Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-known trauma treatment model. In essence, EMDR helps reduce the severity of distressing stimuli, and it can help support the implementation of healthy coping skills.
Although the origins of EMDR are in trauma, many clinicians have used this model for treating depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Let’s get into what you need to know.
What Is EMDR?
EMDR is an evidence-based model consisting of eight distinct phases.
The first few phases consist of assessment, history-taking, and rapport. It’s imperative that you feel safe with your therapist before delving into your story.
These first phases also include education and skills-building. Your therapist will seek to understand how your past impacts your present. They will teach you practical coping skills that you can use if you become overwhelmed or triggered.
In later phases, your therapist will have you share parts of your story. These are commonly known as ‘target memories.’ In doing this, you will also describe any feelings or thoughts that arise. At the same time, your therapist will engage in a series of bilateral stimulations (via tapping, toning, or eye movements).
It’s normal to experience some distress during this process. Your therapist will provide you with grounding exercises to achieve a sense of stabilization. Over time, you will eventually feel desensitized to the traumatic memory. Ideally, you will also replace negative thoughts about yourself with more positive ones.
Can EMDR Support Your Recovery?
There is an incredibly strong link between trauma and addiction. To highlight this relationship, recent statistics show that:
- Adolescent sexual assault victims are 4.5x more likely to abuse alcohol.
- Nearly 80% of Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD support have alcohol use disorders.
- 25%-75% of people with traumatic life experiences report problematic drinking.
If you endured trauma, you might have learned to self-medicate your symptoms with drugs or alcohol. Consequently, addiction itself may cause even more trauma once you consider the legal, interpersonal, or medical issues that may arise. Unfortunately, it can become a vicious cycle, and it may feel impossible to move forward.
EMDR can be beneficial if you struggle with low self-esteem, poor relationships, or a distorted concept of self. If you had early trauma (or suspect you have), it can help you feel “less stuck” in the past and more focused on the present and future. Furthermore, if you haven’t experienced much progress with other talk therapies, EMDR may be worth a try.
EMDR can be a supplemental or standalone therapy. With that in mind, only qualified, licensed professionals with designated training may provide this treatment- your therapist needs the appropriate certification and experience to render these services.
What Are The Risks of EMDR?
It’s important to note that all mental health services carry some inherent risk. Therapy, in general, can be vulnerable and sensitive. It’s normal to feel uncertain about diving into your feelings with a stranger.
EMDR isn’t generally advised for people very early in recovery. That’s because it’s crucial that you establish a sense of community, stable coping skills, and a solid routine before this work. In addition, if you have any symptoms of psychosis or acute withdrawal, such treatment may backfire.
Other risks may include:
- Feeling like things are getting worse before they get better (which is relatively common in many therapies).
- Experiencing a temporary flood of trauma-related symptoms or memories.
- Having heightened cravings for drugs or alcohol.
- Experiencing increased emotions of shame, anger, sadness, or betrayal.
If any of these risks concern you, it’s important to share them with a potential provider. They want to ensure your safety and comfort during this process.
EMDR offers concrete support and action-based solutions for reducing trauma symptoms and other mental health problems. It can be an influential tool in aiding your recovery.