Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is an innovative, evidence-based form of therapy that has proven effective in treating mental health disorders and co-occurring addiction.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres incorporates EMDR when applicable into our treatment programs to help our clients build the strongest possible foundation for lasting recovery. EMDR is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy which functions differently from other forms of talk therapy. It focuses on the client’s emotional and psychological responses to memories of traumatic events, helping them to process them in a progressive way under the guidance of a therapist. It is highly complementary to other forms of treatment such as individual therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Processing Trauma

EMDR clients discuss and process traumatic events while focusing on an alternative stimulus, provided by their therapist. This helps them to fully process memories and responses associated with these events without becoming overly distressed or resistant to their natural reactions. As addiction is usually related to underlying mental health disorders, EMDR can help a person coping with addiction to address the root causes of their condition.

Many people coping with mental health problems such as trauma, anxiety disorder or PTSD turn to self-medication in the absence of more progressive coping mechanisms. This is a highly dangerous and addictive pattern which prevents the addicted person from truly coping with the underlying causes of their problems. EMDR can help them to process traumatic events and their responses to them in a progressive manner.


The EMDR process begins with a discussion between a client and their therapist. The discussion focuses on the traumatic events in question and the client’s responses to them. Less detail about these events is required than in other forms of evidence-based treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy and individual therapy. EMDR is more focused on the client’s emotional and psychological responses than the events themselves. Treatment methods such as individual therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are highly complementary to the EMDR process.

The EMDR Process

After the initial discussion, the client and therapist work through an eight-stage process using bilateral stimulation (this article features a comprehensive breakdown of this process). Bilateral stimulation involves the client focusing their attention on another stimulus while processing traumatic memories and their responses to them. The alternative stimulus is an action by the therapist such as side-to-side hand movement or hand tapping.

By dividing the client’s attention, the therapist guides them to fully process traumatic memories and their responses without becoming resistant to them or overly distressed by them. For clients coping with conditions such as anxiety disorder or PTSD, EMDR allows them to process thoughts and emotions with dedicated support in a controlled environment. This helps the client to cope with the underlying causes of their addiction and to identify healthy coping mechanisms in place of self-medication.

EMDR is a powerful component of Trafalgar’s evidence-based treatment.