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Can EMDR Help Women in Addiction Recovery?

Jun 30, 2023

Amber Wrye LPC, LCDC, EMDR II, Program Director for Hannah’s House

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a psychotherapy technique that has been gaining popularity in recent years for its effectiveness in treating various mental health conditions. One group that has seen significant benefits from EMDR is women in addiction recovery.

Addiction is a complex disease that multiple factors, including traumatic experiences, can cause. Many women who struggle with addiction have experienced trauma, such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, or childhood neglect. These experiences can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), contributing to substance use and making it difficult to achieve and maintain sobriety.

What Is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy used to help people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, trauma, and burnout.

EMDR works by helping individuals process traumatic memories and reframe them in a more positive light. Before the sessions begin, the licensed therapists will tailor an individual approach to treating trauma. The first sessions begin with creating and building grounding skills to maintain psychological safety prior to the trauma work. During an EMDR session targeting the traumatic event(s), a trained therapist will guide a patient through a series of eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation while they recall a traumatic memory. This process helps to desensitize the individual to the memory and reduce its emotional impact.

Generally, these sessions will last for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half each. The goal is to give people more efficient strategies for managing stress and anxiety to develop healthy coping skills. Additionally, there are activities such as positive goal setting, self-registration of behavior, and homework assignments to ensure individuals reach their desired outcome.

What Types of Trauma Can Be Treated with EMDR?

EMDR can be used to help treat various types of traumas and related issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, phobias, grief, and physical or emotional pain. It can be utilized to address both single-incident and chronic traumas, such as abuse or neglect, that have been experienced over a long period.

What Are the Benefits of EMDR in Addiction Recovery?

EMDR involves the use of eye movements, tones, and other stimulation to encourage the brain to reprocess unresolved emotions and memories. The purpose is to reduce the hardship associated with these memories, allowing people in recovery to view their addiction and trauma differently. The benefits of EMDR in addiction recovery are expansive, with improvements in mental health, stress and anxiety levels, emotional regulation, self-awareness, self-esteem, and the development of healthier coping strategies for managing difficult emotions. When employed as part of residential addiction treatment with counseling and behavioral therapies, EMDR can lead to a stronger recovery from addiction.

For women in addiction recovery, EMDR can be particularly beneficial because it addresses both the trauma underlying their addiction and the addiction itself. By reprocessing traumatic memories and reducing the emotional distress they cause, women are better equipped to cope with emotional triggers and feelings that may lead to relapse.

In addition to its effectiveness in treating trauma-related addiction, EMDR has been shown to have other benefits for women in recovery. For example, it can improve self-esteem and reduce feelings of shame and guilt that often accompany addiction. It can also help women develop coping skills and improve their ability to regulate their emotions.

How is EMDR Different from Other Therapies?

EMDR has a notably different approach than other forms of therapy, such as counseling and behavioral therapies. Rather than orally focusing on associated beliefs or relying on medication or pharmaceutical aid, EMDR primarily uses its eye movement technique to help patients process and resolve past traumas. Through an eight-phase approach focusing on the target memory with eye movements, tapping, or sound, the goal of EMDR is to create new positive associations with traumatic experiences that can prevent further psychological distress.

It’s important to note that EMDR is not a standalone treatment for addiction. It should be part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

If you or someone you know is a woman struggling with addiction, consider EMDR as part of your treatment plan. Hannah’s House on South Padre Island in Texas provides individualized treatment plans incorporating EMDR for those who meet the criteria and are interested in exploring this modality. With its proven effectiveness in reducing trauma-related addiction and improving overall mental health, EMDR may be just what you need to achieve lasting recovery.


Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For more information about the stages of alcoholism in women or to learn about our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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