EMDR as an Effective Treatment
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a therapeutic approach that is effective for resolving emotional diffculties caused by disturbing, diffcult, or frightening life events. Many experts agree that the best way to become free of the overwhelming symptoms is through carefully regulated exposure to the traumatic event. In other words, the child needs to face the traumatic memories until they are no longer disturbing.
In 1987, Francine Shapiro accidentally discovered that eye movements can decrease the intensity of upsetting memories. She went on to develop the therapy known as EMDR. This therapeutic approach helps resolve the disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the distressing memories so that children can return to their normal developmental tasks. In addition, EMDR can help strengthen feelings of confidence, calmness, and mastery. A trained EMDR therapist will carefully assess what has actually been traumatic for the youth. The therapist designs the treatment to specifically target the memories, along with the negative self- belief, and the distressing feelings. The therapist uses alternating right-left tracking that may be in the form of eye movements, tones or music delivered to each ear or tactile stimulation (i.e. hand tapping) to engage the child’s whole mind and body in the process. For example, a child might be directed to move his or her eyes back and forth while following the therapist’s fngers and focusing on the memory of the abuse, along with the belief, “it’s my fault,” and the feelings of fear.
EMDR has been used internationally to help children with a variety of different traumatic experiences such as abuse and neglect, loss of a parent, war, the Oklahoma bombings, 9/11, Katrina, earthquakes and other interpersonal and natural disasters. There are many case reports, along with empirical research on the positive outcomes for children who have been treated with EMDR following a traumatic event.
When a Child / Adolescent Has Been Traumatized
Traumatized youth often display behaviors associated with PTSD. They may have changes in their sleep patterns: trouble falling asleep, interrupted sleep, restlessness, nightmares, not wanting to sleep in their own beds, or bedwetting. Children may act out their trauma in their play with their action figures, dolls, or stuffed animals. Some become irritable, and over- react to situations, while others are numb, under react and have an “I don’t care” attitude. Hyper vigilance can be observed in some children. They lose the ability to discern between normal and dangerous situations and can misinterpret social cues, making relationships difficult. This also can be problematic in school as these children are constantly scanning their environment for danger which effects their concentration and attention. Learning issues are common in abused and neglected children.
Current research also indicates that chronic traumatization can affect brain functioning leading to problems in regulating emotions and behavior, difficulties in attachment, problems with self soothing, and self injury. For many children the trauma is influencing current actions and their bodies react without the mind understanding why. They can exhibit anger, aggression, defiance, impulsiveness, and resistance. Teachers, case workers, foster parents, and parents often interpret this behavior as oppositional, attention seeking, or uncooperative. Adults misguidedly respond to the behavior with behavioral consequences that do not always work, instead of resolving the trauma. The child is unable to respond logically as the emotional part of the brain is active, and the thinking rational part of the brain is not accessible.
EMDR Children Brochure PDF File
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a psychotherapy treatment that is effective for resolving
emotional diffiulties caused by disturbing, diffiult, 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 behavioral problems.
Events such as accidents, abuse, violence, death, and natural disasters are traumatic, but we do not always
recognize the ways they effect and inflence a child’s everyday life. Even common upsetting childhood
events, such as divorce, school problems, peer diffiulties, 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 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.