emdr for addictions

Although the uses of EMDR to address unpleasant feelings and negative beliefs are well known, its use in the treatment of addictions and compulsions is far less known and studied, and relatively new. Although there are ways of targeting irrational positive affect via EMDR (such as Jim Knipe’s wonderful approach), until more recently, there seems not to have been an explanation of why someone might keep going back to the same behavior, over and over, even when the person knows that it is hurting them or others in their life. I am trained in two different EMDR approaches to treat addictions and compulsions, and each protocol addresses this question in different ways.

The Feeling-State Addiction Protocol

In March 2013 (and once again in September 2013), I attended a two-day, intensive workshop training that introduced me to the Feeling-State Addiction Protocol (FSAP). The FSAP is undergirded by the Feeling-State Theory of Addiction and Compulsion. Both the theory and the treatment protocol were developed by Robert Miller, PhD, based on the EMDR Standard Protocol developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD.

The implications of this theory are far-reaching. Just as unpleasant or intrusive feelings that ‘won’t go away’ can be the result of a state-dependent memory (i.e., the state a person was in when the experience got emotionally ‘stuck’ for them), so can irrational positive feelings. This isn’t just any positive experience we’re talking about, though. This has to have been an overwhelmingly positive experience for the person, rooted in a strong, unmet (and very often unconscious, hidden) emotional need to feel whatever that feeling is (feeling connected, feeling like a winner, feeling in control, feeling safe, etc.). The ‘feeling-state’ is a combination of the powerful, positive feeling(s) essentially fused with the behavior that gave the person that feeling. It appears that addictions and many compulsions are not done for the sake of the behavior, according to this theory, but as a deeply felt, emotionally driven desire to experience the overwhelming positive feeling(s) again.

In late 2013, Robert Miller offered me the opportunity to submit video evidence of my work with a client using the Feeling-State Addiction Protocol. I was pleased when Dr. Miller offered his ‘seal of approval’ for my execution of the protocol, which I have used quite extensively and to great effect with a number of clients. Issues I’ve helped clients address include sex/porn addiction, substance use (methamphetamine, Ecstasy, cocaine, and alcohol) shopping, and binge eating.

For more information about the FSAP and Dr. Miller’s work and research, as well as FSAP training opportunities for EMDR clinicians who have met their basic training requirements, please direct your browser here.

The Craving & Consequence of Use Protocol

A newer protocol than the FSAP, known as the EMDR Craving & Consequence of Use (CCU) Protocol, which was developed by Larry Anderson, PhD, in the Minneapolis area, is another approach to reducing and/or eliminating the actions of addiction and compulsion. Although little has been written about the CCU Protocol owing to its newness, it effectively addresses addictive behaviors in a very similar vein as the EMDR Standard Protocol addresses conscious emotional wounding. Dr. Anderson posits that cravings/urges manifest in very much the same way as other overwhelming emotional experience can: in the limbic system, which among other things, manages the fight and flight responses that are sometimes necessary for our survival. Research has suggested that the mechanisms of addiction take hold in the very same part of the brain. Thus, addictions and compulsions may develop as reflexive, unconscious (and notoriously difficult to control) strategies to calm the amygdalae and nervous system when other, more advanced ways of managing a perceived threat are either not available or have become ‘short-circuited’.

As of Spring 2014, Dr. Anderson has only offered two formal, large-group trainings in his approach. I was fortunate to have participated in his second training, in early March 2014. To date, I am one of only two EMDR clinicians in Illinois who has received training in this approach.

If you are a prospective client and would like to discuss with me how these protocols may be of help to you, please contact me today to arrange a free telephone consultation.