Easing the Power of Trauma with EMDR

The repercussions of trauma can impede recovery from substance use disorder. If you are dealing with trauma and substance use issues, it can be challenging to resolve them effectively. It's important to know that trauma and substance use can work in tandem to exacerbate the effects of both conditions. Still, overcoming them and moving on towards authentic recovery by addressing both issues simultaneously is possible.

Dealing with Psychological Trauma and Distressing Memories

One of the first things many addiction specialists will introduce to a patient or client when they first enter into treatment is what is called an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test. It consists of about ten questions regarding life experiences before turning 18. The score is rated one through ten. The more yes answers one has, the greater the likelihood of several mental health issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and physical health-related issues.


The ACE test is a tool to help identify possible trauma that may still be playing out in the life of an adult. Most people will suppress or minimize trauma if they even have any memory of it at all. Trauma can be carried in the body before it is identified; it can also be eased and disarmed once it has been addressed and confronted. In addiction treatment and therapy, cooling the brain with proven modalities can be tremendously helpful in reducing impulse behaviors, triggers, and the desire to harm oneself from a place of self-loathing and shame.


If you are dealing with trauma-related issues, Wish Recovery has a team of professionals who can assist you in addressing your trauma and substance use in an effective and long-lasting way. To heal the scars of trauma, you must process its impact altogether. 


Substance abuse can severely impact the brain and negatively affect a person's life. For example, it's crucial to treat trauma or mental health concerns when they come up, as they can significantly impact the effectiveness of treatment. One example is using cognitive therapy to help patients identify, avoid, and manage triggers that lead to relapse. Another example is using medications to treat depression and anxiety that often go hand-in-hand with substance use disorder. 


Many of these approaches are highly effective, but the therapeutic approach must be well-rounded for a successful recovery. EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be included in any treatment plan to accomplish this. 

What is EMDR?

EMDR therapy was first established in 1987 to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EMDR is a form of psychotherapy conducted with a single patient throughout 6-12 sessions, often once or twice weekly. During an EMDR session, clients temporarily concentrate on the traumatic memory while receiving bilateral stimulation, reducing the recollection's vividness and emotional intensity.

How does EMDR therapy work?

According to the Adaptive Information Processing model, which underpins EDMR, distressing events that continue to produce suffering because the memory was not processed are the root cause of PTSD and other conditions. In these raw memories, one may still find the same feelings, ideas, beliefs, and sensations experienced at the time.


Standardized treatments utilized in EMDR include eye movements and other kinds of rhythmic left-right (bilateral) stimulation (such as tones or taps), designed to lessen the severity of the painful memory and encourage a sped-up learning process.


There are eight distinct stages of EMDR treatment. In most cases, one to three sessions are sufficient to finish processing a given memory.

Phase 1: History and treatment planning

The therapist and client collaborate to establish treatment goals after collecting relevant background information and performing an appropriate evaluation. Past experiences, present stimuli, and future goals are potential targets. 

Phase 2: Preparation

The therapist provides a rationale for the therapy and shows the patient how to do the eye movements and other parts of bilateral stimulation (BLS). The therapist guides the client through the Safe/Calm Place exercise to improve the patient's emotional regulation skills.

Phase 3: Assessment

Memory components (image, cognition, emotion, and bodily feeling) are identified and evaluated during the assessment phase of EMDR to activate the memory being targeted in the session. 


Phase 4 begins with the patient participating in BLS, such as eye movements and concentrating on the memory at hand. After that, the patient shares any original ideas that have arisen. 


InstallationPhase 5 of EMDR, reinforces the patient's most favorably evaluated form of thinking. 


Body scanning is done in Phase 6 and involves the patient observing their bodily reaction while recalling the event and the positive cognition to pinpoint any lingering physiological suffering. 


The session concludes with Phase 7 as closure. Special instructions and approaches are employed to provide containment and maintain safety until the next session if the targeted memory is not wholly processed. 

