EMDR Therapy in Addiction Treatment: Meaning, Benefits and Effectiveness

EMDR therapy, an evidence-based treatment, has shown promise in addiction treatment. This non-traditional therapy can help treat addiction by addressing past traumatic events that may have contributed to substance abuse. By reducing the likelihood of using substances as a coping mechanism for PTSD symptoms, EMDR can play a significant role in recovery.

The primary purpose of EMDR in addiction treatment is to target and address underlying traumatic experiences that may contribute to substance abuse. By identifying and processing these unresolved traumas, EMDR seeks to diminish the emotional triggers and associations that drive addictive behaviors. This therapeutic approach recognizes the interconnectedness of trauma and addiction, aiming to break the cycle and promote sustainable recovery.

The core technique of EMDR involves the guided use of bilateral stimulation, typically through the movement of the eyes. During therapy sessions, individuals revisit distressing memories while engaging in these rhythmic eye movements, facilitating the processing and integration of traumatic experiences. EMDR also incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and somatic techniques, creating a multifaceted approach to address the complexities of addiction and trauma.

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

EMDR is a psychotherapy designed to help people heal from symptoms and emotional distress resulting from traumatic experiences. EMDR therapy was developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987.

The American Psychological Association describes EMDR as a structured therapy encouraging patients to focus on trauma, emphasizing its therapeutic nature briefly. Recognized for effectiveness, EMDR treats conditions beyond PTSD, including anxiety disorders, depression disorders, personality disorders, and trauma disorders.

How Can EMDR Help Treat Addiction?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, can help treat addiction by addressing past traumatic events that may have contributed to substance abuse. By reducing the likelihood of using substances as a coping mechanism for PTSD symptoms, EMDR can play a significant role in recovery.

EMDR therapy has shown positive results in treating alcoholism, addiction, and related issues, and it is increasingly being employed in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Addiction is often considered a symptom of trauma, and recovery-focused treatment aims to address underlying traumatic experiences. EMDR interventions in addiction treatment, however, do face challenges in terms of treatment retention and relapse rates. 

Despite these challenges, EMDR therapy effectively relieves PTSD symptoms and aids in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction by helping individuals view the world more positively. It is essential to continue researching the benefits and potential drawbacks of EMDR therapy in addiction treatment to optimize its effectiveness in recovery programs.

Here are the phases of Addiction Treatment using EMDR:

Phase 1: Review and Treatment Planning

  • Discuss concerns and potential benefits of EMDR.
  • Explore additional non-trauma history.
  • Develop a treatment plan for subsequent phases.

Phase 2: Preparation

  • Understand the EMDR process and review expectations.
  • Establish healthy coping skills, such as stress-reduction techniques.

Phase 3: Assessment

  • Evaluate the core traumatic memory. 
  • Utilize structured questions to help the brain reconnect with the memory.

Phase 4: Desensitization

  • Reduce uncomfortable emotions associated with the memory.
  • Employ bilateral stimulation following a structured script.
  • Use eye movements, sounds, tapping, or other measures.

Phase 5: Installation

  • Associate positive emotions and beliefs with the target memory.

Phase 6: Body Scan

  • Incorporate the body into the process.
  • Review body sensations that may require additional focus.

Phase 7: Closure and Reevaluation

  • Ensure no lingering discomfort.
  • Reevaluate the target memory for disturbance (Subjective Units of Distress, or SUDS).

The Benefits of EMDR for Addiction Treatment

EMDR therapy offers substantial benefits for addiction treatment by providing a unique approach to addressing trauma and its impact on individuals dealing with substance abuse. EMDR aims to shift this perspective towards positivity, fostering recovery.

Treating people with addiction and PTSD using EMDR has demonstrated positive results, although ongoing research is needed to validate its efficacy further. EMDR therapy is particularly effective in treating alcoholism, addiction, and related issues, presenting a promising avenue for those seeking recovery.

EMDR therapy is integrated into drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, targeting the underlying traumatic experiences contributing to substance abuse. By addressing these root causes, EMDR aims to mitigate psychological distress associated with addiction, offering individuals a pathway to healing and recovery.

Advantages of EMDR Over Other Types of Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Advantages of EMDR Over Other Types of Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Here are the advantages of EMDR over other types of addiction treatment!

  • Targeted Trauma Resolution: EMDR specifically addresses underlying trauma, a common contributor to addiction, offering a focused approach to resolving its impact on substance use.
  • Comprehensive Guide for Addiction: EMDR serves as a comprehensive guide for addiction treatment, addressing both trauma and substance use disorders concurrently.
  • Dual Benefits for Trauma and Addiction: EMDR provides dual benefits by effectively treating trauma and addiction simultaneously, promoting holistic recovery.
  • Tailored Approach: The therapy offers a tailored approach, adapting to the unique needs of individuals struggling with addiction and trauma, enhancing the effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Promising Research for Substance Use: Research indicates the promise of EMDR in treating substance use disorders, particularly its effectiveness in addressing psychological trauma associated with addiction.
  • Valuable for Emotional Challenges: EMDR proves valuable for patients facing emotional challenges, making it a valuable tool in addiction treatment, especially for those with co-occurring PTSD.

