When trying to understand EMDR Therapy, one must understand the roots of the therapy and common uses for the technique. Traumatic experience knocks everyone’s door at least once in their lives. It may be due to the early death of someone close, a horrible encounter with a natural disaster, car accident, or even physical violence. For working professionals, it is said that millions of people are engaged in jobs that expose them to distressing situations on a daily basis.

Trauma, unlike other health conditions, affects the very function that helps you remain a sane being. It causes stress, hypertension, uneasiness, and even depression in the worst cases. While most people tend to move on with time or by the help and support of people they love, many couldn’t get past their trauma without seeking professional assistance. This condition is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD inflicts fear into the patient and makes them vulnerable to an extent that they question their very existence, and feel needless guilt for the events that took place. Flashbacks and nightmares related to the same event that caused PTSD are very common. People with PTSD avoid places that remind them of the experience, as they slowly drift away from normal activities and sinks deeper into depression. This state also turns them to alcohol addiction and substance abuse.

The momentary escape from reality aided by these drugs soon turns into an addiction that is not easy to get past. Therapists try to eliminate the root cause of addiction by treating PTSD with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Developed in 1987 with an aim to make the brain cope up with traumatic memories, EMDR finds its basis on the fact that the brain’s coping mechanism is altered by traumatic events, making associated memories to store improperly in the brain.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a psychotherapy that helps treat upsetting memories and trauma using visual stimulation. EMDR therapy allows the patients to access traumatic memories and process those in a way that relieves distress. It is found to be helpful for patients addicted to substance abuse as it treats negative reactions, traumatic events, and other emotional breakdowns.

How does EMDR work?

Patients who are addicted to alcohol or substance abuse are also treated by therapists using EMDR, where they identify the trauma that causes the co-occurring addiction. Patients reprocess distressing memories, learn ways to cope up with them, and finally disassociate unwanted emotions. Addiction specialists also play a crucial role in treating people in recovery using a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. EMDR is recommended for the treatment of PTSD by the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, while it is uncertain how exactly EMDR works in the brain, it is also evident that these eye movements can help dampen the feelings associated with traumatic experiences. As PTSD is the most common cause for people to go neck-deep into substance abuse, more treatment centers are investing in treating the disorder than ever before. Fixing the root cause of an addiction not only helps the patient to recover but also prevents them from possible relapse in the future.

EMDR doesn’t involve the use of any medication and is a process of complete visual stimulation. This is beneficial for patients who are not good with medicines and are at high risk of abusing another substance after months of detox. There is special equipment dedicated to the therapy, and some therapists still prefer using a pen. There is no concrete evidence to back which method is better and is a case of personal preference.

How does EMDR treat addiction?

The process comprises eight phases, during which the therapist helps the patient overcome traumatic memories, cope up with daily triggers, and develop lifelong stress management skills. During the therapy, the patient is asked to think of a specific distressing memory while focusing on the therapist’s moving hand. The eye movement directs the patient’s attention to external stimuli while they internally focus on the root cause of their trauma.

The eight phases include:

Phase 1

The process starts with identifying and targeting events that may have pushed the client to addiction such as troubling childhood events, or other upsetting memories. The patient is then told the skills and behavioral traits that they will be developing to tackle the ill-effects.

Phase 2

The second phase is all about therapists teaching the patient with various stress-relieving techniques. The therapist evaluates the progress and how well their client has used the skills in between the sessions.

Phase 3 – 6

For the next four phases, the therapist focuses in on specific traumatic events called targets. The client is asked to identify images associated with the event, related physical and emotional feelings, and any negative thoughts about oneself. The EMDR therapy begins as the client focuses on the therapist’s external stimuli while the client identifies a positive belief that they can hold on to.

The patient clears their mind, and the process is repeated several times until a point where the patient feels no stress.

Phase 7

The patient keeps a log of all the emotions and feelings that come up during therapy, and is asked to practice stress-relieving techniques to improve further.

Phase 8

The last phase requires the therapist and the patient to examine progress and discuss events that may need different coping mechanisms to get through.

Is EMDR helpful?

The therapy has shown positive results, and people struggling with addiction and difficulty in recovery have been shown to have benefitted from the process. However, there is still a lot of research to be done on EMDR, and the therapy is currently being studied in-depth to get more data on the effectiveness of this method.


EMDR looks like a simple process, but is a practice that shouldn’t be attempted at home. The therapy includes talking to the patient and bringing up their past, possibly the worst experience of their life, responsible for engraving upsetting memories in their brain. It’s a painful process that can trigger erratic behavior and intense feelings in the patient, something that can only be handled by a professional. Being unaware of what you are doing can lead to patient relapsing or maybe worse in some cases. Therefore, it becomes imperative to find the right sources and medical professionals who can get this done without any adverse consequences.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.