What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapy is a very powerful psychotherapy enabling people to process difficult past experiences which still impact their day to day life. We often hear about EMDR being used for difficulties that adults have faced, but it can also be used incredibly effectively and safely with very young children and adolescents. Especially when their school life, friendships and home life are being affected.
The EMDR therapist guides the child in concentrating on a troubling memory while moving the eyes rapidly back and forth. The child will do this by following the therapist’s fingers or a light bar, we can also use hand held buzzers, tapping or earphones with alternating sounds. This rapid eye movement, which occurs naturally during dreaming, seems to speed the client’s movement through the healing process.
EMDR is recognised by the World Health Organisation (2013) as an effective therapy for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events. It also has the highest recommendation for Children and Adolescents with PTSD from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 2018).
How Does EMDR Help Children and Adolescents?
When a painful or upsetting experience happens, the memory of the experience sometimes stays “stuck” in the body and mind. Over time, the occurrence may manifest in disturbing and invasive ways.
After experiencing an upsetting experience, a child may have recurring nightmares or cope by avoiding things associated with the disturbing experience. For example, a child who experienced a car accident may exhibit defiant behaviour when in a vehicle, or protest having to travel in the first place. EMDR helps the brain to “digest” the memory so that it no longer has this impact.
At Cup-O-T: Wellness and Therapy Services, our staff have immense skill and expertise working with children and young people with a variety of mental health difficulties and complex needs, including (but not restricted to):
- Attachment Difficulties
- Depression and Mood Disorders
- Eating Difficulties
- Complex Trauma
- Dissociative Difficulties
- Addictive Behaviours
EMDR is effective and well supported by research evidence for treating children with symptoms accompanying post traumatic stress (PTSD), attachment issues, dissociation, and self-regulation. It has also been effective in treating symptoms related to guilt, anger, depression, and anxiety, and can be used to boost emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.
Children may experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms as a result of bullying, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and invasive medical procedures. Some of these traumas occurred at the hands of someone with malicious intent; others were formed from the child’s perceived intent.
Since our emotional states are a result of how we perceive the world, a child may have stress related to a memory that, to anyone else, would not seem to be a “big deal.” In an effort to help their children “get over it,” parents often tell them things such as, “It’s not that bad,” or, “He wasn’t that mean to you.” But if the experience was traumatic to the child, it was traumatic—full stop.
Trauma can result from one event, multiple events, or a series of them. These events can cause children to see the world as dangerous and can alter their ability to function. A child may experience anxiety, fear of death, panic, powerlessness, anger, and deep sadness. When the trauma is a result of violence perpetrated by a caregiver they trust, it becomes overwhelming and can cause a child to be in a constant state of worry. This, of course, interferes with the child’s ability to trust or to sustain and maintain relationships.
Therapy can be a scary prospect to a child. We explain to a child that our brains are amazing things that have the ability to heal themselves, and that we will help their brains do just that, this usually causes them to react with curiosity and intrigue and the process becomes much less scary.