Trauma is different for everyone. The same traumatic event can occur in the presence of different people, and the experience will not leave the exact same lasting impression on any of them.
While one person may hardly be impacted by an event, another can become mildly upset by it, and another can suffer extreme post-traumatic stress as a result.
There is no right or wrong reaction to a traumatic experience; however, there are many therapies and treatment modalities that are evidence-based and proven to help clear traumatic distress better than others.
One of these is EMDR treatment.
What Is EMDR Treatment?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that allows individuals to ease their symptoms of trauma by performing sporadic patterns of eye movements. The patient’s eye movements are directed by a certified therapist so that those movements resemble those that happen during REM sleep.
While patients move their eyes in a way that is similar to REM sleep, they recall different memories associated with traumatic events. Recalling and talking about these memories while performing directed eye movements allow the brain to reprocess the memories of the trauma.
This results in reducing or even eliminating negative feelings that are associated with those traumatic memories. Once memories are reprocessed, patients can more easily address and resolve them.
In addition to treating trauma, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), EMDR is used to treat a variety of other disorders, some of which include:
- Anxiety disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Various phobias
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Substance use and addiction
In some ways, EMDR is similar to a behavior therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, during which a person remembers and discusses an event, then identifies and alters thoughts relating to it.
The Correlation Between Trauma and Addiction
Many people who have fallen into alcohol and drug addiction have done so as a result of trying to deal with stress, anxiety, and trauma. Therefore, it is not uncommon for mental health disorders and substance use disorders to go hand-in-hand.
In other words, these two types of disorders are considered to be co-occurring disorders when they are both present.
When a person suffers a traumatic event, they might be at a loss about how to cope with the aftermath of it. As stress and anxiety mount, they may become increasingly desperate to escape their thoughts, emotions, and memories stemming from that event. If they are unable to do so, they might turn to alcohol or drugs to find relief.
However, that relief is temporary, and all too often, it can easily lead to addiction.
Therefore, for those who suffer from PTSD and have a substance use disorder as well, both must be addressed in order for complete healing to happen.
Neither addiction treatment alone nor mental illness treatment alone will allow a person to fully recover. Treating both co-occurring disorders is essential, and EMDR can be an exceptional help in that endeavor.
EMDR and Treating Addiction
Comprehensive, effective addiction treatment must address the root causes of substance use; however, that cause does not have to be a traumatic event in order for EMDR to be an effective treatment.
The therapist-led eye movements of EMDR can help the brain reprocess a wide variety of memories, thoughts, and emotions related to a person’s causes of addiction. This could be various triggers like certain places, people, or instances that led to substance use. People might also be suffering from trauma and not even realize it.
EMDR is about reprocessing the memories that led to addiction and allowing the person to work through those newly-processed memories in a healthy, empowered way.
What Causes Trauma?
Causes of trauma are different for every person; there is no single defining factor. It can come from any experience and is always very personal for an individual. However, there are some situations and events that tend to cause trauma more often than others. Some of the most common causes of trauma include:
- Death – unexpected or expected
- Loss of a job
- Sexual abuse
- An accident
- Loss of a home
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Illness or injury
In reality, any event that a person considers to be unbearably negative that causes a lasting impact on their emotional and mental health can be classified as a traumatic event for that person.
How Does EMDR Work?
Although the specific ways that EMDR works are not entirely understood, this type of therapy has shown to be able to dampen the emotions and feelings that are associated with memories that are emotionally charged.
It is believed that traumatic or emotionally charged memories make changes in the brain. Intrusive thoughts, anxiety, paranoia, and other symptoms of PTSD are caused by these changes because the mind cannot process information properly.
Experts suggest that recalling events and memories while performing eye movements that replicate those of REM sleep allows the brain to “try again” and process those memories correctly.
The Eight Phases of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is a therapy treatment with eight phases. These phases can occupy multiple therapy sessions according to the needs of the patient. These phases are:
- Learning patient history and devising a treatment plan
- Establishing a therapeutic relationship and dealing with emotional distress
- Assessing and identifying a specific memory
- Describing and identifying a specific event; desensitization
- Identifying negative self-beliefs and installing positive thoughts in their place
- Pinpointing negative physical sensations
- Finding closure by addressing recurring thought patterns
- Examination of progress and plans for the future
The idea behind EMDR, whether it’s used when treating addiction, PTSD, or anything else, is to break down a patient’s past, present, and future. This helps the person clearly identify a past cause of distress and how to cope with it in the future.
The Top Reasons to Give EMDR a Chance
EMDR is not a new therapy, although it’s just recently begun to gain traction as an effective treatment for addiction, trauma, and other disorders.
EMDR was developed by an American psychologist named Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s.
Since then, it has been recognized by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the American Psychological Association as an effective form of treatment.
Following are some of the top reasons to consider EMDR therapy:
EMDR Supports Mental Connections Without Deep Recollection
It’s not necessary for patients to describe painful memories in great detail in order for the brain to be able to form new links during this therapy. They only need to briefly focus on the memory while performing the eye movements for the brain to reprocess it and form new emotions.
EMDR Promotes the Brain’s Natural Inclination to Heal
EMDR can help re-establish cognitive reasoning and productive thoughts, which are processes that the brain has a natural inclination to accomplish.
Emotional resistance can cripple a person’s ability to mentally recover from trauma; EMDR helps lift the emotional blocks and relieve distress without interfering with other treatments the patient may be undergoing.
EMDR is an Evidence-Based, Direct Process
This type of treatment is empirically validated, which means research has been done on multiple levels and produced evidence to support its effectiveness. When memories are “reprocessed” during this treatment, it doesn’t just mean that they are discussed or recollected.
What “reprocessed” means is that the brain is set up to relearn details about a traumatic experience so that it can store those details properly. When details get improperly stored in the brain, it is unable to gain anything useful from the experience.
However, when details are “moved” and stored properly with EMDR, the brain gains useful information that can guide the person in positive ways instead of self-defeating ways.
EMDR Can Be Empowering and Comforting
The direct nature of EMDR gives patients a chance to improve their self-awareness and their ability to cope with emotions related to trauma. This form of therapy can improve a person’s perspective, support clarity of thought, and allow for a more permanent recovery as unresolved emotional pain no longer holds a patient hostage.
People who try EMDR often find that their emotional pain is lessened or even alleviated after the treatment. Since avoidance is a common way for people to cope with PTSD, this form of treatment can help them recover without feeling like they need to avoid things they relate to the traumatic event.
EMDR Therapy with the Recovery Team
At the Recovery Team, we believe that our patients can learn new ways of coping with trauma, stress, grief, and anxiety without drugs or alcohol. Our team is proud to offer EMDR therapy as an effective treatment for individuals who struggle with substance use or mental health disorders, including trauma-related disorders.
Contact The Recovery Team and take the first important step toward recovery today. We look forward to hearing from you!