Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was originally discovered as an approach to work with traumatic events. The American psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., developed EMDR in the late 1980s, primarily as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD. Over the years EMDR has been used to treat eating disorders as they are closely connected to past traumas. Many individuals identify trauma as a big, scary event that instills a lasting fear in an individual. A physical assault, witnessing a murder, veterans who served in war, natural disasters, life threatening automobile or plane crashes are all example of well-known traumatic events. However bullying, harsh punishment in childhood, mental and emotional aftermath of divorce, living in an impoverished, dangerous neighborhood, and emotional and verbal abuse are all examples of traumatic events that are less recognized by our society. These traumatic events, if not properly recognized and addressed, can lead to eating disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment, which comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity and have thereby generated traumatic symptoms and harmful coping strategies. Through EMDR therapy, individuals are able to reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive. EMDR is now being used to address many mental health disorders that are tied to underlying traumatic triggers. Eating disorders and substance abuse disorders are two major areas where therapists are using EMDR as a component of treatment and relapse prevention. EMDR is not only associated with PTSD but is now being practiced as a relapse prevention/recovery enhancement strategy that truly targets trauma.

Eating disorders and substance abuse

Studies have shown that approximately 25 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, which is approximately one in ten Americans. Unfortunately only a small percentage of these individuals seek treatment for their substance abuse. Studies also suggest that 50% of individuals with eating disorders are also abusing alcohol or illicit substances at a rate of five times higher than the general population. These co-occurring disorders affect both males and females with 57% with binge eating disorder experiencing lifelong substance abuse problems. EMDR treatment works to treat both of these disorders, regardless if they are co-occurring and not by treating the underlying traumatic events associated with them.

EMDR for substance abuse at Center For Discovery

Dawn Delgado, LMFT, CEDS-S is a certified eating disorder specialist (supervisor) and EMDR trained trauma clinician and uses EMDR at Center For Discovery for any disorder that is connected with underlying traumatic triggers, including substance abuse disorders. Studies have shown that many individuals who are diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder started using alcohol and drugs in order to cope with negative feelings and stressful situations that were associated with past traumas. Therefore, many cases of substance abuse are directly linked to past trauma and EMDR can be used to uncover traumatic triggers associated with substance abuse. Performing trauma reprocessing using EMDR therapy with a substance abuse client takes a great deal of preparation that is both trauma-informed and addiction-informed.