Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that has been proven effective for trauma therapy and anxiety. It originated in California when psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro went for a walk in the woods and found her anxiety lessened after she had been moving her eyes back and observing our surroundings.

This initial idea led her to try out methods with her clients who also felt better. Two years later in 1989, the first study was published on EMDR and research has continued since. Shapiro focused on EMDR’s capacity to ease anxiety and PTSD, however other therapists have used it for conditions like depression and addiction.

EMDR Canada explains that when a person experiences trauma, their brain cannot process information normally and it can become frozen in time. When that person remembers their trauma it can be just as bad as the first time they experienced it. The feelings and memories were not processed properly and are preventing the person from moving forward in their life.

EMDR is believed to have an effect on the way the brain processes these feelings and memories. The eye movement component of EMDR is similar to how the eyes move during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dream time is the subconscious processing information it has received during the time the brain was conscious and awake. Therefore practitioners of EMDR see it as also a physiological-based therapy that can help people see provocative memories and experiences in a new and less disturbing way.

Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing an Effective Addiction Treatment?

Many people who have substance use problems also have trauma. There is a wide range of trauma and PTSD treatment models and therapies available to those looking to work on their substance use issues. EMDR has been shown in multiple studies to greatly aid in the recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma in general. However, it is less clear if EMDR assists in the recovery of addictions.

Treating Trauma in Addiction with EMDR: A Pilot Study was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2014. This small study looked at twelve patients with alcohol and or drug reliance who were assigned either treatment as usual, or treatment as usual with 8 sessions of EMDR. The group who received EMDR treatment demonstrated a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms, but not in addiction symptoms. The EMDR also helped with the reduction of depressive symptoms and an increase in self-esteem. This research supports the idea of EMDR as a complementary treatment for those with concurrent disorders like alcohol addiction and PTSD, however, should likely not be the main treatment for those with substance use issues.


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