When most people think of psychotherapy, they have visions of weekly sessions sitting in a chair and talking to someone. They imagine rehashing their daily dilemmas and childhood traumas over and over until, one day, many years later, they are healed….if they are lucky.
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This, fortunately, is just an image given us by media and entertainment. In reality, healing and learning to cope with past trauma can come quickly with individual therapy. One of the quickest techniques is a relatively new form of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, has been used to heal PTSD, anxiety, and other disorders caused by traumatic and adverse life experiences. Our therapists at Ventura Recovery Center use EMDR to help heal those struggling with drug addiction. We have found that by treating trauma, we 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. You can also use sounds on each side of the head or tappers that vibrate each hand separately. These actions stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. This is called bilateral stimulation. By stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, EMDR helps the body become very relaxed and calm. It also helps to reprocess trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a nontraditional way to process and heal negative emotions associated with traumatic life events. EMDR is different than traditional talk therapy in a few ways. Instead of “talking” about the distressing events in our past, EMDR focuses on the emotional and physical symptoms we feel when we remember the event. Bilateral stimulation is also a way that EMDR differs from traditional psychotherapy. As the client is focusing on the emotions they feel when they remember the trauma, the therapist uses techniques that activate both parts of the brain. This bilateral stimulation concurrent with emotional response appears to desensitize the memory and make it less distressing.
Dual Diagnosis with EMDR Treatment can help heal trauma and drug addiction
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 an assault to the well-being of the system of the human body. 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. Traumatic memory is always trying to reprocess itself in order to find its way back into where these memories get stored. With time that trauma leaves neuronal imprint, so that the person begins to see their life and situations in their life through the lens of the trauma. 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 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 therapist Francine Shapiro. 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 left to right. Suddenly she felt her anxiety start lighten. After further exploration of this she started using this technique with her clients.
Clients’ 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 moving to each side of the face. The idea was to follow her fingers back and forth and then the traumatic memory got cleared out.
It was an amazing discovery because after further research they discovered that EMDR stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. It slows the clients’ respiration and pulse. Many clients that experience trauma are in a fight flight or freeze mode. Cortisol released from the brain raises respiration and pulse so they can escape the “danger” the body perceives. When you stimulate both hemispheres of the brain the body relaxes and lets go of the fight flight or freeze mode. It becomes more comfortable for the person to begin to talk about and reprocess that traumatic memory
Can EMDR Heal Drug 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 staying numb. They never deal with the feelings 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. EMDR helps to reprocess those feelings in a very safe way so the client feels more empowered in their life. They emerge with more wisdom more compassion for others as well as compassion for themselves. Thus, the need for drugs and alcohol diminish. EMDR can indeed help heal drug addiction and alcoholism.
Does EMDR Provide Hope for the Addict?
EMDR offers a client amazing hope because they no longer have to use drugs to numb their pain. EMDR also teaches useful coping tools and strategies and mindfulness techniques that people can use on a regular basis. If someone starts to feel even a twinge of anxiety they now have tools available to manage feelings. They have control over their experience versus being controlled by experiences and emotional response. EMDR also helps to change the negative thoughts that clients have about themselves. Therefore they are less likely to relapse. There is no need for drugs to numb emotional pain. That’s the beauty of EMDR: it has lasting effects in fighting drug addiction.
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 of 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.
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