What is EMDR Therapy?

December 3rd, 2019

Rehabilitation from substance abuse can involve several different steps, as well as, a variety of different treatment methods. No two cases of addiction are identical, and each person may require a different style or length of treatment in order to find lasting recovery. Additionally, what works for one person may not work for the next. 

Having a variety of different treatment options at your disposal is crucial to giving yourself or a loved one the best chance at finding success in recovery. One form of therapy for addiction and psychological ailments is a psychotherapy treatment known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR. Developed in 1987, EMDR is a therapy focused on treating trauma and traumatic experiences that incorporates several different treatment approaches. EMDR is a valuable tool that can help treat addiction and allow patients to begin living a sober life. 

Let’s look at EMDR and how it can be valuable in treating addiction. 


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed in 1987 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on treating the effects of traumatic experiences. It works by allowing patients to look into these experiences and the root of their trauma processing it in a manner to release the stress they can cause. EMDR primarily aims to alter the negative effects these traumatic experiences have on the brain and the lasting impact they leave. Primarily used to treat PTSD, EMDR has grown in popularity as a powerful tool in treating addiction. 

EMDR aims to heal the brain of these traumatic experiences in a way that mimics how the body can heal from physical trauma. When a traumatic experience occurs the brain’s information processing system creates a sort of block that allows the impact of the event to linger, impact one’s cognition and severely damage one’s mental health. EMDR aims to remove this block and allow the brain and memory to function freely without being weighed down by the effects of trauma. EMDR looks to activate the body’s natural healing processes and return the brain to its normal functions. Traumatic experiences can cause PTSD that has a significant effect on one’s ability to function which can cause susceptibility to drug and alcohol addiction. EMDR helps to curb these negative effects and heal the lasting wounds that traumatic experiences can have.  


EMDR utilizes several counseling tools to treat the brain’s reaction and lasting memory of these traumatic experiences. The treatment utilizes eight phases which break down the block the traumatic experiences create and allow for healing to occur. EMDR treatment focuses on the past, the present and the future creating a release from the hold past trauma has. The eight phases of EMDR look to let the patient analyze the past event, examine the effects it has on their mind, and eventually release the event’s control on themselves. EMDR treatment sessions involve the therapist moving their fingers in front of the patient's face with the patient following the therapist’s fingers with their eyes. Subsequently, the therapist will ask the patient to begin recalling the trauma in detail. The therapist will place importance on sharing the physical feeling and emotions that are associated with recalling the trauma. They will gather this information by asking pointed questions and then begin to lead the patient to start thinking of more positive thoughts. 

The idea behind this style of treatment is that the patient will begin to release the negativity created by the traumatic experience and allow for positive emotions to take over the stress. By enabling the patient to process and analyze the event EMDR works to lessen the distress surrounding the incident over multiple sessions. Over time, the therapist will look to see progress and will transition to more self-reflective questions rather than questions that purely reflect on the event itself. EMDR therapy works to lessen the emotional severity of the traumatic event by reframing how one processes the event. A crucial part of EMDR is the patient identifying to negative beliefs the trauma creates, primarily in how the event negatively affects self-perception. EMDR aims to achieve a release from the grip of the event on one’s mental state. EMDR therapy also integrates self-calming exercises to help alleviate the stress that can initially occur when discussing one’s trauma in grave detail. EMDR therapy looks to reach a state where the patient can say they no longer feel stress and negative emotions when discussing and thinking about the traumatic event. EMDR therapy takes time and involves recounting painful memories in detail.     


EMDR therapy is an eight-phase process that does not involve a set number of meetings. Instead, EMDR therapy will take as long as the patient requires the treatment. By not placing an exact number of sessions on the treatment process, EMDR treatment allows the patient to come to terms with the trauma at the rate they feel comfortable. This self-paced style allows the patient and the therapist to dig into the many facets of a traumatic event and the stress that is associated with it. Typical EMDR sessions will last around 90 minutes. Yet much like the time of treatment, there is no set amount of time a session is supposed to last. EMDR therapy is generally not a short process and will involve a lengthy amount of processing. However, investing time in EMDR can have a significant impact on one’s mental well-being and ability to live a happy, healthy life.

EMDR therapy is still a fairly new treatment method that has primarily been used to treat PTSD and anxiety. The process of EMDR being used to solely treat addiction is still in its infancy, yet the style of treatment has already begun to show a significant impact. EMDR therapy can be a powerful tool that can allow for freedom from past trauma and the addiction that can come from trauma. 

At Windmill Wellness Ranch, we work hard to provide our clients with every opportunity to find recovery. This is why why we offer EMDR in addition to other therapy practices. Contact our admissions team today to get you or your loved one the best chance at recovery.