EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, is a form of psychotherapy developed in 1987. EMDR was designed with the goal of treating PTSD. EMDR is interesting in part because of the results it delivers. Many forms of therapy rely on talking about trauma, relationships, and other big life issues. EMDR is different because it relies on the body by the use of specific eye movements.
Why Does EMDR Work for Addiction?
Trauma can be caused by a specific event or by a series of events. When it comes to dual diagnosis, it’s important to understand the link that can occur between trauma and addiction. Some people start to use substances socially and get out of control. They don’t have PTSD, they just have a substance issue. That makes them a single, non-dual-diagnosis patient.
But many other addiction treatment clients start using substances as a coping mechanism. Often, they’re using because they’re seeking relief for a past traumatic experience. That trauma could be an assault or rape. It could be witnessing a traumatic event, witnessed early in childhood, or perhaps during work as a first responder. Military veterans sometimes present with complex PTSD, or C-PTSD from enduring repeated stresses. For some people, the cause of their post-traumatic stress disorder may also be at the root of their addiction. If that’s the way your story has unfolded, EMDR may be a good fit for you as far as treatment goes.
Why Is Eye Movement Important?
Eye movement may sound like a strange thing to harness to help people overcome trauma, but this therapy has excellent results. The theory behind EMDR therapy is that trauma comes from experiences that weren’t processed fully at the time. The reason for the eye movement is simple: it stimulates the brain. When the eyes move rhythmically from side to side, it has the effect of firing neurons in both hemispheres of the brain.
This is a natural part of how the brain processes information. By recreating it in a controlled setting, therapists are able to help people overcome specific traumatic events from their lives. Of course, it takes more than just moving the eyes from side to side. If it were that simple, people would have been doing it at home for decades. There’s a whole process when it comes to EMDR, in which patients can be prepared to increase the therapy’s effectiveness.
Eight Steps for Success
There are eight steps, or phases, in the EMDR protocol. These are laid out by the EMDR International Association in its literature. The EMDRIA is a professional organization of EMDR therapists who practice in this modality and seek to maintain high clinical standards for this therapy.
- History: The first step of EMDR therapy is understanding the trauma that occurred. Clinicians do this by taking a history of the patient. It’s important to know what specific issue you’re addressing during EMDR sessions.
- Preparation: The second part of therapy is preparing someone for the treatment. In this phase, the clinician helps you understand the symptoms of PTSD. They’ll also give you other tools to deal with the feelings that come with PTSD. These typically will include some DBT type skills for processing discomfort.
- Assessment: This is the first phase that truly begins the nuts-and-bolts EMDR therapy treatment. In assessment, the provider will bring up the troubling image, negative belief, or other issues that needs to be addressed in the session. They’ll also bring up the positive belief that you’re seeking to arrive at.
- Desensitization: This is the phase where eye movements take place. It’s also the time when feelings, physical sensations, and insights will start to emerge.
- Installation: Installation is the stage of EMDR treatment where positive associations are formed. This means increasing connections in the networks of your brain and memory. The goal is to completely integrate the positive associations into your mind.
- Body Scan: The idea that “the body keeps the score” has been studied, addressed, and popularized by Bessel van der Kolk. It’s something you’ve probably heard of. Trauma, and PTSD in particular, can cause physical feelings in the body. In the body scan portion of EMDR treatment, you and the clinician will talk about any such sensations you’re feeling and talk about them.
- Closure: Your clinician will want to make sure you’re feeling stable at the end of the EMDR session. They will also want to establish that you should check in with them if something changes. Guided imagery or stress management techniques may be discussed during this time. You can use those techniques between EMDR sessions as needed.
- Reassessment: Phase eight will happen in session two. During this step, your provider will check in with you to discuss the effects of the first session. They’ll also want to talk about how you’re feeling holistically. They’ll want to see how much you’ve integrated the new positive belief into your life.
How Long Does EMDR Take?
One of the great and unusual things about EMDR is that people tend to see results much more quickly than with traditional talk therapies. Therapy for PTSD has traditionally been a very long and difficult process. But for therapy clients who want to address a single traumatic experience, that can typically resolve after just three to five sessions. That’s right: over 80% of these patients no longer meet the criteria for PTSD after just a handful of sessions. For dual diagnosis rehab clients, EMDR can be a literal lifesaver.
If you have a more complex story with many traumatic episodes, also known as C-PTSD, your journey may be longer. It’s also important to remember EMDR therapy for PTSD doesn’t work for 100% of patients. Unfortunately, no therapy boasts perfect results. However, for dual diagnosis rehab clients, EMDR is an important therapy to consider. It can be very effective for anyone struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.
If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD and addiction, please reach out to Defining Wellness today. We help dual diagnosis patients get back on the road to recovery with therapies including EMDR.