EMDR Therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, has been quoted recently in the news as being used by Evan Rachel Wood and Prince Harry. It has even been featured on popular shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Showtime’s the Affair. What exactly is EMDR therapy and how can it help your child?
WHAT IS EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, is an effective form of treatment for trauma. Trauma can come in many forms and can be a single event such as a car accident and natural disasters, or chronic as in abuse or domestic violence. Even common upsetting childhood events such as divorce, school issues, or peer relationship difficulties can be treated with EMDR therapy.
When an upsetting, painful, or scary experience occurs, sometimes the brain does not know how to handle it and the memory stays stuck or frozen in the mind and body. It continues to be experienced in distressing and intrusive ways. The child may learn to cope by avoiding everything associated with that experience.
For example, I had a young client who was involved in a car accident. Following the accident, she experienced panic and anxiety every time she rode in a car. Through the use of EMDR therapy, the anxiety began to decrease, and she was able to emotionally process the traumatic accident.
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation, activating the left and right hemispheres of the brain. During EMDR therapy, bilateral stimulation can be in the form of eye movements, sounds, tapping, or other movements incorporating both hemispheres of the brain. The bilateral stimulation processes events similar to the way the brain does at the end of the day while dreaming during REM sleep. For children, play therapy is also integrated with the addition of puppets, magic wands, art, sand, and games.
EMDR was developed beginning in 1987, when psychologist Francine Shapiro observed how eye movements reduced the intensity of negative disturbing thoughts.
EMDR has been adapted and used worldwide to help children after such incidences such as the Sandy Hook school shooting, the tornadoes in Joplin, MO, and after September 11.
Aside from helping children process disturbing events, EMDR can also strengthen confidence and feelings of regulation.
This is how most EMDR sessions begin, resourcing positive emotions and sensations. Drop me a comment below and tell me your child’s greatest strength.
Then, the child is asked to recall the upsetting event. Through the use of eye movements or other bilateral stimulation, the child eventually becomes desensitized or deactivated by the disturbing memory. Reprocessing happens as new emotions and sensations are paired in the brain with the past feelings and images. The goal being for the child to recall the events as something that happened with the present believe that it’s over and I’m safe.
WHO CAN EMDR HELP?
EMDR therapy is effective for all children of all ages. It has been used with preverbal children up through the teenage years and beyond.
Treatment is more effective with a network of parents and other adults supporting the child. Outside of trauma experiences, EMDR has been used successfully to treat depression, anxiety, phobias, and other behavioral issues.
Everyone experiences the EMDR process in a different way. Some children feel calm at the end of the session, some are energized, while others are tired.
Our brains are powerful and designed to protect us from danger. EMDR therapy is one tool in a therapist’s arsenal that can be used to help children process negative events or overwhelming emotions.
If you feel your child could benefit from EMDR therapy, contact us to schedule a consultation.