EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming, has been used to treat PTSD, anxiety, and other disorders caused by traumatic experiences. Robyn Blythe, LSCW and Clinical Director at Ventura Recovery Center, uses EMDR to help those struggling with drug addiction. She has found that by treating trauma, she can heal what is for many the underlying cause of drug and alcohol addiction.
What is EMDR?
EMDR it is a modality that treats trauma and it stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It stimulates both hemispheres of the brain by moving the eyes back and forth or you can do it through audible on each side of the head because it stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. We also have tappers that you can hold in both hands where it vibrates in this hand and then this hand also stimulating both hemispheres of the brain. They find that by stimulating both hemispheres of the brain that it puts the body in a very relaxed and calm state and it also helps to reprocess trauma.
What is TRAUMA?
Trauma is experienced usually in early childhood. It can also be experienced in times of war and seeing a catastrophe. It’s actually having some sort of assault that happens to the well-being of the system of the human being. Because of that assault it can create symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and intrusive memories and it also makes people avoid people places and things that remind them of the trauma.
Traumatic memories get lodged in a different part of our brain than where our regular memories get stored which is back here, so the traumatic memory is always trying to reprocess itself in order to find its way back into where these memories get stored. So what happens is that in the course of time that trauma has left a neuronal imprint, so that the person begins to see their life and situations in their life through the lens of the trauma – so they’re not really seeing life in reality, they’re seeing it through the lens of the trauma because that traumatic memory. Now with EMDR what we do is we bring that traumatic memory to light in a very safe environment.
What is the History of EMDR?
EMDR began in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro who is also a therapist. She discovered EMDR one day when she was having some disturbing thoughts that were coming up for her. She was feeling very uneasy so she decided to go for a walk in the park. As she continued to think about these thoughts of distress she found her eyes moving kind of like this and then all of a sudden she felt her anxiety start to go down so after further exploration of this she started doing this on her clients.
Their anxiety also lessened and so she realized that they weren’t able to move their eyes back and forth for a length of time to really clear out whatever intrusive thought or distress that they were experiencing – so she started to do the eye movements having her two fingers go across her face like this. The idea was to follow her fingers back and forth and then the traumatic memory got cleared out.
It was truly amazing because after further research they discovered that this was stimulating both hemispheres of the brain which ended up having people breathe a slower rate. Their pulse began to slow down because with trauma you go into fight flight or freeze mode. The cortisol that gets released from the brain that the body reacts that way is a way of surviving. So when you stimulate both hemispheres of the brain the body relaxes and lets go of that fight flight or freeze mode and it becomes more comfortable for the person to begin to talk about and reprocess that traumatic memory.
Is EMDR an Effective Treatment for Addiction?
Over 90% those that struggle with drug addiction suffer from trauma. When people are experiencing the symptoms of the PTSD or the anxiety they numb out the traumatic memories with their drug of choice or with alcohol. So they end up getting into a very numb state never really dealing with the feeling of that trauma. That trauma then gets stuck in the body. The body-mind connection is so powerful that once trauma gets stuck in the body it starts to create more symptoms. What the EMDR does is it helps to reprocess those feelings in a very safe way so it ends up feeling more the person has that feeling more empowered in their life more wisdom more compassion for others as well as compassion for themselves.
They end up having this divine wisdom that we all have that’s a major component of EMDR is the concept that we all have a well-being a divine wisdom inside of us that gets blocked by the trauma. We look for the underlying issue to the addiction which often times is the trauma, and then we go in and we clear out that trauma and the person no longer feels the need to numb out the symptoms because they’re no longer there. We can also look at what’s the charge that the client gets from using or from drinking what is that change and then we can go into that charge and be able to shift it to where they no longer are aware or experiencing the thought of that charge in the addiction and then we can look at how good does it feel to be sober and clean and then I’ll do something EMDR around that to make that feeling even that much more solidified in their day to day functioning.
Does EMDR Provide Hope for the Addict?
EMDR offers a client amazing hope in the fact that they no longer have to use their drugs of choice in order to numb out their pain. EMDR also teaches amazing coping tools and strategies and mindfulness techniques that people can use on a regular basis as they start to feel even a twinge in anxiety they now have so many tools available for themselves to be able to manage feelings and have a mastery over their experience versus having their experience emotions having a mastering imprisoning them to the point where they relapse or they have to use the drug once again to numb out. That’s the beauty of EMDR: it does have lasting effects in fighting drug addiction. It’s forever and I am amazed again and again by the effectiveness of this amazing modality to cure PTSD and really truly clear out trauma.
EMDR is one of the many drug addiction therapy techniques used at Ventura Recovery Center to help our clients heal from the physical and mental trauma od drug and alcohol addiction. We believe in treating the whole person and giving them the tools and coping mechanisms to live a life free from alcohol and drugs.