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

Each new EDMR session begins with a re-evaluation of the client's present mental health, the persistence of treatment's positive effects, any new memories that may have surfaced, and the identification of the session's goals in collaboration with the patient.

Risks and Benefits of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR is a powerful tool that can help people heal from trauma. However, it is not without its risks. The most common side effect of EMDR is feeling emotionally overwhelmed during or after a session. This can be especially difficult for people who have experienced severe trauma. It is essential to have a support system before starting EMDR therapy. Other risks include feeling worse after a session, reliving the trauma, and having trouble sleeping. Despite these risks, EMDR is an effective treatment for PTSD and other mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, panic, and eating disorders.

Using EMDR to Treat PTSD and Addiction

It is estimated that 70% of people who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD. EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a type of therapy that can help people with PTSD by reducing their symptoms and improving their quality of life. EMDR has also been effective in treating addiction, as it can help reduce cravings and improve self-esteem.


Addiction is more likely to occur in those who have PTSD. However, EMDR is helpful for this condition. Treatment using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has shown promise in treating substance use disorders. When used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, EMDR has been shown to reduce drug usage and aid with co-occurring mental health conditions. A person's ability to stay sober and experience fewer adverse effects from mental illness also improves. 


There are other ways through which EMDR treatment aids in the fight against addiction. Trauma-focused EMDR is used to treat substance abuse in both individuals with and without co-occurring PTSD. Patients who had previously suffered from substance abuse and PTSD improved their condition after undergoing this treatment. Multiple studies are now investigating the efficacy of EMDR for comorbid PTSD in people with substance use disorder, with the direct result being a reduction in PTSD symptoms relative to alternative methods like cognitive behavioral therapy


Some people get addicted to drugs even without ever having suffered trauma. Other elements may be at play as well. For instance, some individuals have had a physical injury that prompted them to experiment with potent opioid medicines, which paved the way to addiction. The therapy may not be effective in treating them, but it may aid those struggling with recollections of their substance use. 


The cumulative recollection of one's loss of control over one's drug usage and its subsequent continuation is known as an "addiction memory," which keeps a person from breaking their habit. In this scenario, EMDR therapy might be used to desensitize the person to the emotions they connect with substances. Medication and other methods may be included with this treatment to maximize effectiveness. 


EMDR psychotherapy can aid in making the transition from an unfounded belief in one's worth to a more realistic one. Through EMDR treatment, you can free your mind and body from trapped memories and information. You have the option of erasing the negative imprint and reintegrating the false messages into a more positive and liberating self-view. 


When everything is said and done, EMDR therapy should have helped patients feel more confident, compassionate, and appreciative of themselves. People who have had EMDR treatment report increased feelings of self-awareness, autonomy, and creativity. The ability to live and build a life based on a sense of intrinsic value allows you to be fully present in the world, using your unique set of strengths. After overcoming past hurts, you'll be in a better position to deal with today's problems.

Recovery and Outlook

Initially developed to relieve the distress of traumatic memories and adverse life experiences, EDMR therapy has been highly effective in helping those struggling with substance use disorders resolve their shame-based relationship to substances and alleviate their response to personal trauma. Most substance abuse starts as a means of coping with traumatic experiences, painful memories, emotional distress, and negative perceptions about oneself. Whether those memories are repressed or realized, EMDR has proven effective in alleviating the relationship to the trauma and therefore diminishing the potential need or desire to use a substance, creating a path for a more compelling opportunity to introduce other therapies eventually.


At Wish Recovery, we understand that substance abuse is often the result of emotional pain management that no longer works. The use of therapies like EMDR is becoming increasingly widespread as our understanding of the causality of addictive behavior becomes greater. Studies regarding the relationship between trauma and addiction have proven that we can’t treat one without addressing the other. A practical approach to treating a substance issue has to include therapies that address the source of the past pain. This is the difference between treating causality and simply managing symptomology.


Ultimately, EMDR will not only alleviate past pain allowing the patient to put into context the events of their personal story but will also allow for them to have the tools to address present distress in current painful circumstances as well as the events they may encounter in the future as they venture into their new life of recovery.

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