EMDR in Addiction Treatment

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Using EMDR in addiction treatment at MARR

Using EMDR in addiction treatment can be an effective tool for helping clients to address underlying trauma associated with their disease. 

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, is a type of trauma therapy in which the therapist works with a client in a one-on-one setting. This process involves focusing on memories that still contain unresolved emotions for the client. Since the client has not completely processed these memories, they typically continue to cause significant disturbances on a regular basis. 

In EMDR, the therapist works with the client as they recall a specific unprocessed memory that still contains a lot of emotion. While the client brings the event to mind, the therapist guides the client in moving his or her eyes back and forth with an outside stimulus like a light or ball. Sometimes other outside stimuli are employed like using sound tones or light tapping on the skin. This is called “bilateral stimulation.”

The APA (American Psychological Association) describes what happens during this “bilateral stimulation” in the following way: “clinical observations suggest that an accelerated learning process is stimulated by EMDR’s standardized procedures…While clients briefly focus on the trauma memory and simultaneously experience bilateral stimulation (BLS), the vividness and emotion of the memory are reduced.”

Addiction and trauma can often have a complex interwoven relationship with one another. Trauma often functions as a potential contributing factor to the forming of an addiction. In turn, living in active addiction will often lead the person into traumatic situations.

Tools like EMDR can be particularly useful when there are significant events that have reshaped how a person experiences the world. Such memories often come up throughout the course of treatment. In fact, specific exercises at MARR like the Life Story Exercise or First Step Exercise can often bring difficult memories to the surface. 

EMDR in addiction therapy can be a useful way for therapists to work with clients one-on-one with particularly difficult unprocessed memories. By reducing the distress that comes up as a result of such memories, clients are better able to stay present in the moment and engage with the recovery process.


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