There is no doubt that therapy is perhaps THE cornerstone of an effective drug treatment program. Both individual and group therapy helps those struggling with substance abuse dig deep and uncover the true roots of their addictive behavior and gives them the tools they need to overcome those issues in order to promote change.
Quality drug rehab facilities nationwide employ a wide variety of therapy options that can be tailored to meet the unique needs of each client. While therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational therapy and reality therapy do wonders for countless addicts, there will be those who may not respond as well to these therapeutic approaches. In those cases, alternative and innovative therapeutic methods such as EMDR Therapy–or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy–can provide those addicts with the breakthrough they need to get and stay sober.
Understanding EDMR Therapy
A form of psychotherapy, EMDR therapy for addiction is a trauma-based form of therapy that was specifically designed to help people deal with the overwhelming and often paralyzing stress that is associated with past traumatic memories. This therapeutic approach was created by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the early 1990’s and was based on her observations and resulting studies that specific eye movements can have a desensitizing effect on those who experience distressing memories or trauma in their lives. For those people addicted to drugs and alcohol, these deeply rooted memories can lie at the root of significant mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and PTSD which are common dual diagnoses seen with those who struggle with addiction.
In an EMDR therapy session for addiction, therapists focus on the eye movements of an individual who constantly relives traumatic events from their past. For those who are suffering from past emotional abuse, physical abuse or natural disasters, research has shown that their eye movements often resembled those of people who are in REM sleep and are dreaming. Through the help of specifically trained EMDR therapists, client are able to calm their eye movements and thoughts. As a result, the brain can better process these stressful thoughts and feelings in a healthy manner and they are able to help restore their mental health.
What Can People Expect in an EMDR Therapy Session?
For those who undergo EMDR Trauma therapy sessions in a drug treatment setting, sessions involve several phases and each session can last on average between 60 to 90 minutes. The EMDR National Association explains the eight distinct phases in the following manner:
During this initial phase of treatment, the therapist works with client and discusses the specific problem or problems they are struggling as well as the, behaviors and symptoms as a result of these problems. Using this information from the client, the therapists create a specific treatment plan that defines the specific targets on which to use EMDR therapy.
In the preparation phase, the therapist will teach the client specific techniques that can be used to deal with emotional disturbances when they arise. The main goal of this step is to establish trust between the therapist and client.
In the assessment phase, the therapist asks the client to pick a specific event that best represents the memory they are struggling with and the client then chooses a negative self-belief associated with that event. The client then picks a positive self-statement that he would rather believe.
During desensitization, the therapist will ask the client to focus on the specific image, the negative emotions that are associated with that image and any bodily sensations that are tied in with those feelings. The therapist usually asks the client to follow a moving object with their eyes and after a set of movements the client will report what they are feeling and experiencing.
In the installation phase of EMDR trauma therapy, the goal of the client is to concentrate on and increase the strength of the positive belief they had identified to replace their original negative belief. The client is asked to hold on to this new and healthier belief and make it stronger.
After the positive belief has been strengthened and installed, the therapist will ask the person to bring the original target event to mind to see if the client experiences any residual tension in their body. If there is any tension, the therapist will ask the client to focus on these lingering sensations and repeat the above steps.
During the closure phase of each treatment session, the therapist gives the client encouragement and support and wants the client to feel better about themselves when they leave. If there has been difficulty during a particular therapy session, the therapist will give the client additional coping techniques to utilize.
In the re-evaluation phase, the therapist and client will come together at the beginning of the next therapy session and make sure that the positive results have been maintained and will identify any new areas that need treatment. Those new target areas will then be treated using the above steps.
Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy has been widely heralded and has been seen as a significant breakthrough as an effective therapy option for addiction treatment as well as other applications. In an article published in Scientific American, more than 60,000 clinicians have undergone formal training in EMDR therapy, and the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), a group of mental health professionals dedicated to promoting the technique, boasts more than 4,000 members.
While the popularity of this therapy is evident, the bottom line question is its effectiveness in drug treatment. Because its main focus is delving into the traumatic events of an individual’s life, this therapy can be very exhausting and ideally should be used for those clients who have built up some considerable sobriety. If this form of therapy is utilized on those who are newly sober, they may be more likely to relapse because they simply haven’t learned the appropriate coping skills needed to handle the rawness of their emotions.
The success of EMDR therapy also hinges like many forms of psychotherapy the client’s willingness and motivation to change. Additionally, success with this form of therapy would be dependent on the client’s relationship with the therapist, the feeling of safety in the treatment setting, and the support available to clients outside of treatment.