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Addition to Adaption to EMDR for Addiction

At some point in a persons treatment or recovery, their addiction becomes a memory. It has a beginning and an end. The relationship to the behavior has changed in some way that they are ready to put this story behind them.

In my first blog on this subject (HERE) I suggested that switching the Negative Cognition (NC) and Positive Cognition (PC) in the EMDR protocol could help desensitize and reprocess positive relationships/associations in addiction. In the process of putting this adaption idea out there to the general public, someone made a comment that it was targetting the “positive affect or positive state.” I don’t disagree with this observation but I think that it does more too. The moment that we fall in love is one of the most impactful moments in our lives. It is something that the brain is going to remember and hold onto in order to perpetuate the species, hence survive. The positive state that arises out of that connection is only part of the story. The full story is that there was a high from the experience (positive feeling state) and the experience makes a deep connection to our emotional being i.e., gave us purpose, helped solve a problem, relieved pain, and/or provided some pleasure by providing a new chapter to the individual’s storyline (declarative/narrative memory systems). This is often representative of an earlier felt experience (often an earlier attachment trauma) Targeting the positive feeling state does allow for this information to come up but this is just another way of conceptualizing it and I believe that it is a way of ensuring that it does. Addressing the beginning of the addiction is allows for the narrative to make sense and allows the brain to store the memory of addiction appropriately.

I warned against the premature use of this in the client’s treatment because the person can start processing their whole addiction and everything that happened in it. If they are not ready for it, then they are likely to experience a strong response to it. Also, if the guilt and shame of the behavior have not been lifted in some respects then it can be a lot for someone to witness either what they did or what was done to them.

So, with that said, here is something that has come up in my work that helps with these issues. Long and short of it… PC, NC, PC. Example…

“Do you have an image of the first time that you fell in love with addicted behavior (i.e. relationship)?”

“What does it make you believe about yourself?” PC: “I am in control.”

“What would you prefer to believe about yourself?” NC: “I was not in control or that is me under the influence.”

Then “What would you prefer to believe about yourself NOW? PC “It is over now. I am in recovery. that was the old me.”

Experienced EMDR clinicians will recognize that often clients will list 2-5 PC once asked this question the first time in the protocol, particularly if you give them a list of PC. One of them is typically a more future tense phrase like the example above.

What I noticed that it was an easier to process, they did digest their addiction, and they had a stronger felt sense in their VoC. If timed right, the consolidation and generalization process in the desensitization and reprocessing provide the opportunity to solidify the new core beliefs in their reprocessing and/or reaffirms their purpose and recovery. The timing should be after they processed the majority of their traumas, themes, and/or core beliefs. I also look at a time in their treatment where they have started to empower themselves in their personal life i.e. speaking up for their needs as a result of their recovery work and EMDR therapy. I believe that clients are more likely to give up this addictive behavior/relationship if they see a new one forming that they believe in. Ultimately, this allows the person, in the memory system, to reprioritize this adaptive coping skill as ineffective, outdated, and something that they used to do.

Another point to make is what can be targeted with this. I have done this adaption with gambling, eating disorders, and co-dependency. I work with a lot of DV survivors and what I have learned, in the cluster or target sequence, is that this is the memory that is stuck but is often not identified by the client as a target. I did this recently with a client who was processing the last of her DV relationships and it was pretty charged cluster with multiple murder attempts, hospitalizations, and ended with a suicide. I decided to direct her to do the moment that she first fell for him as a solution to her being “alone problem.” She did the whole relationship cluster that resulted in a new confidence that was undeniably strong. I believe that the reason for this was that there was self-forgiveness regarding the guilt and shame around her role in getting into this relationship and the subsequent events that followed. It was quite beautiful.

A final point on this, addiction to me has the ingredients of an abusive relationship. There is an abuser and victim dynamic within the parts system. What I have come to realize is that the addiction denial system is really dissociation. This has wide ramifications so there will be more on this in a future blog.

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