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EMDR: Treating Addiction and Trauma

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EMDR: Treating Addiction and Trauma

August 22, 2019
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Maryland Addiction Recovery Center Primary Therapist Corinne Burnett, LCSW-C, is an EMDR-trained therapist who aids MARC patients dealing with both addiction and trauma. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It has proven effective in aiding individuals suffering from addiction and trauma. Corinne offered this insight regarding treating patients suffering from both substance use disorder and trauma:

 

“Many individuals we encounter in the field of addiction have experienced some form of trauma. Substances are often used to cope with symptoms related to trauma stressors. The DSM-5 defines trauma as actual or threatened death or sexual violence. Most memories are processed and stored in the frontal lobe of the brain where they can be understood. Traumatic memories, however, are stored in the limbic system. The limbic system signals our fight-flight-freeze response. This may prepare our body by raising heart rate, tending muscles, dilating pupils, even disrupted digestion. Addressing trauma is vital to addiction treatment. When trauma responses are activated, our prefrontal cortex actually goes offline. This part of the brain is necessary for verbal expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior (among other things.)  Therefore, when activated, we are not able to utilize coping strategies that we usually encourage like calling your sponsor, going to a meeting, journaling, etc.

 

The bilateral stimulation used in EMDR helps to move memories to the frontal lobe. It does not erase memories but allows us to think of them without somatic/distress responses. During the reprocessing phase of EMDR, positive beliefs of self are installed to replace the negative self-beliefs that often result from traumatic experiences and adverse childhood experiences.

 

I have witnessed profound transformations in patients who have participated in EMDR. This tool has been particularly helpful for individuals who have had multiple treatment experiences and hit a wall with talk therapy. I have seen folks punish themselves through self-harm, substance abuse, and other self-destructive behaviors because they believe they were at fault for something that happened. No amount of talking was going to change that belief but by accessing the experience in the limbic system through EMDR the memory was able to be reprocessed. Patients noticed changes in their relationships with others, their view of themselves, and beliefs about what they deserved.

 

I have found that EMDR is a particularly powerful tool in a long-term, intensive treatment setting like MARC. When engaging in EMDR therapy, it is important to have a number of internal and external resources established. Patients that I see for EMDR are followed throughout the week by a number of clinical and support staff members who can provide support. These patients will be able to further process work in EMDR with individual sessions and groups. The combination of safety, support, and willingness allows EMDR to offer life-long changes to those who engage.”

 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at info@marylandaddictionrecovery.com. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.

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