EMDR and Addictions: Feeling State Protocol

Written by guest blogger, Crystal Whitlow, LCSW, Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA Approved Consultant. 

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Although I had never been particularly interested in addictions work, I recently attended a workshop on the “Feeling State Protocol for Addictions” with Dr. Robert Miller, at the 2012 EMDRIA Conference in Washington, DC. Dr. Miller developed this protocol as an addition to, not the replacement of, the usual EMDR full protocol model in cases where addiction is being treated. In the workshop I attended, Dr. Miller focused specifically on behavioral addictions, described in the DSM as “the client feels compelled to do some behavior even if he/she knows that doing the behavior will have negative or destructive consequences.” Some examples are gambling, food, shopping or shoplifting compulsions, sex addiction and exhibitionism.

The primary focus of this protocol is targeting the positive feeling state that the client gains from the addictive behavior. Dr. Miller’s research shows that EMDR is helpful in resolving the state-dependent memories related to the addiction. For instance, with gambling addiction, the target may be the feeling of being a winner, gained from the first time the client won a big hand of poker. Reducing the desire for the addictive behavior is the goal. After targeting the positive feelings state, the usual EMDR protocol is used for any negative cognitions and feelings that have arisen around the addiction and client’s history of use.

I have used this protocol with a handful of long-term clients since returning from the conference. The results have been mixed between positive change and no change, most likely because I need more training in the protocol specifics. The most positive experience I’ve seen after using this new protocol is with a client I’ve seen on and off for 4 years, who recently presented again with an increased desire for foods that were triggering binge-eating. She was very willing to try the new protocol, and was able to identify the positive feeling state as “complete release of worries” and a “calm, clear mind” after the food binge. After one session working on reducing this positive feeling, she reported a drop from bingeing daily to zero binges in the two week period between appointments.  I look forward to receiving more training in this exciting new protocol, especially since I work with many women with food and spending/shopping issues. If you’d like more information, you can visit Dr. Robert Miller’s website at www.fsaprotocol.com or find his published research in the November 2012 EMDR Journal.

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