What disorder is EMDR most commonly used to treat? 

EMDR therapy is most commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it's becoming increasingly popular for this purpose. The therapy, structured to guide patients in briefly focusing on traumatic experiences, is not limited to PTSD; it is also widely employed in treating anxiety disorders. Research indicates positive outcomes, showcasing EMDR's helpfulness in various disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and chronic pain as well.

In a 2020 paper by C. Scelles and colleagues, EMDR is affirmed as a treatment for PTSD with proven effectiveness. Furthermore, a 2017 systematic literature review led by A. Valiente-Gómez suggests EMDR's utility in treating trauma-associated symptoms in patients with comorbid psychiatric disorders, emphasizing its potential beyond PTSD and in addressing a broader spectrum of mental health challenges. These insights highlight EMDR's versatility and efficacy across diverse clinical contexts.

EMDR For Alcoholism Addiction?

EMDR therapy has demonstrated success in treating alcoholism and other addiction issues, offering a valuable approach to individuals struggling with these challenges.

A multi-site randomized study led by W. Markus in 2015 investigated the impact of incorporating EMDR into treatment for patients with alcohol dependence. The study, involving 100 adult patients, aimed to compare the outcomes of Treatment As Usual (TAU) alone with TAU supplemented by EMDR. The adult patients who were receiving EMDR and usual treatment experienced less cravings.

EMDR Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Substance Abuse

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an effective psychotherapy designed for individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The therapy has shown effectiveness in the short term, indicating improvements in PTSD diagnosis and reductions in related symptoms. It is particularly recommended for individuals with overwhelming traumatic memories and symptoms of PTSD. EMDR has been evidenced to not only reduce PTSD symptoms but also alleviate other trauma-related symptoms.

Additionally, EMDR therapy demonstrates promise in addressing substance abuse issues alongside PTSD. By focusing on memory and altering the way traumatic memories are stored, EMDR contributes to reducing or eliminating PTSD symptoms.

EMDR Therapy for Trauma and Substance Use Disorder

EMDR therapy, endorsed as a level-A trauma treatment by SAMHSA and WHO, plays a crucial role in addressing Substance Use Disorder (SUD) by targeting underlying trauma symptoms linked to substance urges like alcohol and tobacco.

A 2023 study by J Grifoni suggests that EMDR is an elective therapy to treat individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), emphasizing its validity in cognition scales typical to these conditions. The study looked at 12 people who had experienced trauma. Everyone finished the treatment, meaning it was doable. Safety and acceptance were also great, with no side effects and high satisfaction. This study was done by combining music therapy with EMDR and it has shown to be a good way to personalize EMDR, especially for people who like music.

The use of EMDR in co-occurring substance use and addiction treatment is based on the theory that addiction is often tied to past trauma, and by treating the core reason for the substance use, the need for the substance will be reduced in severity and intensity.

What Are the Exclusions for EMDR?

While EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is used to treat various forms of mental health conditions like trauma, stress, panic, and anxiety it has some exclusions. These are:

Urgent Symptoms: EMDR may not be suitable for individuals with symptoms that require immediate attention, such as high suicidal intent or acts, acute psychosis, or ongoing exposure to a severe threat to the client's safety.

Multiple mental health conditions: EMDR may not be effective when simultaneously occurring mental health conditions are present, such as dissociative disorders or personality disorders. These conditions can affect focus, complicate processing, and impact how EMDR clears traumatic memories.

Physiological health disorders: Individuals with complicated medical conditions that directly impact their physical health, such as epilepsy or brain tumors, may not be suitable for EMDR therapy.

The Process of EMDR: How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, operates by facilitating the processing of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors linked to distressing experiences, such as trauma. 

The therapy employs bilateral stimulation, theorized to bypass trauma-affected brain areas and enhance emotional processing. Unlike other treatments, EMDR doesn’t directly alter emotions but aids in moving past trauma.

Sessions involve hour-long bilateral movements to process trauma. Its effectiveness lies in altering memory storage through bilateral eye movements or tapping. Used for diverse mental health disorders, EMDR helps address and process traumatic memories.

Lacking medication management EMDR may require collaboration with psychiatric providers to ensure readiness. While seemingly simple, EMDR demands professional guidance due to its potential for emotional pain and triggering intense feelings and behaviors.

