EMDR’s Role in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder and Addiction
Granite Recovery Centers’ approach to treatment of substance use disorders is unique in that it employs a rigorous 12-Step curriculum integrated with evidence-based clinical modalities including:
Another of these clinical therapies is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR therapy calls upon both physical and cognitive modalities to reprocess trauma, such as PTSD, sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse, serious illness, etc; and, in doing so, removes the negative emotional responses associated with it.
When indicated a potentially beneficial to a client, EMDR therapy may be integrated into treatment, more often than not at Step 4 of the 12 Steps, to help clients process trauma and modify their negative behaviors and compulsion.
What Exactly is EMDR?
EMDR is a clinical, evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach, developed in the 1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro, that helps clients reprocess perspectives of their own trauma histories through physical eye movements and clinical modalities. The theory behind EMDR is that the client’s problematic thoughts, behaviors, and/or compulsions are derivative of traumas never fully dealt with. These traumas get stored as harmful memories which persist and strongly influence all aspects of their lives, producing dysfunctional behaviors, such as substance use.
To help clients reprocess these traumas and desensitize themselves to them, EMDR-certified clinicians create an environment that recalls those past traumas, while asking the client to move his or her eyes laterally in a rapid, organized rhythm. This physical eye movement, combined with cognitive exercises, have been shown to reduce negative emotional response, thereby reducing compulsive thinking and harmful behavior.
Sarah has been using heroin for the last five years. While working through the Steps, she realizes that she has repressed childhood memories of sexual abuse by her uncle. As a child, she could never properly deal with her feelings of grief, shame, and betrayal. In adulthood, she uses heroin as a coping mechanism to dull the persistent negative feelings associated with her repressed trauma. While in treatment, Sarah’s case manager and 12-Step facilitator confer with her therapist who suggests EMDR therapy or reprocessing the negative feelings associated with her trauma. Once the trauma is dealt with, Sarah is able to better respond to her compulsion to use.
How EMDR Integrates with the 12 Steps
Step 4 is a pivotal step for most clients because it requires that the client “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves and their wrongs”. In Step 5, they admit the exact nature of their wrongs. Questions about their darkest fears, worst memories, and life traumas often arise. Many clients struggle mightily with Step 4 when severe trauma is identified. This is when a clinical intervention like EMDR may help. At Granite Recovery Centers, EMDR therapy, is reserved only for clients where serious trauma has presented itself.