About seventy-five years ago, two late-stage alcoholics in Akron, Ohio banded together to form Alcoholics Anonymous. The limited goal of these men at the time was simply to save their own lives. They were unaware that they were starting one of the most important social movements in recorded history.

One thing that they were keenly aware of, however, was that their addiction was but a symptom of an underlying mental illness. The early literature of AA makes several references to the fact that the common problem of nearly all alcoholics was that they suffered from some form of mental illness, to one degree or another.

Science has since made remarkable strides in identifying causes and treatments of addiction. While the traditional twelve-step program developed by AA’s founders remains a highly effective and widespread method for addiction recovery, other scientifically based therapies have proven to be quite successful when applied alongside a twelve-step program.

One of those therapies is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short. We are excited to now offer EMDR Therapy as part of our Co-occurring Services Program, led by Shiran Cohen, licensed EMDR therapist.

Understanding the Basics of EMDR

EMDR is an eight-phase psychotherapy technique that helps people to heal from mental distress, particularly when that distress was caused by disturbing life experiences. It is a relatively recent therapy, starting in the late 1980’s.

In the simplest terms, EMDR takes the approach that healing from mental wounds can occur roughly as fast as one’s physical body can recover from a common injury.

Over thirty clinical studies have been done on EMDR since it was first introduced in the late 1980’s, and the results are very encouraging indeed. People have clearly recovered from past mental trauma far more rapidly than via traditional psychiatric treatments.

Most of these studies have involved people who were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No matter how serious the trauma, EMDR was shown to be effective in relieving PTSD anywhere from 77 percent in the most severe cases to an astonishing 100 percent success rate in alleviating mental trauma in less-affected PTSD patients.

Of course, PTSD isn’t just a problem for those who have seen combat duty. It’s a wide-ranging affliction that can occur as a result of any mental trauma. Many addicts have some degree of PTSD or other mental illness, which contributes to their drug and alcohol usage, and many times they are completely unaware of it. EMDR can identify and heal wounds from trauma in far less time than traditional psychological treatment.

The speed in which EMDR works makes it a very effective therapy in drug rehabilitation centers. Traditional psychiatry can take years to elicit a significant difference in many patients; EMDR therapy can usually be administered during the average length of an inpatient drug rehab stay.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR therapy employs a variety of components, generally involving the past, present, and future of a client’s life. The emphasis is naturally on the past, focusing on traumatic memories and such. But it also touches on a person’s current struggles and helps them develop the necessary skills to maintain a positive mindset for the future.

As mentioned, EMDR is an eight-phase process.

  • Phase 1: The first phase focuses on a person’s history. The therapist determines the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan. Emphasis will likely be on a person’s childhood, and those undergoing EMDR treatment will generally gain valuable insight relating to their current emotional hardships. People often learn to change their behaviors even at this early stage.
  • Phase 2: The EMDR therapist will usually teach the client a number of imagery and stress techniques, which the client can use during and between sessions.
  • Phases 3-6: During these three stages, specifically targeted memories of events will be addressed. The client will identify these three things about each memory:
  1. A clear and lucid image related to the memory
  2. A negative belief about self
  3. Related emotions and body sensations

During these three stages, the client generally identifies both positive and negative beliefs and feelings relating to the targeted memories. Specific EMDR techniques will be employed during this time, including eye movements, taps, or tones introduced by the therapist. The experience will differ for each person. The client’s reactions will determine how, and to what extent, the stage proceeds.

  • Phase 7: Here, the therapist instructs the client to keep a log throughout the week relating to the experience in the previous stages.
  • Phase 8: This stage focuses on the improvement made. The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that cause problems, and future events that will require different actions.

Phew! That’s quite a bit of information to process.

In truth however, that is a very simplified version of what EMDR is all about. The good news is that anyone who undergoes EMDR treatment doesn’t have to worry about memorizing all that. The therapist does all the heavy lifting, and the client reaps all the benefits.

How EMDR Helps Addicts

Past mental trauma is often one of the primary causes of addictive behavior. EMDR helps identify that past trauma and gives the addict powerful tools to overcome that trauma’s effects. The end result is that people often become empowered and confident by overcoming the trauma in such a short period of time, compared to traditional psychotherapy.

Without EMDR, addicts often repeat destructive behavior, as almost a self-fulfilling example that something is inherently wrong with them. It helps explain, in their minds, why they became addicted to drugs or alcohol.

“Addicts often find themselves in increasingly risky situations related to their drug use, and they put themselves in those situations to try and prove to themselves that there’s something inherently wrong with them”, explains Shiran. “It’s as if addicts need to tell themselves ‘You see? It’s true! This is who I am’. In recovery, there’s a real fear of getting better, because it means real change. EMDR helps people overcome that fear.”

EMDR is Part of a Comprehensive Approach

Cornerstone Recovery Center dedicates a significant part of its recovery program to address the underlying mental illness that so often contributes to addiction. EMDR is a part of the Co-occurring Services Program, which helps treat mental health disorders.

For more information on Cornerstone’s Co-occurring Services Program, or on any facet of alcohol and drug addiction treatment, call us directly at 888-711-0354 or contact us online to speak with one of our admissions specialists. All correspondence is always confidential.