• Lorena Arrarte, LMHC

Benefits of EMDR Therapy for Children

You might be wondering about EMDR therapy and how it can help your child overcome negative thoughts or feelings related to an event that happened in their past…


What is EMDR Therapy?


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) has been proven through research to be a safe and effective treatment for individuals struggling with symptoms of trauma. EMDR can also be effective with children depending on numerous factors that can be discussed with a trained EMDR therapist.


EMDR therapy is an eight-stage process that focuses on a distressing memory (“yucky memory”) and the attached negative beliefs or “bad thoughts” associated with this experience. The trained EMDR therapist will implement rapid sets of bilateral stimulation (BLS) to help strengthen the child’s view of the world and of themselves while desensitizing the images, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.


EMDR therapy can foster resiliency and increase self-esteem in children while creating an adaptive cognitive and physical shift. EMDR can help a child’s negative thoughts about themselves and the world to transition into healthier beliefs by focusing on the present moment.


In addition, EMDR can be accompanied by other treatment modalities to fit a child's developmental needs. For example, art therapy, child-centered play therapy, sand tray therapy, equine-assisted therapy, and yoga therapy techniques are usually integrated into treatment. These approaches allow children to use their creativity, and imagination (through imagery) to develop resources for grounding and positive thinking.


What is Trauma?


Trauma can be understood as a distressing event or a series of events that may cause emotional, psychological, and physical disturbance to a person. Our brains have a natural system for processing information and experiences. This process involves our right side of the brain (emotional mind) and our left side of the brain (rational mind).


Naturally, we process multiple elements of our experiences and process the memories in an accessible and useful form. Think about a memory bank and how each account has a memory containing different feelings, sensations, images, related thoughts, and emotions. However, when a distressing event occurs, it can cause the brain to become overwhelmed and stuck with emotions, and therefore, we do not have the information we need to make sense of it in a healthier way.


Traumatic events can happen at any stage of our lives. Sometimes we can experience traumatic events for which we are emotionally or developmentally unprepared. Trauma is commonly described in two categories: “Big T” traumas or “little t” traumas. “Big T” traumas in children are more acute and intense and often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD.


Some events that can cause Big-T trauma in children include:

  • Being exposed to domestic violence

  • Separation from a loved one

  • Experiencing a natural disaster

  • Life-Threatening events

  • Bullying

  • Grief and loss of a loved one

  • Having a medical condition

In the case of “little t” traumas, these are mainly events that exceed our ability to cope and can interfere with our daily functioning. Little T traumas in children can be pervasive and ongoing which can cause a huge emotional and physical impact.


Amongst “little t” traumas involve:

  • Financial distress

  • Neglect

  • Disruption in the family/separation/divorce

  • Bullying and/or harassment

  • Interpersonal conflict

  • Legal or immigration-related problems

It is important to note that symptoms as a result of trauma can look different in children. Depending on their age, children reenact traumatic events through repeated play. The most common symptoms of trauma in children can include: sleep problems, nightmares, increased tantrums/crying spells, phobias, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, separation anxiety, trouble concentrating/paying attention, and avoidance of places, people, or situations.


How can I help at home?


It is important that parents/caregivers are involved during the course of their child’s treatment. Part of EMDR treatment includes increasing the child’s resources and coping skills to manage any presenting symptoms.


Furthermore, learning about EMDR and its process can help parents to communicate more effectively with their children about their symptoms and how to best help at home. For example, parents can help create a fun environment while reinforcing deep breathing exercises and practicing their bilateral stimulation (BLS).


Another important factor for parents is to take a non-judgmental approach and show understanding and compassion for their child’s progress. Parents must give their children a validating space by listening and being present, thereby creating a sense of value and support.

Ask, ask, ask! Parents can also help by asking open-ended questions to help monitor the child’s progress and understanding of treatment.


Some questions parents ask their child to support the benefits of EMDR therapy:

  • Which skill do you want to practice today?

  • Which positive thoughts did you come up with? How can I help remember them?

  • Which is your favorite breathing exercise?

  • Do you need help practicing your bilateral stimulation (BLS)? Can you show me the butterfly hug/gorilla tap you learned today?

Lastly, SELF-CARE! Trauma can also affect the family system and most importantly, it can take a toll on the child’s parents. Grounding before and after sessions may be crucial for parents, given that they will serve as co-regulators in sessions. Planning some quality time after sessions can also help enhance the connection between the parent and their child.


If you’re curious about how EMDR therapy can help your child or teen, give us a call at 954-391-5305 for your complimentary consultation. Lorena Arrarte, LMHC provides counseling and EMDR therapy for children, teens, adults, and families at our beautiful offices located in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs, Florida.


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