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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – A Tool for Overcoming Past Trauma

women lying on couch in therapy session with male therapist - EMDR

Recovering from trauma and substance abuse disorders often requires a person to see his or her life through a different lens—one that allows them to move forward without remaining in the grip of past experiences and behaviors.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

One type of therapy takes a literal approach to this notion of seeing things differently. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a tool for helping lessen the power of negative memories—like those experienced by someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—so that they no longer upend a person’s day to day life.

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing?

The EMDR Institute, Inc. defines Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing as “a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.” They go on to explain, “Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. […] EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.”

A trained EMDR therapist can guide a person through a series of exercises designed to change the way a person experiences a traumatic memory. Those exercises can include eye movements (from which the therapy takes its name), tapping, or the use of tones. The process is individualized, and progress will occur at different paces for different people—though often much, much faster than what is experienced via other therapeutic methods. The goal is always the same, however: to reduce or eliminate the power of past traumas to affect a person’s present and future.

How does EMDR Work?

The writers at the EMDR Institute compare the therapy to our body’s ability to heal itself under the right conditions:

“When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes.”

In other words, EMDR therapy works by clearing the way for the mind to experience natural healing.

How is EMDR Used?

In a residential setting, EMDR can be used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for both individuals and groups. EMDR pursues resolution of the underlying causes that may be contributing factors in a person’s substance abuse disorder.

Potential benefits—in addition to the speed with which EMDR has been shown to work—include:

  • Lessening of the physical and psychological symptoms associated with trauma
  • Lessening of the distress associated with difficult or disturbing memories
  • Lessening of the power of present or future triggers related to trauma
  • Lessening of the likelihood of relapse due to relying on substances as a coping strategy
  • Increasing of a person’s self-esteem and ability to move forward from the past

EMDR therapy aims to give agency back to a person who may have long felt unable to overcome the traumas they have experienced. In doing so, the therapy may well lessen a person’s need for drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. The ability to cope with the past in a positive, substance-free manner is one of the greatest benefits of EMDR.

Does Cottonwood offer EMDR?

EMDR is among the many tools the staff at Cottonwood use to help you or a loved one recover from a substance abuse disorder and build a life of lasting sobriety. We are firmly committed to offering a range of options and treatments for overcoming the underlying trauma that may be a co-occurring condition with—and underlying cause of—a substance abuse disorder. Together, we will determine whether EMDR would be effective in helping you or your loved one escape the grip of the past so that drugs and alcohol do not stand in the way of creating a better present and brighter future.

For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, Tucson, Arizona addiction rehab, call (800) 877-4520. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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