Many individuals admitted for substance abuse treatment have experienced significant trauma which may have caused disturbing thoughts, feelings and/or memories but didn’t seek help or even know that they had been traumatized by the experience. Instead, they turned to substance abuse or process addictions (e.g., sex, shopping, gambling, gaming, food, etc.) as a way to cope with their intense discomfort.
When a traumatic event occurs, it may overwhelm one’s thinking and ultimately the ability to cope effectively. The memory and associated stimuli may get stored in the wrong type of memory (i.e., memory associated with emotions and physical sensations) and therefore the disturbing experiences become frozen in its own memory network. The goal of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy or EMDR is to process these distressing memories, reducing the intense discomfort associated with it.
EMDR is an evidence-based treatment for emotional difficulties that are caused by disturbing life experiences in both children and adults. EMDR is a complex method that consists of eight phases that utilize elements from a number of well-established clinical theoretical orientations. The clinician determines what memory to target first, using eye movements similar to REM sleep, then the client is asked to hold the disturbing event or thought in mind while tracking the fingers of the clinician as it moves back and forth across their field of vision. Sometimes auditory tones, tapping or a bar of moving lights is used instead. The eye movements last a short time and then stop. The patient is then asked to report what came up during each set of eye movements. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to reduce in intensity of disturbance.
While EMDR is best known for its use with trauma related issues it is also being used for issues related to anxiety and panic attacks, phobias, depression, complicated bereavement, pain relief, performance enhancement and addictions. EMDR can be a brief focused treatment or as an adjunct to a longer course of psychotherapy. Sessions are between 60 and 90 minutes. Clients engaged in EMDR processing are alert and in control of the therapy process. EMDR is the most thoroughly researched treatment for trauma. Research using brain specs show significant changes in brain functioning pre and post EMDR treatment. EMDR is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD. To find an EMDR clinician in your area, go to EMDR.com.