Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, also known as EMDR therapy, is a powerful method for treating trauma. It involves activating sensory inputs on the right and left side of the body while the patient recalls a traumatic memory. The sensory activity might include buzzing a paddle that the patient holds in each hand or having the patient make rhythmic eye movements. Evidence shows that EMDR therapy allows the brain to reprocess memories.
Before EMDR, patients may have debilitating negative reactions to thoughts of a traumatic incident. After EMDR therapy, patients can often recognize that those emotions are tied to an event that happened in the past and manage them accordingly.
You might wonder how an approach that works on post-traumatic stress disorders can help someone who is in addiction treatment.
EMDR Offers the Following 6 Benefits to People Who Struggle With Addiction.
1. EMDR Therapy Addresses Trauma and Addiction
Trauma and addiction often go hand in hand. Many people use substances to cope with the emotional upheaval from a trauma that they experienced. If this is the case, identifying and treating the root cause may be more effective than simply remedying the addiction.
EMDR therapy helps patients distinguish circumstances that may have registered as trauma in their brains and bodies. Working with an EMDR therapist allows patients to process those memories instead of suppressing them. In many cases, revealing the root of the addiction allows further therapy to be more effective.
2. EMDR Therapy Desensitizes Drug-Specific Memories
Sometimes, addiction isn’t associated with trauma. Instead, it is linked with a reward, which is the high. Memories of pleasurable feelings or emotions that are associated with drug use can trigger cravings.
EMDR therapy has been shown to desensitize these enjoyable memories. It rewires your central nervous system to break the patterns that are associated with addiction and rewards. In other words, thoughts and imagery related to your addiction won’t feel as intense and relentless.
The reprocessing aspect of EMDR therapy means that you create new neural associations with a triggering memory. These positive memory patterns allow you to process emotions in a way that is less upsetting. You’re able to store the memories appropriately so that they’re no longer disturbing.
3. You’ll Practice Self-Regulation
Bringing up old traumas can be scary. Being honest about your experiences is daunting. EMDR therapy creates a safe environment in which you can move at your own pace.
At first, you may be terrified of the emotions that EMDR therapy can bring up. But you’ll work with your therapist to develop ways to cope with these intense feelings. You don’t have to move further if you’re in distress.
This teaches you how to self-regulate when you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions. You’ll develop skills for managing stressful situations. Gradually, you’ll expand your capacity to respond to intense emotions in a healthy way.
4. EMDR Therapy Changes the Way You Experience the World
Trauma and addiction can make you see the world through a negative lens. EMDR therapy often helps individuals see the world in a more positive light.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated in response to a memory of a triggering event, it impairs your ability to think clearly. You may develop maladaptive thought patterns that veer toward negativity, blame, guilt, shame and danger.
For many people who undergo EMDR, their perspective shifts. The reprocessing of the trauma allows the individual to understand that they’re not reliving the moment continually. With a combination of coping skills, you can begin to think clearly about the incident. This often allows people to shed negative emotions to which they’ve been holding on.
This shift can also make the world feel much safer. When you’re in addiction treatment, trust and safety are essential. Moving through a world that no longer feels dangerous is much more positive and peaceful.
5. Treats Many Conditions Associated With a Dual Diagnosis
Almost 40% of adults with substance abuse disorders are also diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s not always evident which disorder came first or whether one caused the other.
However, understanding the order of appearance isn’t necessary for treatment to be effective. What is essential is making sure that you address any co-occurring mental illnesses in addiction treatment.
EMDR is effective for treating aspects of various mental health conditions, including the following:
- Eating disorders – EMDR therapy treats the stress and cravings associated with eating disorders. It also addresses trauma that has led to disordered eating as a maladaptive coping mechanism.
- Panic disorders – Much like with PTSD, panic disorders can make you feel like your life is in danger. Your fight-or-flight response is activated, and you can’t function normally. Memories of panic attacks can create anxiety that makes future attacks worse. With EMDR therapy, you can work through those memories and create useful methods for coping with triggering situations.
- Depression – About 33% of people with addiction also have depression. EMDR may be effective for treating depression, especially in individuals who have long-term depression and a history of trauma.
- Anxiety – The shift in your stress response that EMDR brings about can work to relieve anxiety. As you reprocess memories and establish new neural patterns, you can reduce your elevated response to emotions and situations that previously brought you anxiety.
6. It Integrates Well With Other Therapies
There are many therapies and medications available for treating addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. However, not everyone can take medications. Also, a single approach to addiction treatment is not usually effective on its own.
EMDR therapy can be combined with other treatments, including medications. Because it doesn’t involve prescriptions or pills, EMDR therapy is safe to use in conjunction with medication-assisted therapy.
The most effective addiction treatment plan is multi-faceted. It should be personalized for your needs and address your mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellness. EMDR therapy offers a way to supplement other treatments that are part of your customized plan, including:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Support groups
- Alternative therapies
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Neurofeedback therapy
At Burning Tree Ranch, we offer EMDR therapy as part of our whole-self approach to addiction treatment. We are a dual diagnosis treatment center that creates a customized plan for your treatment. We offer a wide variety of programs to facilitate your recovery journey.