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EMDR in Early Addiction Recovery Treatment

Written on June 24, 2021
EMDR in Early Addiction Recovery Treatment

What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy that can be extremely helpful in healing from addiction, trauma, and other life stresses.

The first stage of EMDR we refer to as “resourcing.” It is helpful to anyone in early addiction, regardless of their traumatic past. EMDR resourcing helps to build resiliency in the body by calming the nervous system during times of stress and cravings. It gives us both greater control over our thoughts and higher tolerance of our emotions and experiences. The therapists at Flatirons Recovery use these EMDR techniques widely with clients, and have seen great results during early recovery.

The full protocol of EMDR, used in individual therapy for clients when appropriate, is extremely effective in healing trauma, one of the most common underlying causes of substance addiction. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including addiction, depression, anxiety, and insomnia, occur when traumatic experiences are stored in the brain in an unprocessed way. EMDR helps to process these experiences, reintegrating them in the brain so that they are no longer disturbing. When our trauma is processed, the symptoms subside. Addiction is usually an adaptation to the physical and emotional pain of trauma.. When the pain of trauma no longer haunts a person suffering from addiction, the need to escape with drugs and alcohol often subsides as well.

How does EMDR work and what is it like?

When we reprocess trauma in EMDR, we use bilateral stimulation with eye movements, tactile sensations, or audio sensations while remembering a memory or symptom. This allows for integrating stored and/or unconscious material, thereby decreasing unpleasant, painful symptoms. Though science is not sure exactly how EMDR works, it has been shown by research to be a highly effective method of therapy. One theory is that by using bilateral stimulation, we create a state in the brain similar to REM sleep, which allows for our system to process material that would otherwise be stuck.

During an EMDR session, you may experience a combination of images, thoughts, somatic sensations, and emotions as though you were on a train, watching them go by out a window. It feels a little different for everyone, and part of the process is learning to trust that your experience is unfolding as it needs to (with guidance, of course!).

Working with a trained EMDR therapist whom you trust creates a safe environment, making processing trauma manageable. EMDR therapists make sure clients have control over how deeply they want to go into painful experiences, and highlight the importance of self-care and trusting one’s own limits. In this way, the work you do in therapy promotes self-compassion and self-awareness. It is empowering. It puts us in intimate contact with all parts of ourselves, from our shiniest defenses to our shadowed wisdom.

Flatirons Recovery prides itself in its trauma-informed approach to addiction treatment. Whether or beginning to process trauma is part of your treatment while you are here, we consider it essential for our clinicians to have an in-depth knowledge of trauma and how it affects all facets of a person’s life, including their recovery from addiction. For this reason, all of our clinicians are trained in EMDR and can use part or all of its protocol in individual therapy to best suit your needs.