Throughout the course of addiction treatment, numerous forms of therapy are used in order to determine what treatments are the most effective. A relatively new form of psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is being used more often in treatment of specific mental health disorders because of its ability to alleviate stress associated with specific memories. EMDR therapy is particularly useful in addiction treatment because of the prevalence of co-occurring mental health disorders. Although research is still continuing regarding the effectiveness of this particular form of treatment, many drug and alcohol treatment facilities are still exploring the potential it has to make a lasting impact in recovery.
How EMDR Therapy Works
EMDR therapy is different from other forms of therapy as it does not rely on talking or medications to treat underlying conditions. Instead, during an EMDR session, you are asked to relive traumatic or triggering experiences under the guidance of your therapist. While this is happening, the therapist is directing your eye movement. This is thought to help lessen the impact of emotionally distressing experiences because your attention is being diverted.
There are several phases to EMDR therapy which requires a person to attend several sessions. EMDR is generally structured as:
- History and Treatment Planning: Before beginning, your therapist will review your history and determine where you are in the recovery process. This may require you to talk about past traumatic experiences in order for the therapist to identify specific memories that can be treated.
- Preparation: Once specific memories have been identified, your therapist will help you develop several healthy coping mechanisms to use when confronted with emotional or psychological stress. Revisiting traumatic memories can stir up a number of responses that may be difficult to deal with. Breathing exercises and mindfulness can help you keep your responses under control.
- Treatment: During the treatment phase, you will need to identify three things for each selected memory. Each targeted memory should have a vivid visual image you can relate to it, a negative belief about self, and related emotions or bodily sensations. In addition, you must also identify a positive belief or image. From there, you will be asked to focus on the image, negative thought, and sensations while the therapist performs the EMDR session. This usually includes sets of eye movement, taps, or tones to help direct focused attention throughout the session. After going through these sets, you should begin to no longer feel distress related to the targeted image. At the end of the session, the therapist will ask you to focus on the positive belief you identified at the start of the session. This may include asking you to let your mind go and focus on whatever spontaneous thoughts you have in the moment.
- Tracking: Upon completing a session, you may be asked to keep a log about anything you experience that can be related to your previous therapy session. This helps you keep perspective on how you respond to situations and how you implement self-soothing techniques to manage difficult situations or emotions.
Each EMDR session focuses on a different experience both past and present. Over time, the distress you feel related to these experiences should fade. The therapist will work through each memory as long as it takes and help guide you through them.
EMDR and Addiction Treatment
While EMDR therapy is still relatively new, many of the theories and practices behind how it is used are found in other forms of therapy. Many of these techniques are already established and proven effective in treatment, but EMDR explores it with a new approach.
Addiction treatment spends a lot of time exploring the underlying causes of substance abuse and identifying any mental health issues that may contribute to its continuation. Dual-diagnosis treatment is vital to addressing co-occurring disorders in addiction treatment and EMDR provides another avenue to explore addressing any underlying needs.
While EMDR is still being evaluated and its effectiveness is being determined, those who have used EMDR as part of their recovery have indicated it has been helpful in coping with past trauma. EMDR may not work for everyone, but studies have proven that EMDR is more effective than pursuing no treatment at all, and it has not been linked to increasing the risk for detrimental side effects.
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