Healing Trauma in Addicts: Techniques

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Dr. David Fawcett

In my previous post to this website, I discussed the idea that trauma treatment is necessary for long-term addiction healing, though it needs to take place at the right time – only after the addict has developed new and healthier coping skills. I also mentioned that both cognitive and somatic modalities are needed to effectively address trauma.

Below I have listed some of the somatic techniques that can effectively be used in conjunction with talk therapy when treating addicts:

Somatic Experiencing

This is a neurobiological approach created by Peter Levine. Sessions typically involve the introduction of a small amount of traumatic material and observing the client’s reaction to that material, such as a change in breathing or a shift in posture. Various mind-body exercises may follow, including breathwork, meditation, visualization, massage, dance, and other ways to increase sensation. Through this work, clients can begin to recognize reactive triggers and cues held in their own bodies and learn techniques to regulate their sensations and emotions.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

First discovered by Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR relies on bilateral stimulation of the two halves of the brain. This was originally accomplished by moving the eyes repeatedly to the left and right. There are now other ways to create this, including looking at a light bar, “tappers” held in the palms, or even tapping using one’s hands. Under the guidance of a clinician, the client can follow memory channels back to certain events and correct their beliefs about themselves in relation to that experience. Remarkably, this works even without the client reporting to the clinician the details of the events. EMDR is widely utilized for all kinds of trauma.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)

EFT draws on acupuncture, neurolinguistic programming, and energy healing, using tapping various points on the body to create balance in the body’s energy system. Its creator, Gary Craig, believes a disruption in energy is the cause of all negative emotions and pain. Using the same meridians in the body as acupuncture, tapping in various combinations at various points is said to relieve both anxiety and the symptoms of trauma. 

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy gained popularity in the 1990s. It is less common today, although it holds great potential for healing. By introducing a light trance in which the client has one foot in the here and now and one in the past, the client can safely explore troublesome memories without the distorting effects of the prefrontal cortex. This allows the client to access memories that might otherwise be unavailable and reframe any negative beliefs about themselves or their behavioral decisions (such as “I’ll never trust anyone again”).

Brainspotting (BSP)

The idea behind this therapy is that where you physically look affects how you feel. This therapy locates points in the client’s visual field, which helps access unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain. BSP was discovered in 2003 by David Grand. The goal is to bypass the conscious (neocortical) thinking in order to access the deeper emotional and body-based components to heal traumatic experiences.

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

IFS, a form of psychotherapy created by Richard Schwartz, recognizes that we split ourselves into parts that play various roles in protecting and defending us. Like many such defenses, these can often keep us locked in an unhealthy place. By identifying these parts and the roles they play, IFS allows us to become integrated and whole.

Breathwork

This is transformative therapy that is entirely non-cognitive. There are many forms: holotropic breathwork, circular breathing, transformational breathing, to name but a few. Each uses the power of breathing at various rhythms and durations to create an altered state that can release trauma held in the body.