EMDR: Stages, Benefits, and Knowing If It’s Right For You

Our brain takes in millions of pieces of information every second, every day. Unfortunately, this information can also be processed and stored in a way that associates these details with traumatic events in the collective unconscious. For those who’ve experienced trauma, certain sensations, images, sounds, and even smells can trigger horrific memories of events such as rape, combat, natural disasters, physical and emotional abuse, and even bullying. Moreover, if trauma and the negative feelings and/or memories associated with the event are not adequately addressed, this can lead to PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and substance use disorders.

Luckily, there is a form of psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that has been found to help individuals heal from the symptoms, adverse reactions, and emotional distress resulting from traumatic life events. EMDR therapy has been recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma by organizations such as the World Health Organization, The American Psychiatric Association, and the Department of Defense. Even high-profile individuals such as sexual assault survivors, mental health advocates, and actress Evan Rachel Wood recently shed a national spotlight on EMDR therapy after completing a session for severe, long-term PTSD. She reveals, “I started EMDR. It’s a kind of trauma therapy, and I must say, is absolutely fantastic. Crying has never felt so good. For people struggling from PTSD or past traumas, I highly recommend this intense, but highly effective treatment.” 

First, What Is EMDR and Who Uses This Therapy?

Founded in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro, EMDR is a health care technique and protocol used by psychotherapists to treat those suffering from trauma. According to The American Psychological Association (APA), “EMDR therapy was initially developed for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is guided by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. The AIP model considers symptoms of PTSD and other disorders (unless physically or chemically based) to result from past disturbing experiences that continue to cause distress because the memory was not adequately processed.” These unprocessed memories are thought to contain the feelings, thoughts, images, smells, and other bodily sensations that occurred at the time of the trauma. As the memories are triggered, these stored sensations are experienced and cause the symptoms of PTSD or other mental health disorders. EMDR therapy focuses directly on the memory and is intended to change the way that the event is stored or filed in the brain, eventually eliminating the traumatic symptoms. Negative emotions are then replaced by positive ones encouraging a healthier lifestyle and healing.

In addition to treating PTSD, EMDR has also been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, phobias, addiction, chronic pain, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, substance use disorders are also highly prevalent among those living with a mental health illness. To treat these co-occurring disorders, psychotherapists use EMDR to target and resolve the trauma that is contributing to the alcohol or drug abuse. Sessions typically happen one to two times per week, and some treatments can last up to 90 minutes.

The 8 Stages of EMDR

The APA states that EMDR therapy uses a structured eight-phase or stage approach that includes:

1: History Intake

Taking a full health history of the client and conducting an appropriate assessment is the first step in the 8 stage process. Once this is established, the therapist and client work together to identify targets for treatment, including triggers, past memories, and future goals. 

2: Prepping the Client

The therapist explains the treatment process and procedures to the client, practices the various eye movements, and discusses the relationship between the trauma and the addiction to explain the treatment objective.

3: Assessing The Specific Memory

The client and therapist then work together to pinpoint the specific memories that are to be targeted along with the feelings, thoughts, images, sounds, smells, or bodily sensations associated as triggers for the particular memory.

4: Desensitization

During this stage, the actual EMDR therapy techniques are now used to treat targeted memories. The client is asked to focus on a negative memory or image while the therapist asks them to do specific eye movements. After the process, clients are asked to recall any feelings or thoughts they have while refocusing on the same traumatic memory. This process continues until the client states that the memory no longer causes feelings of distress. 

5: Installation

In this stage, the therapist works to replace the negative thoughts or cognition with positive ones.

6: Body Scan

The therapist checks the client’s body for any physical response to the targeted memory and adjusts treatment if any residual distress occurs.

7: Closure

The client is asked to be aware of any issues that might happen in between sessions and make notes about these disturbances to help future therapy meetings. 

8: Re-evaluation

In the final phase, the client and the therapist, individually and jointly, evaluate progress after these sessions to make sure the treatment is working successfully.

Is EMDR Right For You?

Mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur and must be treated simultaneously for the best chance of long-term success in addiction recovery. At Silver Lining Recovery, we offer EMDR treatment and provide a conducive and safe environment for our patrons to work together with therapists to target and resolve the trauma that is contributing to the alcohol or drug abuse. These approaches support the individuals as they learn to accept and move beyond their own deep-rooted negative beliefs and make way for a healthier, more positive life in sobriety. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction and think EMDR therapy can help, contact Silver Lining Recovery today at 1-833-8GROWTH.

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