EMDR and Addiction Recovery

In the new EMDR book,  “EMDR in Addiction Continuing Care: A Phenomenological Study of Women Treated in Early Recovery,” Jamie Marich conducted a study of using EMDR therapy with 10 women who suffered from addictions.  The women were from different ethnic backgrounds, had diverse trauma histories and issues. The women were in a residential treatment facility and were in early recovery, meaning that they were sober anywhere from 6 months to two years.

Marich noted that relapse can happen because of poor self control, negative emotions that they don’t know how to tolerate which creates a sense of vulnerability, poor coping skills, and lack of working with resolving old traumas. She states there is a high rate of correlation between addiction and trauma, and when the traumas are not dealt with and resolved that it can lead to more relapse.

This book is important because there isn’t a lot of data on EMDR and addictions, and even though this study is small is it useful information. The research that is available suggests that EMDR, when done properly, “is a powerful tool for trauma resolution, but it must be carefully integrated into addiction treatment.” (Zweben & Yeary, 2006; p.115) They note that, when using EMDR in initial phase of treatment and when the individual is able to regulate their emotions, it can have immediate effects on the addiction.

Some of the issues that the women stated were important to the success of their EMDR treatment included:

  • feeling safe in the treatment setting
  • explaining EMDR to help mitigate the fear of doing it
  • having good rapport with the therapist
  • that the therapist seemed competent, comfortable and validating
  • therapist being able to handle any trauma that would arise

Also noted was that having good closure to end their session sessions was essential to good treatment, helping them to understand what would happen next and looking at potential roadblocks that hinder their success, such as receiving financial gains from selling drugs, staying connected to others who are still using the drug and negative self talk.

What is important in this kind of treatment is to be able to show emotions and feel whatever is distressing. EMDR can help bring those emotions to the surface to look at, and to feel which eventually can lead to healing the trauma. Many of the women felt that if they didn’t deal with their trauma that they would relapse. They felt the EMDR helped them find more self-esteem and make new and better choices in their lives, such as learning how to set boundaries, saying “No”, and better able to sit with their emotions and not try to block them through an addiction.

It was clear from this book that Marich felt that EMDR should not be the only form of therapy used when dealing with addictions, rather, that have it be part of a complimentary treatment plan. She feels groups, classes, 12-step recovery, self-care and motivation are essential to success in the road to recovery. It will be great to see more research in this field in the future to help show the best ways to help this devastating problem.