Promises’ integrated approach to treating alcohol and drug addiction offers those with a history of trauma or abuse an effective therapeutic approach to reduce future relapse triggers.
Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Barbara Brawerman, Psy.D, MFT, has teamed up with Promises Treatment Centers to develop a trauma recovery program that utilizes EMDR, an innovative method of psychotherapy involving eye movements and bilateral stimulation to desensitize and reprocess traumatic memories. The therapy is especially helpful for those in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction as it helps prevent relapse by addressing situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions.
“To quote Francine Shapiro, who developed EMDR, trauma is defined as any event that has had a lasting negative effect upon self and psyche,” says Brawerman, explaining that this can include one or multiple “large-T” traumatic incidents such as physical or sexual assault, combat, near-death experiences and rape; as well as “small-T” traumas such as rejection, neglect, abandonment, and humiliation. She continues, “Many people struggling with addiction have underlying traumas and use alcohol or drugs to withdraw and numb their memories; when the drugs and alcohol are taken away, they’re left with a sense of emotional overwhelm that is not alleviated through talk or cognitive therapies.”
When Talk Therapy Doesn’t Work
Brawerman became interested in EMDR when she noticed that traditional talk therapies weren’t working for her complex clients who had multiple diagnoses. She realized she needed a more integrated approach that treats both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which she found in EMDR.
“Talk therapy often keeps patients stuck in the traumatic event, talking about it, reliving it, feeling it, often intensifying it. Eye movements and bilateral stimulation remind the patient that they are still in the present. They’re attending to the trauma in the past while being consistently reminded that they’re now in a safe environment in the present with a therapist they can trust,” says Brawerman.
The program at Promises can help people who suffer from both addiction and trauma by using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). “Trauma lives in the right hemisphere of the brain, so treating just the left hemisphere, such as with talk therapy, doesn’t work. EMDR connects the left and ride sides of the brain, allowing the person to look inward and get in touch with his or her innate ability to heal and self-soothe,” Brawerman says.
EMDR is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach that was developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD, in 1987. When Shapiro was hiking and became anxious and overwhelmed, she noticed that as she scanned the environment with her eyes, moving them back and forth, she began to relax. This led her to assume that eye movements had a desensitizing effect, and when she experimented with it clinically, she found that other people had the same response. It became apparent that eye movements alone weren’t comprehensive, so she added other treatment elements and developed EMDR.
Originally designed to treat traumatic memories, EMDR has been found to effectively treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic disorders, anxiety, and other complaints that follow distressing experiences. Several studies report a 77 to 90 percent remission in single-trauma victims in as few as five hours of treatment.
Brawerman is a Certified EMDR therapist, an EMDRIA-Approved EMDR Consultant and has trained in affect regulation skills training as well as somatic-based psychotherapies for over a decade. Her experience allows her to assess each client with skill and specificity to support each individual’s symptom cluster so that they can be attended to comprehensively. The individualized care and attention to personal detail at Promises stand out, decreasing the potential for relapse. In addition, Promises provides a safe, relaxing environment, which is important as patients need safe places to go both externally and internally.
“If there’s a particular incident or belief about self that has been haunting a patient, if I can help to desensitize and reprocess their experience into a more healthy perspective, then when they are discharged, they’re less likely to be triggered by that experience,” Brawerman says
Drugs and Alcohol: One More Way of Hurting Yourself
Anyone who has been using drugs and alcohol abusively has been traumatizing themselves, says Brawerman. One can assume, then, that somewhere along the line they learned that it’s acceptable to hurt themselves, so the program looks at what has happened to them historically, what type of traumas they have suffered, what the level of environmental care was during the time of trauma, and whether the trauma was chronic or intermittent.
“There isn’t a person here who doesn’t have some kind of challenge with emotion regulation or a trauma history that needs to be attended to from a right-brain perspective, so they can learn to safely tune into what their body is telling them,” says Brawerman. “I want to support the building of internal resources to strengthen the individual. .To be with self and to be quiet is overwhelming because inside is so scary. They can learn to look internally for healing. They need to know that it’s safe to go inside”
She continues, “With the addict population, we have to look at the critical incidents in the developmental and individuation processes, whether a patient has the ability to separate themselves from others and adaptively define a personal relationship with the outside world. We want the client to be able to ask, ‘Where should appropriate responsibility be allocated? Do I need to take more responsibility for this, or less if I’m co-dependent? Am I safe in the world? Can I control the events that affect me?’ These are pivotal issues for trauma survivors—don’t they sound like pivotal issues for addicts and alcoholics?”
Promises clients who have experienced trauma or overwhelming emotion can meet individually with Dr. Brawerman for EMDR or emotion regulation skills training, in addition to weekly group meetings, called affect regulation group.