When substance abuse disorders occur due in part to unhealthy coping mechanisms that arise after a traumatic event, EMDR treatment may be helpful. Discover more about this option and whether it might be right for you. Then, fill out the Recovery at the Crossroads contact form to find out how our caring, licensed staff can work with you to integrate this interactive psychotherapy into a holistic rehab plan that works for you.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a therapy method used in psychotherapy to help someone process old memories and/or retrain the brain to deal more appropriately with triggers or stressors that can lead to emotional distress.

EMDR therapy was originated by psychotherapist Francine  Shapiro, in the 1980’s. Shapiro noticed that when patients considered disturbing memories and had lower emotional responses to them than other patients with similar thoughts, the less emotional patients also presented with a certain type of lateral eye movement. Shapiro started to experiment with this relationship between emotional response and eye movement, developing this psychotherapy treatment in the process.

During an EMDR therapy session, the clinician directs the patient to follow an object (or the therapist’s finger) with their eyes. At the same time, the person thinks or talks about specific aspects of stressful situations or previous traumatic events. The goal is to assist the person in processing old memories and reactions in new ways, which may lead to a reduced emotional response and the ability to approach stressors in a healthier manner.

This type of psychotherapy treatment can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, panic attacks, anxiety and addictions. It may also be useful in assisting in treatments for chronic pain, self-esteem issues, skin issues that are related to stress, and ADHD.

Because the treatment involves EMDR therapists talking to someone while also waving their finger or another object in front of the person’s eyes, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is sometimes confused with hypnotism. However, this doesn’t involve lulling someone into a hypnotic state where they are more susceptible to the therapist’s suggestions.

How Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy Work?

EMDR therapies operate on a unique principle, distinct from hypnosis. The core of this therapy involves inducing a specific type of eye movement, known as saccadic eye movement, which Dr. Francine Shapiro originally observed in patients who demonstrated a more effective coping mechanism with distressing memories. These saccadic movements are rapid, jerky movements of the eyes that naturally occur when a person shifts their gaze from one point to another.

 In the context of EMDR therapy, these eye movements are believed to play a critical role in how we process and store memories, particularly traumatic ones. The therapist guides the patient through these movements in a controlled, therapeutic setting, which helps mimic the natural brain processes that occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This state is crucial for processing daily emotional experiences.

By consciously replicating these eye movements while focusing on traumatic or stressful memories, EMDR therapy aims to facilitate the brain’s natural healing process. It is theorized that these eye movements help to activate neurological pathways that allow the brain to reprocess and integrate these troubling memories.

As a result, individuals undergoing EMDR can access such memories in a less emotionally charged way, enabling them to form new, healthier associations and responses. This process supports a more positive outcome, as it can reduce the distressing emotions linked to the memories and enhance the individual’s ability to cope with and manage them effectively.

What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy Like?

According to the Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, this type of therapy is approached through eight phases, which are summarized below.

  • Phase 1. EMDR therapists work with the client to understand the person’s history and what memories or events may be playing a role in current issues. They work together to plan for treatment and decide what memories and emotions will be targeted with therapy.
  • Phase 2. During this time, the treatment is fully explained, and the eye movement is practiced to help facilitate optimal success.
  • Phase 3. The therapist helps the person access and begin to assess the memory in question. This includes validating the facts of the memory and exploring the emotional response.
  • Phase 4. With the therapist’s assistance, the person focuses on the memory while engaging in eye movement, continuously unpacking emotional responses and developing new ways of responding until the memory is less distressing. This is known as desensitization.
  • Phase 5. The person works with the therapist to strengthen the healthier cognitive response.
  • Phase 6. Next, clients work on understanding how their bodies respond to the memory or trigger. If physical symptoms are associated with the memory, the therapist helps the client work through them.
  • Phase 7. The session comes to a close, and the therapist provides any instructions that the client might need to follow until the next session.
  • Phase 8. In the final phase, the therapist evaluates how the treatment went and works with the person to identify what should be targeted in a future session.

