The Science Behind EMDR & How it Helps Manage Stress

The Science Behind EMDR & How it Helps Manage Stress

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment originally developed to treat stress associated with traumatic experiences. Today, this therapy treats a wide range of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorders. Both national and international organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study and support EMDR.

Some Phoenix addiction rehab centers offer EMDR, but not all of them do. If you want to receive this therapy, be sure to select a treatment center like Continuum Recovery Center. We offer EMDR in a safe, supportive environment. This therapy is most helpful for clients who have painful memories but are not able to talk about them. 

Lets learn more about EMDR, the science behind it and why it should be part of your treatment plan. 

What is EMDR and How Does it Work? 

EMDR is a bit different from traditional talk therapies, which is one of the reasons why people like it. Rather than talking extensively about your problems, EMDR focuses on changing the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that arise due to a distressing issue. With this approach, your brain is able to resume its natural healing process. As a result, you can facilitate long-term change. 

Typically, EMDR includes eight different phases over the course of 12 sessions. Here is a brief rundown on how EMDR therapy works. 

  • Phase 1: History and treatment planning. Your therapist will review your history and determine if you are a good fit for EMDR. Generally, you’re a good candidate if you have traumatic memories. 
  • Phase 2: Prepare for treatment. Next, your therapist will help you learn different ways to cope with the mental or psychological stress you are experiencing. Typically, stress management techniques like deep breathing work best. 
  • Phase 3: Assess which memories to target. In this phase, your therapist identifies the specific memories and the associated components that require attention. You may have one or many of these memories.
  • Phase 4-7: Treatment. Finally, your therapist uses EMDR to treat targeted memories. The therapist will ask you to focus on these memories and do specific eye movements. The goal is to help your mind go blank and witness the thoughts and feelings from an objective standpoint. 
  • Phase 8: Evaluate your progress. After your treatments, you and your therapist will do an evaluation to see how well this treatment works for you. 

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How Does EMDR Affect the Brain? 

The brain has a natural way of healing from painful experiences and memories. Multiple parts of the brain are responsible for this healing, including the amygdala, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. However, traumatic experiences, especially repeated ones, are not always processed effectively. Instead, they linger in the body. 

As your body feels this stress, it goes into a fight-or-flight response. This response is fine if you are dealing with an immediate threat, but living this way on a daily basis will create problems. Unfortunately, an overactive stress system can lead to reproductive problems, stomach issues, lowered immunity, widespread inflammation and mental illness. 

EMDR works by helping the brain process painful memories. In other words, the technique “unlocks” negative experiences and the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany it. When the therapist brings the memory to mind, you’ll follow a set of eye movements (each one lasts about 30 seconds). These movements help the brain and neural connections digest the memory. Over time, the memory no longer creates a strong psychological response because you learned to control your emotions.  

Here are some of the ways that EMDR affects the brain: 

  • Restore healthy functions in the brain 
  • Return to a normal equilibrium 
  • Improve communication between the right and left hemispheres 
  • Stimulate the anterior cingulate cortex – it connects the upper and lower brain 
  • Encourage the orienting response, which draws your attention to new stimuli 
  • Prompt the cerebellum and thalamus to enhance information processing 

Is EMDR Different from Other Therapies?  

EMDR is unique from other therapies because it does not require you to sit and talk through your feelings. This is what makes EMDR attractive. It also shows results fairly quickly, usually much faster than other types of psychotherapies used in outpatient drug rehabs in Phoenix. 

Although EMDR requires you to face painful memories, the recommended eye movements divert your attention. This allows you to experience the memories without a strong psychological response. Over time, this technique should lessen your response to painful memories. 

Who Can Benefit from EMDR Therapy? 

EMDR therapy is safe and effective. In fact, it has long-standing success with all ages, including children and teens. The challenges that benefit most from this technique are: 

  • Anxiety, panic attacks and phobias 
  • PTSD and other trauma issues 
  • Chronic illness and medical issues 
  • Substance abuse and addiction 
  • Depression and bipolar disorder
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Personality disorders 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Grief, loss and pain 
  • Violence, sexual assault, neglect

How Effective is EMDR Therapy? 

More than 20,000 practitioners know how to use EMDR since the technique was first developed in 1989. The American Psychiatric Association has noted that EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of PTSD, particularly for those who have trouble talking about the events they experienced. It is also endorsed as a top line of treatment by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Through multiple studies, EMDR appears to be a safe therapy with no negative side effects. Research shows that the technique reduces symptoms of traumatic stress and offers long-term results after following up with participants in three and six months.

Furthermore, EMDR is a flexible therapy that works well alongside other treatments like talk therapy and medication. This is especially valuable for people recovering from addiction in Phoenix, as they often face multiple challenges like mental illness and compulsive behaviors. Eventually, some people are able to taper off their medications after receiving EMDR therapy. 

Summary 

If you want to try EMDR therapy for your own healing, choose an outpatient addiction treatment program that offers it in conjunction with more traditional addiction therapy. Continuum Recovery Center is an option, as we provide EMDR as one of our many holistic treatments. Our therapists carry the necessary training and licensing to deliver this therapy. 

We often use EMDR in the beginning of treatment to help clients process the trauma they are holding onto. When this trauma releases, it allows clients to address their substance abuse issues that are byproducts of the stress they endured. We hope to do the same for you, too. Contact us today to learn more about how we integrate EMDR into our  Phoenix outpatient treatment for substance abuse.