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  • Writer's pictureChoice Recovery


EMDR & Its Beginning

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has proven to be a successful psychotherapy in the treatment of trauma. This is important because it is nearly impossible to build a life that you love without first addressing these “traumatic life experiences” that hold all of us back. While these traumatic experiences may range in level of severity among individuals, the destructive result they play in our lives is often consistent on an emotional level. That is, the emotional pain created by traumatic experiences affect our brains in similar ways regardless if they were created in our childhood by a divorce or abusive home, from years of mental, physical, or sexual abuse as an adult, or from a life of addiction, a terrible accident, death of a loved one, or battlefield experience.

EMDR was invented in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro. An interesting aspect of Francine’s journey to founding EMDR and the EMDR Institute is that her initial education was in English literature. Unfortunately, in 1979, she was diagnosed with cancer, which disrupted her high school teaching career. As she recovered from cancer treatment, her interests changed, and her focus was now on stress and its effect on the human body. Nearly 10-years after being diagnosed with cancel, Dr. Shapiro’s dissertation on the benefits of eye movement in the treatment of trauma was published in the Journal of Traumatic Studies. It was at that moment that EMDR was introduced to the world, and the behavioral health industry was changed forever.

Dr. Shapiro and the EMDR Institute, which she founded in 1990, have developed an 8-phase EMDR process to address those traumatic and stressful events that severely limit the enjoyment an individual can achieve in life. With the help of a qualified therapist, a client will be taken through each phase until progress is made, and the client can learn to enjoy life without the negative emotions past trauma cause. While the EMDR phases are not a static process with a set timeline, they are a dynamic and powerful progression that can produce remarkable results.

In her 2001 book, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, Dr. Shapiro outlines the phrases and techniques clinicians are trained to use when administering EMDR therapy. This effective practice involves bilateral stimulation through rapid eye movement, sounds, or tapping in combination with a client recalling aloud a past traumatic event. These techniques allow an individual to let go of those past hurtful experiences that regularly play and rewind in our minds and the negative thoughts and sensations they create. Following the release of the traumatic event, the individual fills the void with positive beliefs about themselves. From years of experience, Dr. Shapiro believes that when an individual successfully confronts this negative traumatic energy (or whatever you want to call it) out of their body, the mind and body, which are natural healers, can begin to repair themselves. The result, with continued work, can be the creation of a life that you love.

EMDR & Addiction

Witnessing death, being raped, physically abused, or suddenly placed into a situation you were not emotional or physically prepared for will create a mental scar. Research shows a scar created from events will sit in our soul and mind until it is processed out. When we try to block or suppress these memories from rising-up, we tend to only make matters worse over the long run. Research shows that It is often these traumatic scars that cause an individual to use drugs and alcohol in dangerous ways. The numbing and euphoria created in our mind by drugs and alcohol are the perfect answer to those evil memories. Rather than addressing these negative self-images that lead to a sense worthlessness or hopelessness, many turn to substance abuse. At first, the use of drugs or alcohol to combat these emotional memories seems harmless. This solution makes the trauma evaporate, and the feeling of worthlessness dissipate, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, as this easy solution is continued, an addiction is developed out of what started as “a way for me to fall asleep,” “calm my nerves,” or “manage my pain.”

The fact is, there are evil people in this world that do unexplainable things; there are uncontrollable events that create devastating results; and even innocent mistakes/accidents that leave lifelong damage. When these occur in our lives, our mental health is compromised. The closer we are physically and emotionally to these events, the deeper they penetrate our being.

Our society glorifies the “rugged individual” who can conquer anything that happens to them with self-will, toughness, and determination. Even the suggestion that professional help should be sought to address one’s mental anguish is shamed and laughed at. Thus, rather than healthily face their trauma, these survivors try to grind-out life on their own through self-enacted treatment plans. In most cases, this approach does not end well, and when treatment is finally sought, it is because this trauma survivor cannot fall any lower in life. Our evidence is the growing number of addicts, diabetics, mentally ill, angry people, and the ever-increasing number of overdoes and suicide deaths.

Those courageous enough to seek professional help find that EMDR therapy can assist in eliminating or minimizing the effects of past trauma. As one progresses through the various phases of EMDR therapy, the memories that have held them captive diminish, and so do the negative thoughts that lead to self-harm – like an addiction. The desire to suppress these evil thoughts with the use of drugs and alcohol tends to fade as well. While an addict’s mind will always recall the supposed “good times” they had while using, an individual with a clear mind, one not filled with traumatic memories, will more easily defuse these fraudulent thoughts for what they are, and decline to use. This is when self-worth returns, and a life that you love can be created.

In the treatment of addiction, EMDR therapy is an essential tool used to get an individual healthy again. It sets the stage for an individual to advance forward in life rather than be stopped by the reminder of past adverse events. In treatment, clinicians use EMDR in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Nutrition, Exercise and other therapeutic modalities, so an individual with a substance misuses problem can begin the journey of recovery with an acceptance and purpose which is not as easily derailed by the reminder of their past failures, abuses, or hurtful experiences.


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