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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)


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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Addiction is a serious condition that affects millions of Americans every year. In Maine, many people experience the negative effects of substance abuse through either their own or a loved one’s actions. This is especially true when it comes to opioid abuse, which has seen an increase of 19% in overdose deaths in Maine from 2020 to 2021.

For many people, drug abuse started as a way to cope with negative emotions. These negative emotions are, at times, tied to past trauma. Fortunately, there are treatment options that include interventions for the burdens that trauma places on an individual. Here at Casco Bay Recovery, we offer a range of therapies that to help our patients overcome substance use disorders.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the therapies we offer our patients. This therapy helps individuals with a substance use disorder with healing from the emotional distress that trauma causes. With EMDR for addiction treatment included in your treatment plan, we can help you overcome the hold that past trauma has on you and your wellbeing.  

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

EMDR is a type of psychotherapy. It is relatively new and was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro. Most types of psychotherapy combine medication and talk therapy to change the way a person thinks. However, EMDR therapy works a little differently.

EMDR works to help an individual process and heal from past trauma. This type of therapy is conducted by having the patient recall a traumatic event. Simultaneously, the therapist guides the patient’s eyes from side to side using their fingers, a light bar, or auditory tones. The processing that occurs during this activity is what helps patients overcome symptoms of trauma or mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The fact that eye movements help a person to reprocess trauma may be an interesting fact to accept. However, when you consider EMDR in relation to REM sleep, the therapy makes a lot of sense. The eye movements that are prompted during this therapy mimic the eye movements that occur during REM sleep. This is the part of the sleep cycle when you dream. The brain is the most active during this part of sleep and that activity is linked to memory and emotional processing.

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Many cases of addiction can be tied back to past trauma or a resulting disorder such as PTSD or an anxiety disorder. Past experiences of sexual assault, violence, abuse or traumatic life events can trigger uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms in a person. To cope with those feelings, a person may turn to drugs or alcohol.

While abusing substances provides temporary relief, the underlying cause of addiction is still present. Even worse, the individual then has co-occurring disorders which must both be treated. EMDR for addiction can help to address the root cause of addiction by helping the person process and heal the trauma that they have experienced.

How EMDR for Addiction Works

EMDR therapy is conducted in a series of sessions. The therapist will work with the patient to identify a particular memory or event that is causing distress. The therapist will then guide the patient through a series of eye movements while thinking about the memories, thoughts, sensations, and images associated with a traumatic memory.

EMDR is based on a model called Adaptive Information Processing (AIP). This model claims that incomplete processing of traumatic events leads to adverse effects. These effects can include the development of mental disorders, PTSD, affective disorders, chronic pain, and/or addiction.

Through the eight-phase process of EMDR therapy, individuals can experience normal information processing. The harmful events and memories are reprocessed leading to a reduction in distressing emotions, current triggers, and future potential challenges for the individual. When the patient no longer experiences symptoms associated with their trauma, they will likely not need to turn to drugs to cope.

What to Expect in an EMDR for Addiction Session

In a therapy session, your therapist will first ask you to focus on the small details of a traumatic experience. This can include beliefs about why it happened, emotions promoted by the event, bodily feelings, and other sensations. While the patient focuses on those aspects of the trauma, the therapist prompts them to engage in side-to-side eye movements.

Side to side-eye movements is usually stimulated by the EMDR therapist waving their fingers back and forth in front of the patient’s face. However, objects or EMDR-specific equipment may be used as well. The patient will follow the therapist’s fingers with their eyes, and the eye movements should last for about 20-30 seconds. Additionally, sounds or tapping are sometimes used to prompt eye movements. 

After the eye movement portion of EMDR is complete, the patient and therapist will discuss what came to mind during the session. It’s not uncommon for patients to feel a range of emotions during EMDR, including sadness, anger, guilt, and shame. However, patients should also feel a sense of relief after EMDR is complete.

Phases and Processes of EMDR for Addiction

EMDR for addiction is conducted in eight phases. While this may vary depending on the treatment provider, most EMDR therapy will follow these phases:

The therapist will get as much information as possible about the patient’s history during this phase. This will help the therapist develop a treatment plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the patient.

The therapist will work with the patient to develop coping skills that can be used during and after EMDR therapy. The therapist will also ensure that the patient is comfortable with the EMDR process.

During this phase, the therapist will assess which memories are causing distress to the patient. These are the memories that will be targeted during EMDR therapy.

This is the eye movement portion of EMDR therapy. The patient will focus on a specific memory while watching a moving object, such as a light or the therapist’s finger. The therapist will also insert positive emotions to associate with recollecting the past to replace the distressing emotions.

The therapist will seek to strengthen the positive feelings that the patient associates with past events. Further, the therapist will assess the individual’s ability to deal with everyday experiences.

The therapist will have the patient focus on any negative physical sensations they may be feeling in their body and work to release them.

The therapist will provide support and ensure that the patient feels safe before ending the session. The therapist may also provide some homework for the patient to do between sessions.

During this last phase, the therapist and individual will reevaluate the patient’s symptoms to see if the goals of EMDR were met. If any issues remain, the therapy will start at the appropriate phase and continue until the next reevaluation.

Who is a Good Candidate for EMDR Therapy

When it comes to whether or not you will be a good candidate for EMDR therapy, there are a few ways this is determined. EMDR can be used to help those who have experienced a trauma, but it is also helpful for those struggling with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more. However, addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all; a treatment plan should be individualized to every patient’s needs. Therefore, EMDR for addiction is only recommended for those who are expected to benefit from it. 

If you are seeking EMDR therapy for addiction specifically, your therapist will likely want to know about your history of drug or alcohol abuse as well as any traumas you may have experienced. It’s important that you feel comfortable discussing these things with your therapist as they will be integral to your EMDR therapy sessions.

EMDR is an effective treatment for addiction because it helps patients process trauma so they may heal from it. This can lead to a reduction in cravings and symptoms associated with withdrawal, making it easier for the patient to stay sober. If you are a good candidate for EMDR, it will be added to your broader addiction treatment plan.

Explore EMDR and Other Addiction Therapies with Casco Bay

EMDR is an effective addiction treatment therapy, as it can help individuals deal with the trauma that may have occurred during their addiction. EMDR therapy can help people overcome the negative emotions associated with addiction and replace them with positive ones.

This type of therapy can help people who are trying to overcome addiction by teaching them how to deal with everyday experiences healthily. Here at Casco Bay Recovery, EMDR therapy for addiction is only one of the many therapies we offer as therapeutic interventions for addiction.

If you or someone close to you is struggling to get by without substance abuse, we can help. To learn more about EMDR therapy for addiction and our many other offerings, contact us today. We can help you discover which treatment option will be best for your needs.