How EMDR Can Be Helpful in Treating Trauma and Addiction
Reflections Recovery Center offers a unique approach to addiction recovery for men, a full experience treating mind, body and soul. Among our many holistic modalities, a non-invasive form of psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be a helpful part of the recovery process.
About half of those struggling with addiction are also coping with a mental health issue. Reflections Recovery Center accommodates dual diagnosis clients, furnishes individualized treatment plans, and provides support for underlying trauma and unhealed emotional wounds that can cause or exacerbate substance abuse.
Whether a client has a mental health diagnosis or not, EMDR can provide safe and effective treatment on the path to healing from addiction.
What Can EMDR Treat?
EMDR was first used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the late 1980s, when Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., originated and developed the therapy. It has since become successful in helping millions of people move past the stress of trauma.
However, the treatment possibilities are expanding, as EMDR is considered a relatively new therapy and more research on what it can effectively treat continues. New research brings evidence on more and more psychological issues improved by EMDR, one of them being addiction.
EMDR has been so well researched now, with more than 30 controlled studies done, that it is officially recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the World Health Organization.
Patients are having successful results in EMDR treatment to overcome:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Panic attacks
- The psychological effects of natural disasters
- Eating disorders
- Negative self-beliefs
And, EMDR is even used in coaching for achievement in personal and business success and sports.
How Does EMDR Work?
Studies show that when a person experiences the negative effects of trauma, harmful emotion is stored physiologically in the body. One of the main goals of EMDR therapy is to move that emotional memory to a different part of the brain for reprocessing.
In EMDR therapy, traumatic events stored in the part of the brain meant for long-term memory are accessed and moved to the forefront of the mind. While in short-term memory, the mind creates a working narrative memory.
Information can then be reprocessed, with new associations forged between the traumatic physiological network of the body and new cognitive insights developing in the mind. The brain can then reprocess the accompanying emotions in a more neutral way, sweeping the negative feelings away and eliminating emotional distress.
Why Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Successful?
Despite the research, we don’t understand all the science that makes this therapy so successful. Many medical professionals believe the treatment accesses some of the biological mechanisms connected to those in REM sleep. The same way the brain rids itself of superfluous information in REM sleep, the rapid rhythmic eye movements seem to damper the power of emotionally charged memories.
We already know there is a physical response to unresolved thoughts: Just imagine the body’s internal reactions when going on a blind date. We also know the body seeks to heal itself naturally, like how a cut on the skin will repair itself.
However, when there is an impediment to healing, such as a fingernail embedded in the cut, healing is halted. Left untreated, infection can set in, making the problem worse over time.
Similarly, someone who has gone through the trauma of abuse may hold feelings of low self-worth because of the abuse. Removing the impediments of negative self-thinking opens the channels in his brain’s neurobiological mechanisms for healing. EMDR therapy can lead to a less traumatically charged feeling about the event(s), and then to feelings of survival and strength instead.
A tornado victim that holds onto the inappropriate cognition, “I am in danger” when the danger has long passed can develop anxiety over wind, flying, driving and so on. “I am safe now” becomes the appropriate thought after EMDR.
Intellectually knowing something like, “I am safe,” or, “I am not to blame,” is entirely different from emotionally feeling it to be true. We may believe in the logic of one thing, but be driven by the emotion of another. Changing these beliefs so rapidly, as only EMDR can, is nothing less than phenomenal for those who have benefited from it.
What Is the Evidence?
In recent years, several studies have shown the efficacy of this therapy. Some studies show that up to 90 percent of individuals suffering from trauma no longer have the diagnosis of PTSD after three sessions. Another study found 100 percent of victims who had experienced one traumatic event and 77 percent of victims who had experienced multiple traumas no longer had PTSD after six sessions.
And another recent study showed 77 percent of combat vets were cured of PTSD after 12 sessions. No wonder EMDR has gained worldwide recognition.
As new data continues to emerge, the range of symptoms and treatable disorders enlarges. Dr. Jamie Marich, a trauma specialist and EMDR trainer, has made important connections in using EMDR to treat addiction and trauma. She concludes that unhealed trauma-related issues block addiction recovery and pose a risk for relapse.
What Makes EMDR Different?
EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that is not talk therapy. This is one of the main attributes that makes EMDR different than most other threapies.
The client does not have to admit to the gory details of his past trauma to gain help from this therapy. In traditional therapy, the client would spend hours upon years telling his counselor about his problems, anxieties, past trauma and so on. But in EMDR, the client is in control. He only has to remember his trauma and picture it in his own mind for the therapy to be effective.
Often, an issue prevalent in men with addiction is the fear of disclosing behaviors that are embarrassing or shameful to the individual. A benefit of EMDR is that he need not share if he is not ready to, while still benefitting from the therapeutic effects.
People are finding they don’t need years of therapy to see improvement. The results of EMDR are very rapid in comparison. After only a few sessions, clients often report dramatic results.
A Step Toward Freedom
The happiest people have ways to manage and reduce their own stress. They implore successful coping mechanisms. One of the goals of EMDR therapy is to set the client up with these skills going forward.
After the brain has reprocessed the negative events into manageable memories, the client has a much less emotionally charged view of his circumstances. People who have successfully undergone this type of therapy rave about the life-changing effect that this paradigm shift has brought to their lives.
If we understand that unhealed emotional wounds play a role in causing or exacerbating addiction, then we can use EMDR as a very effective tool. Using a three-pronged approach to dealing with wounds – past, present and future – Reflections Recovery Center is able to help clients gain the skills necessary to move forward after addiction into long-term recovery and with a reduced risk of relapse.
EMDR therapy is one piece of the holistic pie offered at Reflections Recovery Center. Implementing this therapy and others gives men the tools needed to conquer addiction and walk away with the right skills and mindset to craft a new life.