This news clip from NBC 26 shows a small glimpse of how EMDR Therapy Uses Eye Movements to Overcome Trauma, Anxiety, and Phobias.

What to Expect After EMDR Therapy

You should not expect immediate final results from a single session. Like any form of therapy, this is not a one-and-done proposition, and it can take many sessions to work sufficiently through root causes and traumatic memories.

This psychotherapy technique is also not something that works in a vacuum. That is to say, it works best when paired with other cognitive behavioral therapy methodologies. The EMDR Institute notes that Shapiro herself made this clear when introducing the treatment into the professional community. She said, “It must be emphasized that the EMD procedure, as presented here, serves to desensitize the anxiety related to traumatic memories, not to eliminate all PTSD-symptomology and complications, nor to provide coping strategies to victims.”

EMDR Therapy Side Effects

For the most part, EMDR therapists, doctors and the prevailing medical literature present this type of effective trauma therapy as safe and with few potentially negative side effects. And because the therapy involves developing healthier ways of approaching and coping with memories, it can be more effective in some cases in the long run than medication. Medication stops working when the person stops taking it, but some of the gains achieved from therapy can remain after the therapy is over.

However, the process is not completely without potential side effects. Here are some EMDR therapy side effects to be aware of.

Potential EMDR Side Effects

  • Because EMDR therapy forces you to confront memories that can cause emotional distress, albeit in a safe environment, it could temporarily increase how these memories interact with your daily life. Therapists typically prepare clients
  • Opening these doors to memories you may have held tight reigns over out of fear or necessity in the past could also bring to light other traumatic memories that you didn’t previously remember.
  • In some cases, individuals report feeling light-headed or having especially vivid dreams as they go through therapy sessions.

In most cases, side effects resolve as you work through treatment, but you should always make your therapist aware of them so you can get the right professional support.

What is the EMDR Success Rate?

More than 20,000 EMDR therapists use this technique, and numerous studies have pointed to the efficacy of this treatment. Consider some of these stats and study outcomes.

  • One study that reviewed the outcomes of 61 clinical trials of various treatments for PTSD determined that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and EMDR therapy were the top two most effective methodologies.
  • The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry conducted a similar review of 112 studies and found CBT, exposure therapy and EMDR therapy to be effective.
  • In one randomized clinical trial, 88 people diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder were assigned to various forms of treatment, including EMDR and a placebo. Results indicated that therapy initiatives, such as EMDR, were more effective than medication in creating long-term results after the treatment concluded. Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing therapies were especially successful in assisting with adult-onset traumas (as opposed to traumas that occurred during childhood).

From Addiction to PTSD, there’s reliable clinical evidence that conclusively answers the question, “Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment really work?” with a resounding, “Yes.”

How Much Does EMDR Therapy for Trauma and Addiction Cost?

As a form of trauma and addiction therapy that can be delivered in an individual therapist’s office, this is priced similarly to commonly known mental health therapy sessions. That means it can range by provider, but you might expect to pay between $80 and $150 per EMDR therapy session, as you would for a regular mental health therapy appointment.

You may be able to make payment arrangements to make this type of treatment more affordable. Some therapists also provide some coaching for DIY therapy between sessions, which might reduce the number of sessions you need to attend and the overall cost of treatment.

If your insurance policy covers individual behavioral therapies and mental health sessions, it will probably cover a session that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy as part of the process. You can work with your individual therapy provider to understand whether they accept your insurance and what benefits are covered under your plan.

Finding Psychotherapy and Substance Abuse Treatment Near You

Individuals who are interested in incorporating EMDR therapy into their drug or alcohol recovery process can find therapists willing to provide this treatment in almost every city in the nation. For those in New Jersey, the rehab team at Recovery at the Crossroads can offer this effective approach and other custom solutions like intensive outpatient programs. Contact us today at 856-644-6929 to speak with one of our experts about this potential treatment and other options that can assist you in drug and alcohol treatment and recovery.