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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) TherapyIndividual Therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is what some certified therapists use to help people better manage addiction and PTSD. When done correctly, it can reduce negative and triggering thoughts, feelings, and emotions, making them less impactful and easier to live with.


EMDR helps patients heal from symptoms and distress from the past and better cope with present triggers, preparing them to handle future events better.

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What Is EMDR?

EMDR reprocesses strong thoughts and feelings that are associated with PTSD and addiction. It aims to alter the way your mind processes and understands those triggers and helps reduce the overwhelming feelings associated with them.

EMDR is also used to reprocess negative beliefs. Frequently, recovering addicts live with overwhelming amounts of shame and guilt about their addiction, and have established lifelong patterns of negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves and their worth. EMDR accesses these memories and patterns and establishes new associations with more adaptive memories or information.

In short, EMDR helps addicts better process their trauma and feelings.

Why Does EMDR Work?

Francine Shapiro (the developer of EMDR) hypothesizes that EMDR provides direct access to traumatic:

  • Memories
  • Feelings
  • Thoughts

Through direct access to those crucial moments in a safe environment, a trained therapist is able to alter information processing and support the elimination of emotional distress.

The Deep Cut

The easiest way to understand EMDR is to think about a physical wound. If you have a cut, your body will naturally heal it over time. However, if you have a deep cut that is constantly reopened and filled with debris and foreign objects, the wound will never heal.

If left untreated long enough, the open wound will start to fester and cause even more pain and damage to the body. Ultimately, the only solution is to get the help of a doctor who can clean the wound and stitch it back together so the body can heal properly.

Trauma’s Deep Cut

Mental health works the same way. A small emotional wound can be healed on its own with time. However, larger wounds like childhood trauma can lead to addiction and PTSD and ultimately take longer to heal.

Unfortunately, those larger emotional wounds often get infected with additional psychological grime and debris that can cause the wound to become even more painful to deal with.

EMDR gives a trained therapist direct access to those traumatic feelings and memories where they can work with the patient to get rid of the unwanted debris and heal.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR doesn’t work the same as talk therapy. The process is both simpler and more complex.

1. Establish a Safe Zone

Before EMDR therapy begins, the therapist will help the patient create an emotionally safe zone in their mind. This can be something like a sunny day alone relaxing at a beach or in your dream home reclining on the couch. The location will be used throughout the session as a safe place to return after visiting trauma. We can compare this mental safe zone to a medical recovery room.

2. Identify the Pain Points

The therapist will then ask some basic questions to judge which feelings or memories need to be addressed. Unlike a doctor, a therapist can’t physically see your wounds, so they need to talk with you to better identify where work needs to be done.

Typically, this will include asking you to think about memories or moments throughout your life and give a pain rating from 1–10 for how difficult it is to recall that memory.

3. Question Negative Beliefs

The therapist will ask questions about negative beliefs and work with the patient to determine better alternatives for those beliefs. For example, the patient may come in believing ideas like:

  • I am helpless.
  • I am unlovable.

The patient and therapist work together to find better phrases to hold onto, such as:

  • I am safe now.
  • I am in control.
  • I am valuable.

These will be used later, during the installation phase of the EMDR process. Think of installation like stitching up the open wound. These positive self-statements help hold together the wound so it can heal naturally and ideally become part of the patient’s mindset.

Woman holding her mask away from her face and smiling into the sun.

4. Begin Reprocessing

With the necessary tools prepared, reprocessing can begin. The therapist will help guide the patient from their safe zone into their trauma and back while using eye movement, taps, or tones.

The therapist will work to desensitize the trauma first, which will reduce the amount of pain a traumatic event or memory carries (think of this as cleaning out the wound in the analogy), and then install the new belief (stitch the wound back together).

5. Reevaluate the Pain Points

While the emotional trauma has been stitched back together with positive cognition, EMDR therapy isn’t done. The therapist will ask the patient to go back to the trauma and rate the bodily pain or discomfort they feel around the situation to see if EMDR therapy was successful.

6. Repeat the Process

In most cases, EMDR is not a one-and-done solution because trauma can cause massive emotional wounds that take multiple sessions to successfully reprocess.

Additionally, there may be more than one trauma that has to be addressed. The therapist will only address one trauma at a time and ensure that things are better than when they started before moving on.


What Can I Expect from EMDR?

A session of EMDR is not physically demanding. You’re going to be sitting in a comfortable position for about 60–90 minutes and talking. However, while your physical body isn’t doing much work, you will be mentally diving into the most sensitive and painful parts of your life.

It will be mentally exhausting.

If possible, open your schedule so you can relax the rest of the day. You will feel sleepy and emotionally drained. Do not fight these feelings and rest as much as possible. Some patients suggest scheduling EMDR sessions for Friday afternoon or evening so you have the weekend to recover.

Get Professional Help at Pinnacle Treatment Centers

If you are an addict or have a behavioral addiction, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can help you in your recovery process. Our staff understands what you are going through. We have the tools needed to help you overcome your addiction and reach the quality of life you need.

Contact us and take the first steps toward your new life.

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