EMDR in Pennsylvania: Treatment for Trauma and Addiction Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: August 6, 2022

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is available to help people in Pennsylvania. This form of treatment works well for people with drug and alcohol addictions who also have a history of trauma.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, is a form of therapy used to treat patients with traumatic memories. Trauma causes disturbing, overwhelming, and intrusive symptoms that can affect a person’s daily life. EMDR aims to provide healing and relief to people suffering from psychological trauma.

Trauma takes place in many different ways, and unexpected and overwhelming events leave a lasting impact on many people. Some have difficulties processing the events properly, which causes them to develop ongoing symptoms as a result. EMDR is a perfect treatment option for these people.

What is EMDR and how does it help people heal their traumatic memories? How does a typical treatment session go and what can you expect? Are you looking for the help of EMDR in Pennsylvania and want to understand more? Learn more about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy as you continue reading.

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What is EMDR?

EMDR was created in 1987 specifically to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Previous methods used at the time focused on treating the symptoms of PTSD. EMDR shifted the focus to the traumatic memories themselves in order to treat the cause of the problem. This led to the relief or the elimination of patients’ PTSD symptoms.

The unique aspect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is its use of bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation refers to the encouragement of left-right, back-and-forth stimulation using eye movements, audio tones, or physical taps. Incorporating this practice helps activate then reduce the intensity of the patient’s traumatic memories.

Unhealed trauma can cause numerous symptoms and overall emotional distress that lasts long after the event happened. There are dozens of situations that might lead to this long-lasting impact on a person’s life. EMDR can treat unhealed trauma resulting from:

  • Spending time in war or active combat, as either a soldier or civilian
  • Severe car accidents
  • Close-range, violent assaults (i.e. mugging or stabbing)
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Witnessing a violent crime
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Extreme neglect, especially during childhood years
EMDR and Addiction Treatment in Pennsylvania

Who Can EMDR Help?

EMDR is uniquely useful for treating PTSD due to its focus on the source of a patient’s symptoms. Unpacking and healing their traumatic memories leads to lasting results, instead of only looking at the symptoms caused by those memories.

It’s also helpful for treating other mental disorders that might result from trauma. For example, some people with depression or anxiety find EMDR to be a helpful way to process past experiences. People with alcohol or substance use disorder also find help with working through their responses to past trauma.

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

Research shows that as many as 50% of people with drug and alcohol addictions also suffer from co-occurring disorders. That means that they have a mental health issue that has led to their substance abuse problem, or vice versa. There are instances when mental health conditions come later, but this is becoming exceedingly rare.

PTSD or trauma is classified as a co-occurring disorder because people will often use substances as a way to self-medicate. For these individuals, their symptoms are just too painful, and they are typically not in any other type of treatment program.

EMDR can provide them with the help they need to heal those traumatic memories and reduce the need for them to use drugs or alcohol. It has shown a lot of promise over the years, and at Peace Valley Recovery, it is a method of treatment we use often.

How Does EMDR Work?

Eye movement reprocessing and desensitization therapy is a focused and intentional form of treatment. Uncovering and looking at traumatic events can be a distressing process. Therapists work hard to make sure the process is both efficient and effective so they don’t draw treatment out longer than necessary.

EMDR usually takes place during 6 to 12 sessions that are delivered one or two times per week. The treatment itself is structured into eight phases:

Phase 1: Gathering History and Developing a Treatment Plan

The first phase of treatment involves the therapist gathering a full history of the patient during an initial assessment. They discuss present-day triggers, uncover any potential barriers, and determine specific memories to target. Patients also establish goals for their treatment process.

Phase 2: Patient Preparation

Phase two involves therapists walking their patients through the type of treatment about to take place. They introduce the patient to the bilateral stimulation they’ll use during treatment. Therapists and patients work together to develop safe coping skills to use during difficult moments in between treatment sessions.

Phase 3: Assess the Target Memory

During phase three, the therapist has the patient focus on their target memory. They ask patients to describe various components associated with it, including image, thoughts, its effect on them, and their bodily sensations.

Phases 4 to 7: Treatment

Phases four to seven involve the treatment process used to heal the patient’s unresolved traumatic memories. The steps used during treatment include:

  • Desensitization: Patients focus on the memory while the therapist conducts bilateral stimulation. They are asked to report any new thoughts or lessened distress associated with the memory.
  • Installation: Associates a healthier understanding of the meaning of the traumatic event.
  • Body Scan: Therapists ask their patients to conduct a body scan, observing any physical reactions to the memory. If any distress is present, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation to target it.
  • Closure: Each session ends with closure. During sessions that the target memory isn’t fully processed, therapists and their patients go over coping mechanisms to use between sessions.

Phase 8: Evaluation and Conclusion

Phase eight takes place during the next session. Therapists assess their patient’s mental and emotional wellbeing, how treatment is going, and identifies any new memories. They determine the plan for the day’s session and begin treatment.

EMDR in Pennsylvania: Treatment for Trauma and Addiction Recovery

Addiction Statistics

There are so many people in the PA, Philadelphia particularly, who are battling addiction every single day. Many of them also suffer from PTSD, and they have found using drugs and alcohol to be an acceptable way to cope with their symptoms.

According to statistics from SAMHSA’s NSDUH Report:

  • There are about 5 million people who live in the Philadelphia/Camden/Wilmington metropolitan area.
  • Of that number, about 825,000 of people ages 12 and older have used an illicit drug within the last year.
  • That number represents 16.6% of the population.
  • It is higher than the statewide rate (13.6%) and the national rate (14.7%).
  • 12.6% of people in that age group in Philadelphia have used marijuana at some point within the last year.
  • This percentage is higher than both the statewide rate (10.2%) and the national rate (10.7%).
  • 4.7% of people in this age group in Philadelphia have abused prescription painkillers within the last year.
  • The statewide rate for prescription opioid abuse was 4.3%.
  • Nationwide, it was 4.9%.
  • 16.6% of people ages 12 and older in Philadelphia have used some type of illicit drug within the last year.
  • This number is much higher than the rates for statewide drug abuse (13.6%) and nationwide drug abuse (14.7%).
  • In the Philadelphia metro area, 472,000 people ages 12 and older have had a substance abuse disorder within the last year.
  • This is about 9.5% of the population within this age group.
  • It is higher than the statewide rate (8.3%) and the national rate (9%).
  • 260,000 adults aged 18 and older have had a major depressive episode within the last year in Philadelphia.
  • This is about 5.9%, which is actually lower than the rates for Pennsylvania and the United States.
  • 25.7% of the people ages 12 and older have participated in binge drinking in the Philadelphia area in the last 30 days.
  • This number is higher than the statewide rate of 24.9% and the national rate of 23.2%.

Using EMDR to Treat Addiction Memory During Recovery

Not everyone gets exposed to addictive drugs because they were looking for them to self-medicate a traumatic experience. Sometimes people get addicted due to physical trauma, such as being in a car accident. Doctors will often use opioids to treat their pain, and that is what leads to their addictions. While EMDR might not seem like the right choice in cases like these, it can still be beneficial. This is especially true if the person is dealing with an addiction memory.

An addiction memory is defined as a general memory of loss of control. It can also refer to a drug-specific memory of the drug’s effects. It can lead to continuous substance abuse, which can keep people from recovering.

Just like EMDR dampens the feelings that come from traumas, it can also dampen the feelings that come with addiction memories. Incorporating this important method of therapy has been shown to increase a person’s chances of recovering from addiction long-term. People have also found that any symptoms of depression they may have were alleviated as well.