Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

The Family Place uses multiple therapy methods for treating trauma and related symptoms. We understand how trauma can affect all aspects of life, including recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). In addition, we believe that a trauma-focused approach to treatment provides the best experience for individuals seeking rehabilitation. Processing traumatic events gives you a healthier foundation for long-term recovery.


What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) uses bilateral stimulation to reprocess trauma in a safe and relaxed setting. The treatment effectively overrides trauma responses and makes managing symptoms related to anxiety, stress, and depression easier. Our clinicians at The Family Place use EMDR to help clients overcome past traumas that may be holding them back from successfully achieving and maintaining sobriety.

You can expect to do some or all of the following during sessions:

  • Discuss thoughts, feelings, memories, or sensations related to traumatic or stressful events
  • Use bilateral stimulation to relax the body and create an emotional distance within the memory
  • Use guided imagery and mindfulness techniques to remain present and in control

EMDR was explicitly designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to research published in BMC Psychiatry, some people “use substances to regulate PTSD-related symptoms,” which means “trauma-focused treatment might also reduce SUD symptoms.” PTSD is a common co-occurring disorder with symptoms that exist along a spectrum. EMDR focuses on treating the root cause of trauma responses to provide relief from severe symptoms and lower the risk of relapse.

Bilateral Stimulation and the Brain

The mind and body are closely linked, and one can affect the other in significant ways. Bilateral stimulation is one way that EMDR uses the mind-body connection to enhance the effectiveness of therapeutic exercises. During EMDR sessions, the therapist uses various forms of bilateral stimulation, including the following:

  • Bilateral alternating visual movement
  • Bilateral alternating auditory stimulation
  • Bilateral alternating tactile stimulation

Emotional and memory processing can be affected by certain physical stimulations. Traumatic memories are stored differently from other memories, often leading to maladaptive coping behaviors. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that clients use EMDR bilateral stimulation while they go through a painful memory until a shift occurs “in the way that you experience that memory and more information from the past is processed.”

EMDR and Overcoming Trauma

Our trauma-focused approach to treatment encourages clients to use therapies like EMDR to work through past events that interfere with recovery. According to Depression and Anxiety, “Exposure to traumatic experiences, especially those occurring in childhood, has been linked to substance use disorders.” To avoid falling back into old behaviors after treatment, you need to change how you think about recovery and trauma. EMDR is an excellent way to achieve this kind of personal self-growth and healing.

What to Expect From EMDR

Sessions are one-on-one with a trained therapist and take place in a comfortable space where you can fully relax. In the first appointment, you will go over treatment goals and personal history to provide a framework for all future sessions. Some things you can expect during EMDR include:

  • Processing painful or traumatic events
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Breathing exercises
  • Describing the physical sensations brought up by various memories or thoughts
  • Using rapid eye movement and bilateral stimulation

Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing require you to revisit painful memories and emotions in a controlled, secure setting. Desensitization is one way to change how you experience traumatic or uncomfortable memories and thoughts. You will work with your therapist to retrain the way your body feels when remembering specific distressing events.

According to research published by Plos One, “The standard EMDR protocol consists of two main stages, [desensitization] of traumatic memories and development and installation of a ‘resource,’ such as safe and pleasant thoughts.” In EMDR, we accomplish this by using bilateral stimulation alongside guided re-exposure to the negative thought, feeling, or memory.

The Benefits of EMDR Therapy

EMDR is an ideal therapy for individuals with a history of trauma. For example, veterans of the armed forces make up a large percentage of those who suffer from SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, approximately 481,000 veterans over the age of 18 had both a SUD and a mental health disorder. Both conditions increase the risk of developing trauma-related symptoms. EMDR was created to treat PSTD, making it ideal for those individuals. If you have a history of PTSD and want relief from persistent symptoms, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing may be a good option for you.

Combining EMDR With Additional Therapy or Medication

Every case is unique, but some individuals require more intensive and comprehensive therapeutic support and sometimes prescription medication to manage symptoms. The Family Place chooses to avoid medication in instances where therapy can resolve the issue. We offer multiple forms of treatment to retrain your brain to see the world in a healthier way.

Some options that we offer alongside EMDR include:

  • Psychotherapy methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Alternatives like art or music therapy
  • Other therapies that use rapid eye movement like accelerated resolution therapy (ART)
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Meditation and mindfulness-based therapies

We use the best tools for each client and tailor treatment plans to individual needs.

We offer eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy as an option for individuals who have past traumas that may be interfering with their recovery from substance misuse. Call our office today and speak with an intake specialist to learn more about our various programs or set up an admissions interview. You can reach us at 1-800-501-7796.

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