EMDR Helps The Recovery Process by Changing The Nature of Trauma

Written by Journey Pure Staff

As part of its fully integrated treatment model, where a number of therapeutic approaches are taken to help our clients get sober and stay sober, JourneyPure At The River offers Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment that helps clients more fully recover from past traumatic events, events that may have led to their addictions as way of numbing pain or suppressing unwelcome memories.

Janie Wilkerson, clinical director of outpatient services and primary therapist at JourneyPure At The River, sat down with us to discuss how EMDR works and how it can help those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is one effective modality clinicians use to support clients seeking to resolve the residual effects of trauma in their lives. Often a memory, thought, sensation, or emotion linked to trauma will bring up feelings of distress, anxiety, even panic. EMDR works to alleviate these responses by helping the client process trauma. While the trauma remains part of their history, it is no longer emotionally activating for the client.

Why “eye movements”?

The “Eye Movement” part of EMDR aims to create bilateral stimulation of the brain, which activates both halves of the brain and helps them work together more efficiently to process trauma, memories, and emotions. Clients often speak of feeling as if memories of their trauma are “stuck,” and this bilateral stimulation helps to “break it up” so it can be processed.

For clients who cannot tolerate following repeated movements back and forth visually, there are other ways to achieve this: alternatives include tapping hands, knees, or shoulders in rapid succession; auditory stimulation via tones or sounds; and other forms of bilateral input.

Does it really work?

Research has consistently demonstrated that EMDR is effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) as well as related symptoms such as anxiety. EMDR is a recommended treatment modality for PTSD by the National Alliance on Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, and other mental health organizations. It’s been shown to bring rapid and efficient resolution to trauma symptomology.

What is the first step?

Before beginning EMDR, clinicians work with clients to provide resourcing with self-care and self-soothing protocols. These resources may include creating a “safe space” through guided imagery, or practicing the “container exercise” to help clients hold overwhelming emotions that often surface during the EMDR process. Depending on the client’s individual needs, somatic (body) resourcing may also be involved, which can help to calm the physical responses that often accompany traumatic memories.

Physical responses to trauma vary, but they can include rapid heart rate, shallow and quick breathing, tension or pain, feelings of nausea, or even dissociation. By providing this resourcing at the outset, clients and clinicians have support to call upon if it is needed during the process of EMDR.

What is an actual EMDR session like?

The process of EMDR itself has eight stages and involves recall of a traumatic memory, and sometimes “floating back” to an earlier time in the client’s life when the same emotion, belief, or physical feeling was experienced. The clinician guides the client through the protocol of recall, processing, and continually re-assessing the level of activation for the client in the present moment.

The goal is for the client to move from high emotional activation (clients typically begin the process at a 9 or 10 on a 0-10 scale) to low or no activation (0 or 1). Then positive, adaptive cognitions are introduced and supported as clients begin to establish a stronger self-image and belief about themselves. For example, a client might move from an initial negative cognition of “I am in danger” when recalling the trauma memory to an adaptive positive cognition of “I can take care of myself” after the trauma is processed.

Treatment at JourneyPure at the River

JourneyPure at the River is a nature-inspired retreat perfect for healing from the wounds of addiction. If you or a loved one are ready to take that next step, call us today.