What is EMDR?

What is EMDR?


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Addiction

One of the secondary concerns associated with addiction is trauma. In many cases, trauma is even the catalyst for addiction to manifest in the first place. Okay, fair enough. What does this have to do with the strange combination of letters EMDR, though?

A form of trauma therapy and resolution, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.


At its most basic, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing seeks to alleviate trauma through a number of guided phases, which turn adverse experiences into adaptive learning experiences. During some of these phases, eye movements are used to link neural pathways and alleviate negative cognitive reactions.

Reprocessing Therapy is another term EMDR is sometimes referred to as. This touches upon how EMDR is used to change traumatic experiences, and the cognitive conceptions they produce, into “normal” memories, feelings, and emotions.

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What is AIP?

AIP stands for Adaptive Information Processing and is a psychological framework that explains various components and results of the EMDR process. These include the speed at which EMDR affects positive cognitive reactions and common reactions to it.

To put it another way, API is to EMDR what the term substance use disorder is to addiction. Substance use disorder and addiction are both terms used to describe and examine compulsive, repeated drug use. Adaptive Information Processing, and substance use disorder, merely describe newer clinical modalities.

Four Things to Remember about EMDR & AIP

1) Dual attention stimulation (guided eye movement) is merely one part of the larger picture. In fact, EMDR and AIP draw from all major psychological orientations.

2) EMDR and AIP use different procedures for different pathologies. This means that for EMDR to be successful, the clinician must customize their approach to each individual client.

3) To this end, AIP is considered successful when a client transitions from a painful past to a healthy present.

4) There is a long history of empirical research on EMDR. It was developed in the 1980s and has been studied extensively since then. It’s been shown to be one of the most effective treatment protocols for PTSD.

The Three-Pronged EMDR Protocol

According to Francine Shapiro, the inventor of Reprocessing Therapy and author of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, EMDR is used to:

1) Help the client learn from negative experiences of the past

2) Desensitize present triggers that are inappropriately distressing

3) Incorporate templates for appropriate future action that allow[s] the client to excel individually and within [their] interpersonal system.

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Accelerated Trauma Therapy

One of the major draws, and indeed benefits, of AIP, is the relative quickness with which it can offer significant cognitive results. Trauma resolution that may take years to achieve in traditional talk therapy can be accomplished in weeks of Reprocessing Therapy.

This is due to the neurological and physiological components of trauma, i.e. how it’s stored and accessed by the brain and body. EMDR is able to offer accelerated trauma resolution by:

  • Clustering similar traumatic memories and engaging/resolving them as one
  • Directly accessing and resolving “dysfunctional state-dependent material” (the memory or memories associated with the traumatic event)
  • Directly accessing and resolving “dysfunctional state-dependent material” (the memory or memories associated with the traumatic event)
  • Focused protocols
  • Engaging traumatic neural networks and resolving them on a physiological level

What Can EMDR be Used to Treat?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been shown to produce beneficial results for the following conditions.

trauma therapy

It’s worth noting that EMDR is not a silver bullet that will immediately cure these disorders. Rather, when integrated into the therapeutic process, it affects positive change.

• Panic Attacks
• Addiction
• Dissociative Disorders
• Disturbing Memories
• Anxiety Disorders
• Phobias
• Performance Anxiety
• Stress Reduction
• Complicated Grief
• Sexual & Physical Abuse
• Eating Disorders

EMDR & AIP from a Neurological Perspective

These 2 forms of treatment seek to resolve trauma by directly changing how information is stored physiologically. They propose that when a traumatic event occurs, the mind and body may store the memory in its own distinct neural network. This isolated neural network leads to intense and recurring negative cognitive experiences.

Adaptive Information Processing uses guided eye movements to “link” the distinct and traumatized neural network to other, functioning networks. In turn, this alleviates traumatic symptoms associated with the event.

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