The trend of improving mental health has been the focus of experts for a while now. While there are some widely used behavioral and psychotherapeutic interventions like CBT or DBT, there are certain lesser-known ones as well, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) being one of those. EMDR is also gaining traction in the addiction-related area, though more research is needed for it. However, this concept is exciting and can lead to some game-changing treatments if it proves to be as efficacious as the evidence suggests.
What is EMDR
Eye movement desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapeutic intervention that is intended to address traumatic events. By employing sporadic visual stimulation, it helps individuals that struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While initially it came out as a potential treatment for PTSD, it is also an area of interest for those who handle addiction.
How EMDR Works
Let’s discuss EMDR therapy process step by step:
History Taking is Important
The therapist will conduct a comprehensive assessment to gather information about the traumatic event or events, as well as any associated symptoms and negative beliefs that the person may have.
Preparation for Coping Strategies
The therapist will work with the person to develop coping strategies that can be used during and after the EMDR sessions.
Mental Illness Assessment
The therapist will identify the specific traumatic memory or memories that will be targeted in the EMDR therapy.
The therapist will guide the person through a process called “dual attention,” which involves the person focusing on the traumatic memory while also engaging in a type of bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, taps, or tones. This process is thought to help the person process the traumatic memory in a way that reduces its emotional impact.
The therapist will work with the person to develop positive beliefs and emotions associated with the traumatic memory. This step can be done in many ways, such as affirmative statements, guided imagery or visualization, etc.
The therapist will ask the client to pay attention to the body sensations and report any changes or discomfort, helping to release and process any residual energy.
The therapist will provide some techniques for the client to deal with any lingering emotions or sensations that might come up after the session, and also to encourage the person to be aware of any positive changes that may have occurred.
The therapist will schedule another session to evaluate the progress, and if necessary to continue working on the same memory or move on to another memory.
It is important to note that the length of the therapy and the number of sessions required to process a traumatic memory varies from person to person, and can depend on factors such as the severity of the trauma and the individual’s coping mechanisms.
Purposes of EMDR
EMDR for PTSD
Mainly, this type of therapy has been found to be effective in treating symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, such as combat, sexual or physical assault, or a serious accident. People with PTSD may experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and feelings of avoidance or numbing.
Based on the idea that traumatic memories can become stuck in the brain, causing the person to continue to experience the emotional distress associated with the event, the therapist uses a series of bilateral stimulations, such as eye movements, taps, or sounds, to help the person process and integrate the traumatic memory.
During an EMDR therapy session, the therapist will guide the person using EMDR worksheets through the process of recalling the traumatic event while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. The idea is that this will help the person to process the memory in a way that allows them to let go of the emotional distress associated with it.
EMDR for Addiction
Though this is a therapy that has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including PTSD, and has also been studied as a possible treatment for addiction. Addiction is a complex condition that is often caused by a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and underlying mental health conditions. Trauma and PTSD are common co-occurring conditions with addiction and they are known to play a significant role in the development and maintenance of addiction.
EMDR therapy has been used to help people with addiction by addressing the underlying traumatic memories that may be driving their addictive behaviors. The idea is that by processing and resolving these traumatic memories, the person will be able to reduce their cravings and improve their ability to control their behavior.
It’s worth noting that EMDR is not a standalone treatment for addiction, rather it works as an adjunctive therapy. Therefore, it should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other therapies, such as counseling, behavioral therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. The approach and the plan depend on the type of addiction and the stage of the addiction.
It’s important to note that not all practitioners are trained in EMDR and it’s important to find a therapist who has received specialized training in EMDR to be able to provide you with the best care possible.
Benefits of EMDR for Addiction
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy may offer several potential benefits for people struggling with addiction. Some of the key benefits that have been reported include:
EMDR therapy may help to reduce cravings for the substance or behavior that the person is addicted to. This is thought to occur because EMDR helps to process and resolve the traumatic memories that may be driving the addictive behavior.
Many people with addiction issues have low self-esteem and EMDR can help to reduce the negative self-image.
Improved emotional regulation
EMDR therapy may also help people with addiction to improve their emotional regulation, which can be a key factor in maintaining abstinence from the addictive substance or behavior.
Reduction of PTSD symptoms
PTSD and addiction frequently co-occur, EMDR can address these symptoms of PTSD, which can in turn, help to reduce the risk of relapse.
Improved coping skills
EMDR therapy can help to equip people with addiction with new coping skills, so they can better manage triggers and high-stress situations that may put them at risk of relapse.
Limitations of EMDR
The therapy is based on the idea that the traumatic memories are stored in a different way in the brain than normal memories, and that by revisiting the memories while engaging in certain eye movements, the memories can be processed and integrated in a way that reduces their negative impact. While EMDR therapy has been found to be effective in treating a wide range of conditions, it also offers its fair share of limitations. Some of the limitations of EMDR therapy include:
- Limited research on certain populations
While EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD and other conditions in many different populations, there is still limited research on its effectiveness in certain groups, such as children and older adults.
- Time and resources required
EMDR therapy often requires several sessions, each of which can be quite time-consuming. This may not be feasible for some people, particularly if they live in an area with limited access to mental health services. Additionally, EMDR therapy requires a trained therapist with specialized skills and it might not be available in all regions.
- Contraindicated in certain conditions
Some individuals with certain disorders or mental health conditions may not be suitable for EMDR therapy, such as those with active psychosis, severe dissociation or severe depression.
- Not suitable for everyone
While EMDR therapy has been found to be effective for many people, it may not be the best treatment option for everyone. Some people may not respond to EMDR therapy, or may find that other forms of therapy are more helpful.
- Can trigger feelings
As with any type of therapy that deals with traumatic memories, EMDR therapy can be emotionally challenging and can bring up strong feelings. Clients should be ready and willing to process difficult memories in a safe and controlled environment, with the guidance of a trained therapist.
Overall, EMDR therapy can be a very effective treatment option for individuals who have experienced trauma, but it’s important to be aware of its limitations and to work with a trained therapist who can help determine whether it’s the right choice for you.
EMDR for Addiction: Takeaway
In conclusion, EMDR therapy has been found to be an effective treatment option for addiction-related issues, particularly in addressing the underlying traumatic memories and triggers associated with addiction. It should be used in conjunction with other evidence-based treatments and support systems, and it’s important to work with a trained EMDR therapist with knowledge and experience in addiction to ensure that the therapy is properly tailored to the individual’s specific needs. In short, it works by processing and integrating the traumatic memories in a way that reduces their negative impact and promotes new positive associations.