EMDR for Veterans

EMDR for Treating PTSD in Veterans

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

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Treatment like EDMR at The Recovery Village Columbus can help veterans experiencing PTSD minimize and even eliminate the most painful symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can become a long-standing challenge when traumatic events overwhelm a person. Treatments like EMDR can greatly help trauma survivors with PTSD, making it one of the more promising recovery methods for veterans.

What Is EMDR?

EMDR is the abbreviation for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a helpful treatment that includes eye movement or sound in a repetitive, back-and-forth format while remembering a traumatic event. Combining recall and sensory factors can help decrease problematic PTSD symptoms. 

Experts disagree on the exact mechanism that makes this treatment so effective; regardless, EMDR works. One Kaiser Permanente study showed positive results in 100% of single-trauma and 77% of multi-trauma participants. These results were achieved from a six-session series of EMDR treatments. 

EMDR can treat conditions such as:

  • Trauma
  • PTSD
  • Addiction
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bulimia
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

EMDR Phases

EMDR requires specific elements to be successful. Therapists discuss the treatment stages with the patient before starting, so there aren’t any surprises. Describing and planning treatment thoroughly in advance also helps build trust through each treatment phase. 

History Taking

During the history-gathering treatment phase, the provider determines if the person would benefit from EMDR based on their history, triggers and future needs. Questionnaires and other assessment tools help providers understand the traumatic event’s impact on the person’s life and how EMDR may help. 


If a person is well suited for EMDR, the next stage is preparing for the specific targets they’ll focus on during treatment. The patient and provider will explore how symptoms impact life and identify strategies for personal control. 


The assessment phase identifies the images, beliefs, emotions and physical sensations causing distress. This information creates a baseline by which to measure progress. The primary memory of the events is brought out during this assessment.


The desensitization process uses eye movements, bilateral taps or tones while observing emotions and sensations as they arise. Desensitization and processing physical sensations, thoughts and feelings create a new experience that feels safer and takes some discomfort out of the memories.


A positive or neutral outcome is introduced during installation and joins the memory processing. Adding this perspective can create a less burdensome association and reduce trauma symptoms. 

Body Scan

The body scan process helps resolve issues after desensitization and installation. If any physical symptoms remain while recalling the memory, they can be resolved with the body scan aspect of treatment. 


Closing EMDR treatment empowers the person to use guided imagery and other techniques to reduce symptoms. It’s crucial to track your progress and attend maintenance appointments as needed. Patients may observe themselves between sessions and share their observations with their therapist during this final span of treatment.


Over time, it is important to reevaluate progress and determine whether EMDR has had a lasting effect. Exploring the patient’s quality of life and EMDR’s impact on the original target areas can help determine if additional challenges need treatment. 

Using EMDR to Treat PTSD in Veterans

Veterans with PTSD can benefit from EMDR. The aspects that cause some of the most painful symptoms can be minimized and even eliminated. The symptoms that frequently emerge from PTSD can differ but often include:

  • Flashbacks of traumatic experiences
  • Intrusive thoughts or memories
  • Hypervigilance and always feeling on guard
  • Intense feelings of fear, distress, irritability, guilt or anxiety
  • Physical signs of stress like a racing heart, tremors or sweating
  • Being startled easily
  • Avoidance of triggers
  • Problems with concentration
  • Loss of interest in activities

PTSD symptoms can be severely disruptive for those experiencing them. Veterans may find these symptoms cause difficulty in functioning at work, at home and in the community. If left untreated, PTSD can contribute to

  • Alcoholism or drug abuse
  • Relationship issues
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal disorders

Risk factors for physical and emotional health problems may subside when veterans are treated with EMDR. Symptoms such as hypervigilance, flashbacks and distressing thoughts decrease through desensitization. The installation phase helps make new associations when traumatic memories come up.

EMDR for Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction

Addiction is a common co-occurring issue for people with PTSD. The intensity of PTSD symptoms can be overwhelming, leading many to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Between 36–52% of people diagnosed with PTSD also struggle with a substance use disorder. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that at least two out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder and that at least one-third of veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse also have PTSD.

EMDR can be an effective treatment for people with addiction and trauma. 

EMDR can help veterans with addictions:

  • Identify triggers for substance use
  • Reduce trauma triggers that fuel substance use
  • Build tolerance for difficult emotions
  • Boost motivation for recovery

EMDR helps patients identify and maintain their focus on a positive goal, which is vital to managing addiction and trauma symptoms at the same time. 

EMDR Treatment for Veterans

Many veterans have faced severe trauma during their careers. The FORTITUDE program is specifically designed to treat veterans with addiction and trauma challenges. When medically appropriate, the program offers EMDR as a helpful treatment for PTSD and co-occurring substance use disorder. 

Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission

Our Veteran Advocates can help you navigate your VA health insurance and get you the help you need. At The Recovery Village Columbus, our FORTITUDE specialty track for veterans and first responders offers:

  • Exclusive group therapy sessions with your peers
  • Experienced clinicians trained in military culture and veteran-specific care
  • Dual diagnosis to treat addiction and mental health disorders together  
  • EMDR: A revolutionary treatment that alleviates trauma symptoms

Don’t face these challenges alone. If you or your loved one are struggling with addiction and co-occurring trauma, contact The Recovery Village Columbus. Our intake specialists can answer questions about treatment, discuss the veteran specialty track and start you on the path to recovery. Contact us today

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What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.