What to Know Before Trying EMDR Therapy

What to Know Before Trying EMDR Therapy

Here are the things that you should know before trying EMDR therapy!

  • EMDR involves revisiting past traumatic experiences, potentially causing initial distress as you confront those memories.
  • After an EMDR session, be prepared for potential changes in your sleep patterns.
  • There might be a temporary increase in emotional distress following EMDR therapy sessions.

Is EMDR Therapy Right for Everyone?

EMDR therapy is generally safe with few side effects. However, it’s not for everyone. People who have thoughts of suicide, severe mental health issues, complex trauma, severe medical conditions, or high suicidality should not use EMDR therapy. It’s important to talk to a mental health expert to see if EMDR therapy is right for you.

  • EMDR therapy is not suitable for individuals with symptoms that require immediate attention, such as suicidal intent or acts, or acute psychosis.
  • People with co-occurring mental health conditions such as dissociative disorders or personality disorders may not benefit from EMDR therapy.
  • People with a history of complex trauma may not benefit from EMDR therapy, as it may not be able to address the complexities of their experiences.

What are the exercises for EMDR?

Here are the most popular EMDR exercises:

  • Bilateral Stimulation with Guided Visualization: EMDR combines bilateral stimulation with guided visualization to process traumatic memories, making it a key exercise in this therapy. The therapist uses techniques involving eye movement or other forms of bilateral stimulation during sessions to aid in processing traumatic experiences.
  • Eye Movement: Recall distressing experiences while following the therapist’s hand movements with your eyes, or use other forms of bilateral stimulation such as audio tones or hand tapping
  • Guided Audios: Visualization and bilateral stimulation exercises can be done using guided audios to create inner resources that promote peace and relaxation
  • Butterfly Hug Method: This exercise involves self-administered bilateral stimulation by crossing your arms and tapping your hands on your shoulders in an alternating pattern.
  • Visual Grounding: This exercise helps in regaining control when faced with traumatic memories or distressing emotions

Why is EMDR so controversial?

EMDR's controversy arises from its classification as pseudoscience due to an unfalsifiable and non-scientific underlying theory, contributing to skepticism among researchers and practitioners. 

Alleged risks and perceived insufficient research further fuel the controversy, despite EMDR's proven effectiveness in treating PTSD and trauma-related symptoms. The debate stems from varied interpretations of the available evidence, making the efficacy of EMDR for PTSD an argumentative subject among researchers.

Critics, dubbing EMDR as pseudoscience, question the quality and validity of research, contributing to the ongoing controversy. While some emphasize the positive outcomes, debates persist, highlighting the complex nature of the controversy. Clarifying misconceptions and emphasizing its proven safety and effectiveness can contribute to a more informed perspective on EMDR.

Who Is Not a Good Candidate for Emdr Therapy?

Individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder or personality disorders may not be suitable candidates for EMDR therapy. EMDR is not recommended for those currently experiencing hallucinations or delusions, as the therapy involves focusing on specific memories, which might be challenging for individuals with these symptoms. Additionally, individuals actively using alcohol, drugs, or other mood-altering substances are not ideal candidates for EMDR.

It is also not typically recommended for those who have recently experienced a traumatic event, as they may not be ready to process the associated emotions. If you're considering EMDR therapy, consulting with a mental health professional is essential to determine its suitability for you.

Get Treatment at Grove

For addiction treatment, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) emerges as a promising and multifaceted therapy. The Grove Estate, renowned for its evidence-based therapies, recognizes the nuanced landscape of addiction and integrates innovative approaches to address the complexities involved.

At The Grove Estate, our team acknowledges the importance of a tailored approach to addiction treatment. While EMDR therapy holds promise, it is crucial to align it with the unique needs and circumstances of each individual. As with any therapeutic intervention, a consultation with our experts is imperative to determine its suitability.

The Grove Editorial Team is a dynamic group of professionals at The Grove, a leading addiction treatment center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Comprising experienced therapists, medical experts, and dedicated support staff, this team brings a wealth of knowledge and compassionate insight into the complexities of addiction and recovery. Their collective expertise shines through in each article, offering readers valuable guidance, the latest in addiction science, and inspiring stories of healing and transformation. The Grove Editorial Team is committed to educating, supporting, and empowering individuals and families on their journey toward a healthier, substance-free life.

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If you or a loved one is grappling with addiction, don’t face it alone. The Grove Estate is here to guide you on the path to recovery. With a compassionate team and a proven approach, we’re dedicated to helping you reclaim your life. Reach out to The Grove Estate today and take the first step towards a brighter, addiction-free future. Your journey to healing begins with a single call. Please reach out to us today at 765-327-4111 to book your appointment! And start your healing journey at our convenient facility.

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