EMDR for children
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing. It is a psychotherapy treatment that has been extensively researched and proven effective to help millions of adults, young people and children recover from both PTSD and C-PTSD and the problems they cause, like flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, hypervigilance and other symptoms.
EMDR uses eye movements and sometimes audio tones, or even small hand-held buzzers to repeatedly stimulate the left and ride sides (hemispheres) of your brain to properly process traumatic intense and debilitating memories into simply memories.
EMDR for children
Younger children can find it difficult to fully engage with some types of talking therapies, so EMDR can be an effective, simpler alternative. EMDR also has the highest recommendation for Children and Adolescents with PTSD from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 2018).
The therapy sessions can be adapted ‘depending upon the specific needs and developmental stage of your child or adolescent. For example, pictures may be used instead of words or the therapist may write a story or narrative about the traumatic events to make the therapy more accessible to children who are struggling to talk about the trauma.’
One study with children aged 8-18 who had developed PTSD after a single traumatic event showed that almost 92% of children no longer had PTSD after around four sessions of EMDR. They were still free of PTSD one year later.
What does EMDR for children involve?
‘EMDR involves asking the child to think about the upsetting events after which he or she is asked to look at the therapist’s finger and follow it back and forth for about 15 to 30 seconds. Other types of left-right stimulation such as hand taps or drumming might be used if a child finds the eye movements difficult. After a few seconds of eye movements or other right-left stimulation, the therapist stops, asks the child to take a deep breath, let go of the image, and rest. The therapist then asks the child what comes up next in his or her mind. Typically something shifts and the child reports a new image, thought, feeling, or physical sensation. Then the child is asked to hold this in mind and follow another set of eye movements, hand taps or sounds. Sometimes upsetting thoughts and feelings come up and need to be dealt with. The procedure continues (unless the child gives the STOP signal) until the event no longer seems upsetting for the child.’
Finding an EMDR therapist for your child
It is really important to find a suitable child EMDR therapist who has been specially trained to work with children who can build a good therapeutic relationship with both you and your child. Please ensure that the therapist has attended an accredited training in EMDR (as recognised by the EMDR UK Association) and has also completed further accredited training to use EMDR with children and adolescents.
Many NHS services within the UK, Ireland, Scotland and Wales offer EMDR within CAMHS teams for children and adolescents. There are also private or independent EMDR therapists or practitioners throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland and the EMDR Association website can help you to locate suitable accredited therapists in your area.’
Here is a useful animation to explain EMDR to children, adolescents and their carers from the EMDR Association:
Please remember, these are not medical recommendations. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you. EMDR should always be delivered by properly trained therapists.
EMDR Treatment Case Studies
Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA). (2017, June 29). PTSD in children quickly and effectively treatable within hours. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 23, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170629085311.htm
Carletto Sara, Borghi Martina, Bertino Gabriella, Oliva Francesco, Cavallo Marco, Hofmann Arne, Zennaro Alessandro, Malucchi Simona, Ostacoli LucaTreating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Relaxation Therapy Frontiers in Psychology VOL. 7 2016 Page 526 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00526 DOI10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00526
Chen L, Zhang G, Hu M, Liang X. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing versus cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult posttraumatic stress disorder: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2015 Jun;203(6):443-51. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000306. PMID: 25974059.
Chen Y-R, Hung K-W, Tsai J-C, Chu H, Chung M-H, Chen S-R, et al. (2014) Efficacy of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for Patients with Posttraumatic-Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS ONE 9(8): e103676. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103676
Bisson, J., Roberts, N.P., Andrew, M., Cooper, R. & Lewis, C. (2013). Psychological therapies for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003388.pub4
Bradley, R., Greene, J., Russ, E., Dutra, L., & Westen, D. (2005).A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 214-227.
Lee, C.W., & Cuijpers, P. (2013). A meta-analysis of the contribution of eye movements in processing emotional memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 231-23
Seidler, G.H., & Wagner, F.E. (2006). Comparing the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD: a meta-analytic study. Psychological Medicine, 36,1515-1522.
Acarturk, C., Konuk, E., Cetinkaya, M., Senay, I., Sijbrandij, M., Gulen, B., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). The efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among Syrian refugees: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychological medicine, 46(12), 2583-2593
Raymond W. Gunter, Glen E. Bodner, How eye movements affect unpleasant memories: Support for a working-memory account, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 46, Issue 8, 2008, Pages 913-931, ISSN 0005-7967,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2008.04.006.
Comparison of two treatments for traumatic stress: A community-based study of EMDR and prolonged exposure, Ironson, B. Freund, J. L. Strauss, J. Williams
Scheck MM, Schaeffer JA, Gillette C. Brief psychological intervention with traumatized young women: the efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. J Trauma Stress. 1998 Jan;11(1):25-44. doi: 10.1023/A:1024400931106. PMID: 9479674.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.