EMDR Therapy for Addiction

EMDR Therapy for Addiction

EMDR Therapy for Addiction

Authored by Jane Squire MSc

Edited by Hugh Soames B.A.

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD


Whilst relatively new in terms of addiction treatment, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been used to treat individuals suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a number of years. Experts of EMDR believe it lessens the effects of PTSD and allows individuals to live a more normal life. Memories of traumatic events do not have the impact they once did and individuals can put those images and thoughts in the past. As a result, EMDR is increasingly used the Worlds Best Rehabs to help individuals suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, and depression.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is still a rather new treatment therapy having been developed in 1989 by psychologist Francine Shapiro.1http://www.emdr.com/history-of-emdr/ She discovered her own negative thoughts and emotions decreased when her eyes moved from side to side. Shapiro later used the method on patients and found it to create positive responses. Today, there are over 20,000 EMDR practitioners.

EMDR falls into the realm of psychotherapy treatment. It was initially designed to relieve issues connected with traumatic memories. The treatment allows individuals who experience traumatic memories to find a resolution for those thoughts. Successful EMDR therapy treatments occur when patients are relieved of the stress and negative beliefs are extinguished.

Patients must relive traumatic experienced or trigger experiences during EMDR treatment. Episodes are kept brief while a therapist directs the individual’s eye movements. Experts believe EMDR is an effective treatment for trauma and PTSD as recounting distressing memories is often less upsetting when an individual’s attention is redirected. This prevents a patient from experiencing a strong psychological reaction to the memories being exposed.

Despite there being no dangerous side effects of EMDR, there are still plenty of medical professionals that do not see it as a worthwhile tool in the treatment of trauma and PTSD.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/

EMDR for Trauma and PTSD

It is believed people suffering from trauma and PTSD receive the most benefits from EMDR. The therapy treatment allows these sufferers to revisit their traumatic memories like never before. Individuals who are unwilling or struggle to talk about past events can benefit greatly as it can make them focus on issues they do not want to speak about.

EDMR has been found to treat both acute and chronic cases of PTSD. Thanks to the current evidence from research on EDMR, America’s Department of Veterans Affairs3https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/emdr.asp and Department of Defense have both strongly recommended the use of EMDR to treat patients using the therapy treatment.

EMDR Therapy for Anxiety

While there is evidence that EMDR works for individuals suffering from both trauma and PTSD, there have not been enough studies to clearly state it will work as effectively for people suffering from anxiety.

Experts on EMDR are not 100% clear just how it helps people suffering from anxiety. One leading theory is EMDR syncs the two hemispheres of the brain. The other theory states EMDR creates a distraction from memories that create anxiety. Individuals who have undergone EMDR for anxiety claim it soothes their bodies allowing them to relax. For now, more research must be done to decide how EMDR affects the brain.

How does EMDR work?

It is still unknown just how EMDR exactly works and that is why medical experts are split on the use of the therapy to treat patients. During treatment sessions, a therapist enables a patient to recall a painful memory. Patients will have their attentions diverted lessening the impact of the emotional memories that flood back to them.

EDMR therapy is usually completed in 12 sessions and the treatment can be broken down into eight stages.

  • History and treatment planning – A therapist reviews a patient’s history and decides on a practical treatment process. Individuals will talk about their trauma and identify possible traumatic memories to treat.
  • Preparation – The therapist will help patients learn different stress management techniques.
  • Assessment – The therapist will identify specific memories to target during treatment.
  • Treatment (stages four to seven) – Patient will begin EMDR therapy to treat targeted memories. During the sessions, patients will focus on a negative thought, memory, or image. At the same time, individuals will do specific eye movements. The stimulation can also include taps or other movements. After bilateral stimulation, the patient will let their mind go blank and make note of the thoughts and feelings experienced. Patients may refocus on the same memory or move to another one. Individuals should experience less distress over thoughts, memories, and images as these items fade away gradually.
  • Evaluation – Patients evaluate the treatment therapy process in the final stage.


Dangers of EMDR Therapy

EMDR allows patients to undergo treatment without using highly addictive medications. Prescription medication addiction is an issue that patients and therapists must consider, and EMDR offers a medicine free treatment option.

Individuals may need a number of EMDR sessions to treat trauma and PTSD. It is a treatment therapy that doesn’t work right overnight and patients must keep up with sessions to maximize their benefits. Sessions may trigger extremely emotionally memories. Focus is heightened by the therapy and early sessions can be stressful.

EMDR Side Effects

Individuals will experience heightened awareness after undergoing treatment. The heightened awareness doesn’t decrease when sessions end and it can take some time after treatment for an individual’s awareness to decrease. Individuals can also experience light headedness and vivid dreams that recall the trauma. EMDR can create stress in individuals although this feeling goes away later. Therapists can offer patients help coping with the side effects of EMDR treatment.

EMDR is being used to effectively treatment men and women suffering from PTSD and trauma. Although some medical experts disagree on its merits, it has so far helped thousands of individuals recover from their myriad of issues. EMDR has been used to treat other issues such as anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and eating disorders.

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References: EMDR Therapy

1. Acarturk C., Konuk E., Cetinkaya M., Senay I., Sijbrandij M., Gulen B., et al. . (2016). The efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among Syrian refugees: results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychol. Med. 46, 2583–2593. 10.1017/S0033291716001070 [PubMed] []

2. Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (2017a). CASP Systematic Review Checklist [online]. Available online at: https://casp-uk.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/CASP-Systematic-Review-Checklist-Download.pdf

3. Farrell D. P. (2016). Trans-generational trauma and EMDR therapy. BACP Journal-Private Practice Winter Edition. Available online at: https://www.livingrelaxed.com/node/17

4. Jarero I., Roque-López S., Gomez J. (2013). The provision of an EMDR-based multicomponent trauma treatment with child victims of severe interpersonal trauma. J. EMDR Pract. Res. 7, 17–28. 10.1891/1933-3196.7.1.17 []

5. Shapiro F. (1995). Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures. New York, NY: Guildford Press. []

6. World Health Organisation (2013). WHO Releases Guidance on Mental Health Care After Trauma.

EMDR Therapy
Article Name
EMDR Therapy
EMDR falls into the realm of psychotherapy treatment. It was initially designed to relieve issues connected with traumatic memories. The treatment allows individuals who experience traumatic memories to find a resolution for those thoughts.
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Worlds Best Rehab
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