Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an adjunct therapy used in tandem with psychotherapy and other treatment elements to treat individuals struggling with PTSD, substance use disorders, and anxiety. Psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro, who discovered that certain eye movements could help reduce the effects of trauma, introduced this exposure therapy that would become EMDR in 1989.
EMDR works by using repetitive bilateral stimuli, such as a moving finger or light signal, that the client follows with their eyes while discussing, remembering, or reliving a past trauma or other anxiety-provoking person, place, or situation. Processing these disturbing recollections while following the prompt with the eyes can slowly desensitize the client from the intense emotional response they had previously. While the client will still remember the event or trauma, it will not be as disturbing to them as the eight phases of EMDR treatment progress.
EMDR for Substance Use Disorder
There are often underlying past traumas or unhealed emotional events that contribute to an individual’s abuse of drugs or alcohol. Some will lean on a substance to help them manage or numb the disturbing memories or emotional distress of an unhealed trauma, which can ultimately lead to addiction. When the individual successfully processes these past painful events through EMDR the traumatic memories lose their power to drive the addictive behavioral response. EMDR builds coping skills that can help reduce the risk of relapse and pave the way for a sustained recovery.
EMDR for Trauma and Anxiety Disorders
Mental health conditions, such as the spectrum of anxiety disorders, can be successfully treated with EMDR. The mental health disorders that benefit the most are PTSD, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and eating disorders. While the eyes follow the bilateral prompt, the client is asked to recall the distressing scenarios or traumatic memories. The therapist asks the client to pay attention to the emotions and sensations these painful recollections cause while prompting them to shift these thoughts toward positive, constructive thoughts. This prolonged exposure to processing the painful memories during EMDR treatment will eventually dilute the potency of the memory and improve the client’s quality of life.
Phoenix Rising Behavioral Health Care is an intensive outpatient treatment center for treating substance use and mental health disorders. Therapists at Phoenix Rising employ the use of EMDR to help clients overcome these struggles and embrace a bright, new future.
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