What is EMDR Therapy? Can it Help My Recovery?

woman sitting in her therapist office discussing EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic practice for treating past trauma. It uses movement of the eyes to stimulate the brain in a way that assists in processing difficult emotions. Officially, EMDR can only treat trauma disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, emerging studies show it to be effective at treating depression, anxiety and stress. Research also shows it to be helpful in addiction, particularly if previous trauma helps drive that addiction.

How EMDR Works

The EMDR therapeutic method is simple. The patient sits in a comfortable position and moves their eyes back and forth along a horizontal line. They do this while recalling hurtful memories. Doing this allows easier processing of difficult emotions.

Biologically, it is still unclear exactly how and why EMDR works. Theories suggest that it stimulates better communication between the hemispheres of the brain. By engaging the brain in this way, the mind is better able to work through difficulties, because the movement forces the brain to employ more neurons in different areas of the brain. Stimulating different regions of the brain gives it more power of different kinds to work through painful issues.

Theories also posit that the back-and-forth action is similar to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) experienced during dream sleep. The idea is that since people who have less REM sleep have higher stress levels, performing a similar eye movement can alleviate some of the pain of past memories.

EMDR does not only use eye movement for neural stimulation. Walking, tapping on alternate sides of the body or any motion that engages first one side of the body, then the other can work. Merely taking a walk to calm down is a simplified form of EMDR.

EMDR and Addiction Recovery

On some level, everyone suffers from memories of their past. These memories and their associated suffering help to drive addiction. Pleasant memories of previous drinking or using are frequently the cause of cravings. One of the other major causes of cravings is a desire to ease painful feelings.

EMDR strategies such as bi-lateral movement reduce all emotional reactions to memories. This includes happiness. Therefore, employing EMDR can lessen the joy from memories of using. Reducing the false happiness from the memories then lowers the desire to use.

Hurtful memories also drive the desire to use. These can be memories of past trauma, memories of humiliation or anything that brings about mental suffering. Addicts frequently report thoughts of the past help precipitate a relapse. Even memories of normal events such as the loss of a job, a relationship, or a family member can cause an addict to resort to previous behavior. EMDR helps to interrupt this cycle by easing the distress of these memories.

Though research on EMDR is positive when it comes to addiction recovery, it is rarely the only answer. It is merely one helpful tool for those who are haunted by the good and bad of their past.

If you or someone you know needs assistance in their battle with addiction, reaching out is the first key to success. Addiction thrives in isolation. Overcoming it requires help.

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