What is EMDR?

What is EMDR?

What is EMDR?

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?

EMDR is a form of trauma therapy and resolution, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.


At its most basic, EMDR 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.

EMDR is sometimes called Reprocessing Therapy. 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 which 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. Substance use disorder, and AIP, merely describe newer clinical modalities.

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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) EMDR has a long history of empirical research. It was developed in the 1980’s 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 EMDR 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 EMDR.

This is due to the neurological and physiologically 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)

• Focused protocols

• Engaging traumatic neural networks and resolving them on a physiological level

What Can EMDR be Used to Treat?

EMDR has been shown to produce beneficial results for the following conditions.

trauma therapy

It’s worth noting, however, 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

EMDR and AIP seek to resolve trauma through 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.

AIP uses guided eye movements to “link” the distinct and traumatized neural network to other, functioning networks. This, in turn, alleviates traumatic symptoms associated with the event.

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