into detail about your traumatic experience(s), rather the therapist will help you to focus on the negative thoughts and feelings resulting from the trauma. Together you and the therapist will decide if these thoughts and feelings are relevant and which you would like to focus on replacing with positive thoughts and feelings.   Your therapist will help teach you techniques that will allow you to deal with these upsetting feelings. You will then be guided through the desensitization process. While keeping the memory of the traumatic experience(s) in mind, you will follow the therapist’s back and forth hand movements with your eyes.

The purpose of the EMDR treatment process is to help you process the negative feelings and thoughts attached to the trauma and recognize that you no longer need to keep them, to replace them with positive thoughts and feelings. You will continue on with then sessions until you reach a point where you are able to return to the memories of the trauma without experiencing the negative thoughts and feelings.

EMDR in Addiction Treatment

EMDR is commonly used in addiction treatment alongside cognitive behavioural therapy techniques (CBT). Depending on the individuals treatment plan, EMDR techniques may be used in both individual and group settings. By using EMDR techniques in the treatment process, therapists are able to treat not only the addiction but trauma that’s symptoms often lead to substance abuse in efforts to self medicate, getting to the root cause of the addiction.

The EMDR treatment process helps to alleviate many symptoms experienced by those with PTSD and trauma by reducing the psychological and physical symptom, decreasing or eliminating distress from the disturbing memories, helping to improving self-esteem and self-efficacy and to resolve present and anticipated future triggers.

Your life experiences do not need to control your behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. With the help of EMDR techniques and other cognitive behavioral therapies, you can overcome these traumatic experiences and fully heal from them and addiction.