Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has become a nearly standard component of treatment for combat-related trauma. However its proven effectiveness does not end with combat-related trauma. Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) result from a variety of causes and sources, and regardless of the source, EMDR can be an important element of treatment and recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has approved EMDR as an evidence-based form of therapy, a designation only given to treatment options that meet certain scientific standards and have a provable, studied success record. EMDR has certainly earned its place as an evidence-based therapy as, “Since EMDR’s development in 1989, an estimated 100,000 mental health practitioners in all 50 States have participated in EMDR trainings, and millions of clients (including children, adolescents, and adults) have received EMDR. Outside the United States, EMDR has been implemented in over 70 countries.” EMDR’s widespread availability is testament to its effectiveness and to its applicability for both combat and non-combat related trauma treatment apart from drugs like morphine.
EMDR begins with traditional-seeming psychotherapy as a certified therapist talks with patients to determine past and present concerns and to set goals for the future. Patients are given tools for immediate management of anxiety, stress and other emotions that arise when traumatic memories are revisited without involving drugs like morphine. Once patients are comfortable with their therapist and prepared for the next step in EMDR, they undergo exposure-based therapy wherein they recall traumatic memories while rapidly moving their eyes back and forth.
EMDR helps heal trauma relating from a variety of sources, and it does so by, as its name implies, reprocessing memories. Scientific American shares, “One of the ways EMDR’s eye movements are thought to reduce PTSD symptoms is by stripping troubling memories of their vividness and the distress they cause.” EMDR does not remove memories, but it changes experience of and reaction to them. Scientific American further explains how EMDR works, “EMDR takes advantage of memory reconsolidation: every time we recall a memory, it is changed subtly when we file it away again. For instance, parts of the memory may be left out, or new ideas and feelings are stored alongside of it. Making eye movements during recall…may compete with the recollection for space in our working memory, which causes the trauma memory to be less intense when recalled again.” Less traumatic recollections means less feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, stress or anger that otherwise arise and are the hallmarks of PTSD.
One of the clearest signs that EMDR is effective in the treatment of non-combat trauma is its effectiveness in treating childhood trauma. Social Work Today shares, “researchers have made major strides in developing methods for treating victims and survivors of child abuse including therapies that work as well (and in some cases better) with children as with adults. Among the most successful of these treatments is [EMDR]…Since many children and some adults are unable to verbalize traumatic experiences, EMDR can often provide the breakthrough that more traditional therapies can’t.” EMDR offers one more way to access and heal memories and one more way for therapists to reach patients who cannot be reached through more traditional forms of therapy.
EMDR also offers the benefit of working quickly. Many forms of therapy take months before results can be seen, but the New York Times explains studies found, “a 90 percent PTSD remission in sexual assault victims after three 90-minute sessions…After an average of six 50-minute sessions, 100 percent of the single-trauma victims and 77 percent of the multiple-trauma victims no longer had PTSD.” Improvement in mental health symptoms after just a few therapy sessions is not a result to be ignored. When patients struggle with long-term anxiety, depression and trauma, therapy retention is often a challenge. While long-term support is needed for any mental health recovery, immediate results provide immediate relief and the impetus to continue with EMDR and supportive forms of therapy to ensure real and lasting healing apart from drugs like morphine.
If you or a friend or family member struggles with trauma and addiction to drugs like morphine, no matter its source, EMDR may be an effective part of an integrated treatment and recovery plan. To learn more about EMDR and resources available to you, call our toll-free helpline. We are here 24 hours a day to provide information about and access to various forms of mental health therapy and treatment. You will be directly connected to a confidential and knowledgeable admissions coordinator who will listen to your unique story and situation. He or she will then work with you to determine the best forms of the therapy, the best course of action, for moving forward towards your or a loved one’s health and happiness.