How EMDR is Used with Children

HOW IS EMDR USED WITH CHILDREN?

EMDR is part of an integrated treatment approach and is often used in conjunction with other therapy practices such as play therapy; talk therapy, behavior therapy and family therapy. EMDR will be explained and used when agreed upon by the family and child. Children and parents are always in control of the process.

A typical EMDR treatment 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 and comfortable or to remember a time when they felt strong and confident. These positive images, thoughts and feelings, are then combined with the "bilateral stimulation." These beginning experiences with EMDR typically give children increased positive feelings and demystify the process of EMDR, so that children know what to expect.

When agreed upon between the parent, child, and therapist, the child is asked to bring up an upsetting memory or event that is related to the focal problem. Bilateral stimulation is used again while the child focuses on the upsetting experience. When an upsetting memory or event is "desensitized" that means that the child can face the past events or memories and no longer feels disturbed, frightened, or avoidant of the thoughts and feelings attached to the event. The result of "reprocessing" simply means that the child has a more healthy perspective on the upsetting memories or events. The meaning attached to the event is no longer distorted nor interferes with the child's functioning or development. When the event is reprocessed, children can more comfortably believe and trust, "It's over." "I'm safe now." "I did the best I could." " I have other choices now."

WHAT ARE CHILDREN’S REACTIONS TO EMDR?

It is most helpful if parents support the use of EMDR with their children. Parents and professionals can explain that EMDR is a way to get over troubling thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The EMDR process is different for each person, because the healing process is guided from within. Some children report that EMDR is relaxing and have an immediate positive response. Other children may feel tired at the end of an EMDR session, and the benefit from the treatment comes in the days to follow.  After some children have experienced EMDR, they will specifically request EMDR in other sessions. And then there may be times when the child tries EMDR but will ask to discontinue the procedure, because he or she is not really ready. One ten-year-old had been injured in an accident. She wore a body cast for a year and was preoccupied with injury, illness, and death. After EMDR, she began crying tears of joy and stated, "I'm so happy, it really is over and I am strong." Another five-year-old boy who had behavioral problems and had worked with the therapist using other kinds of therapy, tried EMDR and stated, "Why didn't you do this with me before?" And then another eight-year-old boy who kept having nightmares, stated, "It just popped out of my head, the monsters are gone." Other children say little at all, but their behavior changes and parents state: "Things are back on track."      
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