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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for Addiction

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment modality used with AAC clients for addiction treatment and recovery.

Benefits of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Since AAC offers a full spectrum of treatment services to each client based upon his/her individual needs as assessed through comprehensive evaluations at admission, our clinicians formulate each integrated treatment plan based on the client’s life experiences — strengths, needs, abilities, and preferences, or “SNAP”. By considering the client’s “SNAP”, it allows us to individualize our treatment. This dual diagnosis treatment plan, which will be evaluated throughout the client’s participation in the program, can address certain issues that may play a role in his/her addiction behaviors, such as traumatic experiences. For clients evaluated as exhibiting co-occurring PTSD or related symptoms (including flashback memories, distressing dreams, subjective re-experiencing or repression of traumatic events, AAC clinicians may consider the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Offered as a component of our dual diagnosis addiction treatment curriculum, EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and effective for the treatment of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a common co-occurring mental health disorder among individuals struggling with substance addictions.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.

Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery

EMDR Treatment Definition

According to the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), EMDR can help the client with the resolution of traumatic and disturbing adverse life experiences. EMDR accomplishes this resolution by implementing a unique standardized set of procedures and clinical protocols that incorporate dual focus of attention and alternating bilateral visual, auditory and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates the components of memory-disturbing life events and facilitates resumption of adaptive information processing and integration. This treatment is particularly beneficial for clients with addiction and co-occurring trauma and abuse histories. Since its development and standardization of therapeutic protocol, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress. For AAC clients with appropriate treatment needs, EMDR would be considered an integrative psychotherapy approach intended to treat the psychological disorder related to trauma events, alleviate symptoms, and assist in their addiction recovery efforts.

How was EMDR developed?

In the late 1980’s, psychologists made a chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Dr. Francine Shapiro studied this effect scientifically and in 1989 reported in the Journal of Traumatic Stress that using EMDR while working with trauma victims yielded positive treatment outcomes. Since then, EMDR developed and evolved through contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world and today is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner. The eight-phase, three-pronged process of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges, results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers (EMDR International Association). Through EMDR, resolution of traumatic and disturbing adverse life experiences is accomplished with therapy sessions that allow the client to concentrate on a dual focus of attention and alternate bilateral visual, auditory and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates the components of the memory of disturbing life events and facilitates the resumption of adaptive information processing and integration. (American Psychiatric Association (2000), Shapiro, F. (2001), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Eating disorders are prevalent among women who were sexually abused as children. They have other symptoms such as obsessions, compulsions, food avoidance, anxiety, distorted body image, and feelings of body shame.

Karen A. Duncan, Healing from the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Journey for Women

EMDR at AAC Treatment Centers

Since substance use addiction is a highly individualized disease for each client, their treatment must also target their specific needs. When we speak about providing EMDR sessions for our clients, AAC clinicians do so as part of their overall, individualized recovery program. AAC may provide EMDR techniques to be used as a monotherapeutic approach for addiction treatment or in conjunction with other addiction therapies (i.e. psychopharmacology, individual therapy, group therapy, etc.), depending on the client’s treatment plan. We provide a number of similar therapeutic techniques falling into the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy category, including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other solution-focused therapy.

As a part of our overall addiction recovery program and individual client’s integrated treatment plan activities, EMDR sessions are offered at select treatment centers.

Last Updated on June 17, 2019
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