The inextricable link between addiction and trauma is well known.
Movements such as Alcoholics Anonymous (and other ‘anonymous’ fellowships) have undoubtedly made significant contributions to the therapeutic processes surrounding addiction. Rarely though, does this work purport to address any of the underlying trauma which (if left untreated) can often lead to relapse.
Don Lavender, program director at Camino Recovery, is a firm advocate of this belief and can often be heard quoting one of his early mentors who once said:
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement and Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an interactive psychotherapy technique often used to treat and relieve psychological stress and is very effective in treating a wide range of traumas including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Once regarded as an ‘alternative’ therapy, EMDR is now widely recognised by well-respected organisations as a very effective form of therapy and has become increasingly popular in recent culture.
The therapeutic process itself may appear bizarre to the uninitiated, but it’s simplistic approach is one of its greatest strengths.
The origins of EMDR
EMDR therapy was first developed in 1987, by former teacher and American Psychologist Francine Shapiro on a chance observation while taking a walk in the park.
Shapiro observed that when she moved her eyes rapidly, this seemed to ‘desensitise” her from the negative thoughts she was experiencing at the time.
And it wasn’t long before Shapiro began putting together case studies which led her to develop an eight-point programme that could be taught to others. It was in 1988 that EMDR therapy was eventually conceived.
Since then, it has been universally recognised as a highly effective and efficient treatment for trauma and PTSD. Despite early scepticism, Don Lavender trained as one of the first practitioners of this experiential approach in 1989.
Don has always recognised the value that EMDR brings to the field of addiction, and in the 1990’s he worked at two of the world’s leading treatment centres. The profound results he experienced at this pivotal time in his career, has since played an integral role in his approach to therapy and addiction.
Painful life experiences can often lead to trauma, which, if left unaddressed, can remain trapped in the nervous system. For the individual, this means that any sights, sounds, smells and even touch associated with these negative experiences can become reactivated, which can often result in the person ‘reliving’ the trauma all over again.
It’s natural for people to turn to ‘coping mechanisms’ when the pain and discomfort of reliving past trauma becomes too overwhelming.
Unfortunately, though, these coping mechanisms can sometimes become destructive, leading many down the path of addiction.
How does EMDR Therapy work?
While EMDR is renowned for its straightforward approach, the true value of the therapy lies in the skills of the practitioner.
EMDR therapy relieves the patient of any debilitating symptoms resulting from past trauma such as nightmares, flashbacks and even panic attacks, which (over time) will allow the sufferer’s brain to ‘reprocess’ the trauma in a different way.
Essentially, EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages patients to focus on the ‘trauma memory’ while being given synchronised bilateral eye stimulation (eye movements) leading to a decrease in the emotion and vividness associated with the traumatic memory.
In therapy, the patient is asked to construct a list of past trauma(s). It’s quite common for most people to perceive trauma to be highly significant events such as car crashes and physical assaults (however, it’s important to remember that trauma is personal to each individual).
Once the list has been constructed, each ‘trauma memory’ will then be systematically worked on.
Once the patient is ready, they are placed in front of a light, and a pulsation tube and are asked to wear a set of headphones. The brain is then stimulated by lights, pulses and sounds.
The objective is to ‘activate’ both sides of the brain (bilateral stimulation) which releases any ‘trapped’ experiences allowing the therapist to gently guide the patient towards a healthy conclusion associated with the trauma.
As the trauma is ‘recalled’, the bilateral stimulation causes the brain to reprocess the memory and store it correctly, thus allowing the negative thoughts and emotions to disappear.
EMDR therapy has proven to be highly effective in treating conditions such as PTSD and has been used extensively on soldiers returning from war. The method was also used to alleviate the trauma that ensued when the Oklahoma bombing occurred in 1995.
Why choose EMDR?
Unlike traditional ‘talk’ therapy, EMDR is a more practical approach and is effective in eliminating unpleasant symptoms rather quickly.
The treatment doesn’t take away bad memories as such, but rather the negative feelings associated with them. This means the memories of the trauma are stored in the brain in much the same way that ‘normal’ memories are which offers great relief to the sufferer.
Essentially those undergoing EMDR therapy can expect to see a positive shift in the way they perceive past negative experiences allowing them to move forward with their lives.
Research shows just how powerful and effective EMDR therapy can be, and the many people who have undergone this treatment have said how it helped to alleviate their symptoms quickly and efficiently.
The advantages of choosing EMDR therapy for the treatment of underlying trauma and addiction are limitless, and there are several reasons for this:
EMDR provides a direct pathway to the brain
When it comes to dealing with trauma, many people’ cope’ by blanking out their feelings. It’s also not uncommon for an individual to be affected by past trauma and not even be aware of it.
EMDR helps the individual to ‘reprocess’ the traumatic memory, which subsequently eliminates any adverse symptoms
It has proven to be a highly effective therapy treatment
Many studies show that EMDR is very effective in the treatment of unaddressed trauma and PTSD.
In 2004, the American Psychiatric Association recognised it as an effective treatment for trauma and in 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged the therapy for its efficacious effect.
EMDR Therapy doesn’t require a forensic examination:
Unlike traditional therapy, the reasons behind the trauma do not need to be ‘unpacked’ as such.
With EMDR, a person isn’t required to undergo months’ (or even years) of talking and endless exposure.
It’s clinically efficient
The results that can be achieved in just 6 to 8 EMDR sessions, can often surpass what can be attained in many years of traditional talk therapy.
Essentially, getting to the ‘core’ of the problem is achieved a lot quicker with EMDR therapy than many other traditional therapeutic approaches which tend to take longer.
There are no side effects
In the hands of a highly-skilled practitioner, any underlying trauma that exists can be unlocked, processed and resolved in just one single session.
Which makes this therapy a widely used treatment, and the side effects are known to be negligible too.
Having worked extensively for over 40 years in the addiction and trauma field, Don Lavender has witnessed its transformative powers numerous times.
Together with Meena, Don works with a range of clients at Camino Recovery and plays an integral role in the diverse therapeutic packages available here at the Centre.
The residential clients at Camino Recovery are supported throughout their individual journeys and can process their emotions in a safe and comforting environment.
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