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EMDR Therapy For Substance Use

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR therapy is a well-researched, proven effective treatment option for people recovering from trauma. It’s not just for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s also a useful treatment approach for depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. 

The American Psychological Association (APA), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and countless other organizations recognize EMDR therapy as a viable treatment option for many patients.

During an EMDR session, patients don’t have to discuss the trauma. Instead of changing the emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors, EMDR focuses on allowing the brain to go through its natural healing process to resolve unprocessed trauma.

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Process For EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy is broken into five phases and requires multiple sessions to complete.

  • Phase 1: Patient History and Treatment Planning: The therapist reviews your history and decides where you are in the treatment process. In this phase, you’ll talk about the trauma and identify potential memories to address.
  • Phase 2: Treatment Preparation: Your therapist will teach coping skills to help you deal with the stress of the trauma you’re dealing with. This may include mindfulness, deep breathing, or other techniques.
  • Phase 3: Assessment: In this phase, the therapist identifies the target memories you want to treat, along with the associated parts (such as physical sensations you feel when you concentrate on it) for each memory. 
  • Phase 4: EMDR Treatment: The therapist uses EMDR therapy techniques to address your target memories. During the session, you must focus on the negative image, memory, or thought. At the same time, you’ll perform various eye movements. Depending on your treatment plan, you may also tap your foot/fingers, or incorporate other movements. Then, you’ll let your mind go blank and talk about the resulting spontaneous feelings. The therapist may have you focus on that memory again, or move to another one. If you show signs of distress, the therapist will help bring you back to the present moment before moving to another memory. With time, the stress of certain memories, thoughts, or images will begin to fade.
  • Phase 5: Patient Evaluation: At the end, you and your therapist will evaluate your progress to determine how to proceed.

What to Know Before You Try EMDR Therapy

Many professionals consider EMDR therapy a safe treatment option, with fewer side effects than prescription medication. That said, there are some side effects to be aware of:

  • During your session, you’ll achieve a heightened awareness of thoughts and feelings. This won’t stop immediately upon session completion
  • You may experience lightheadedness after you finish a session
  • You may also experience realistic, vivid dreams the night after a treatment

Beyond side effects, it’s important to know that you won’t see or feel results overnight. It will take several sessions to feel the effects of EMDR therapy.

You may find yourself triggered at the beginning of therapy. In the short term, treatment may be intense as you work through the traumatic events. This can lead to emotional stress and exhaustion. Though it’s worth it in the long run, it’s crucial to be kind to yourself as you move through the phases of treatment.

Find Help Through Our EMDR Therapy

If you or a loved one are dealing with trauma and wish to explore EMDR therapy, let the team at Magnified help. Call today and speak with an admissions counselor to learn more about our personalized treatment plans and how to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Effective is EMDR Therapy?

Multiple studies have shown EMDR to be an effective treatment for PTSD. It’s effective for treating symptoms, but also has a low dropout rate among participants and isn’t just effective in the short term. Many people continue to benefit from EMDR therapy for months after treatment ends.

What are the Benefits of EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy is particularly beneficial for those dealing with PTSD and general trauma. It has been shown to significantly relieve symptoms associated with the condition such as:
  • Nightmares, flashbacks, or other intrusive memories
  • Avoiding people, places, and things that remind you about the traumatic event or avoiding talking about it
  • Memory issues, negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world in general, difficulty experiencing positive emotions, difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Heightened awareness of your environment, being easily startled, constantly guarded against danger

Does EMDR Therapy Work In Conjunction With Other Therapies?

EMDR therapy is intensive. Many times it takes time and it's not good for someone to be interrupted during EMDR therapy or discontinue treatment. Because of this, it's important to only start EMDR therapy in a safe environment where the individual will be able to attend sessions for atleast 30 to 45 days at a minimum. During this time other therapuetic modalities will be introduced such as family therapy, CBT therapy and other group therapies that can be helpful.

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Medical Advice Disclaimer

Magnified Health Systems aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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