EMDR Therapy for Children
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy treatment that is effective for resolving emotional difficulties caused by disturbing, difficult, or frightening life experiences. When children are traumatized, have upsetting experiences or repeated failures, they lose a sense of control over their lives. This can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, guilt, and/or behavior problems. Events such as accidents, abuse, violence, death and natural disasters are traumatic, but we don ot always recognize the ways they affect and influence a child's everyday life. Even common upsetting childhood events, such as a divorce, school problems, peer difficulties, failures and family problems can deeply affect a child's sense of security, self-esteem and development.
When an upsetting, scary or painful experience happens, sometimes the memory of the experience stays "stuck" or "frozen" in the mind and body. The experience may return in a distressing and intrusive way and the child may cope by avoiding everything associated with the upsetting experience. For example, a child h who has experienced a bad bicycle accident may have repeated nightmares, be fearful of trying new things and avoid things that are associated with a bicycle.
Most experts agree that the best way to get "unstuck" and become free from the symptoms is through exposure to the traumatic experience. This means the person will work through facing the memories or troubling events until they are no longer disturbing.
Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS) refers to the use of alternating, right-left tracking that may take form of eye movements, tones or music delivered to each ear or tactile stimulation, such as alternating hand taps. Creative alternatives have been developed for children that incorporate DAS, through the use of puppets, stories, dance, art, and even swimming.
EMDR therapy helps resolve the troubling thoughts and feelings related to the distressing memories so that children can return to their normal developmental tasks and prior levels of coping. In addition, EMDR therapy can help strengthen the feelings of confidence, calmness and mastery.
What is the actual EMDR therapy session like?
EMDR therapy is part of an integrated treatment approach and is often used together with other therapeutic treatments such as play therapy and family therapy.
Prior to the use of EMDR therapy, it will be explained and used when agreed upon by the family and the child.
A typical EMDR therapy session begins in a positive way by having children use their imagination to strengthen their sense of confidence and well-being. For example, children may be asked to imagine a safe or protected place where they feel relaxed or to remember a time when they felt strong and confident. These positive images, thoughts, and feelings are then combined with eye movements or other forms of Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS). These beginning experiences with EMDR typically give children increased positive feelings and help children know what to expect during a session.
Next, the child is asked to bring up an upsetting memory or event that is related to the presenting problem. DAS is used again while the child focuses on the disturbing experiences. When an upsetting memory is "desensitized" the child can face the past events without feeling disturbed, frightened or avoidant. "Reprocessing" simply means that new understandings, sensations and feelings can be paired up with the old disturbing thoughts, feelings and images. After EMDR therapy, the troubling memories can be more comfortably recalled as "just something that happened," and children can more easily believe, "It's over." "I'm safe now." "I did the best I could, it's not my fault." "I have other choices now."