EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a psychotherapy used for individuals who have experienced severe traumatic events and have not resolved these experiences.
While originally developed to treat adults suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the use of EMDR has successfully been implemented for children, especially those who have experienced a trauma or loss. Events such as a car accident, playground injury, abuse or neglect, or the loss of a family member or friend can often begin to trigger fear and anxiety. Separation and divorce are also sometimes a starting point to fears of abandonment in children. And, EMDR therapy has effectively been used with foster and adoptive children due to loss and many changes in their lives.
The thinking behind EMDR is that, when a traumatic or distressing experience occurs, it may overwhelm normal cognitive and neurological coping mechanisms. The person then inadequately processes the memory and associated stimuli and dysfunctionally stores the memory in an isolated memory network.
EMDR therapy involves focusing on the memory while following eye movements or bi-lateral movement, similar to REM sleep. It reprocesses the memory from past to present and gives the mind a new way of focusing toward mental healing. EMDR does not re-traumatize though because retelling is not processed, thus making it effective for children or clients who were wounded at a pre-verbal age.
The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories in order to reduce their lingering influence and allow clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.
One reason EMDR can be so effective is because it happens inside the client’s mind. Since people think, on average, seven times faster than they talk, and since EMDR doesn’t require the client to talk through everything he or she is mentally experiencing, it enables individuals to deal with traumatic memories more quickly.
Typically, the use of EMDR can cut therapy time from years to only months. While it takes a few sessions for children to learn the therapy before being used, some adults can find relief almost immediately. It is a gentle method and parents can participate in sessions with their young child.
According to the EMDR Institute, Inc. with children, “children most likely to benefit are those who have seen or experienced a trauma or loss. A car accident, playground injury, abuse or neglect and the loss of a family member or friend can often begin to trigger fear and anxiety. Separation and divorce are sometimes a starting point to fears of abandonment. “
EMDR can also be useful in treating children who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) because clearing away fear, or the “emotional noise,” helps children and families tackle the complexities of ADD. Sometimes medication may be needed, and coupled with EMDR, children are better able to focus, are less impulsive and more organized. In some cases, they may be able to leave the medication behind.
EMDR can also treat other psychological problems, including:
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety, (such as discomfort with public speaking or dental procedures)