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  • Writer's pictureLorena Arrarte, LMHC

EMDR Therapy: An Effective Treatment for Children with Anxiety

Ever wondered how to support your child with overcoming their anxiety and fears? EMDR Therapy offers an innovative approach that helps to alleviate your child’s thoughts, feelings and memories interfering with their daily lives. 

Is it fear, worry, or anxiety?

As children continue to grow, they will experience certain fears and worries that are developmentally appropriate. However, when a child does not outgrow those feelings and they seem to interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child might be experiencing anxiety. 

Here are some common types of anxiety manifesting in children:

  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)

  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, spiders, or going to the doctor (phobias)

  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (generalized anxiety)

  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that comes with symptoms such as: heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)

  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)

Anxiety can also make children feel irritable and can present with more physical symptoms such as sweating, heart beating, nightmares, headaches and stomachaches.

8 Phases of EMDR Therapy for Kids:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic modality that has become widely accepted for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and other stress related symptoms in children and adolescents. EMDR can help to strengthen feelings of confidence, calmness and mastery.

During the course of EMDR treatment, your child will be provided with specific phases for the treatment of those yucky memories and thoughts. It is important to note that children’s needs and length of treatment vary depending on their own unique needs. Below you can find a breakdown of the standard protocol of EMDR treatment:

1. Client History & Treatment Planning: This phase takes place during the first couple of sessions. We focus on obtaining relevant information about your child, their symptoms, severity and intensity. The clinician will also conduct a parent session to obtain collateral information from the child’s main caregivers or parents. This phase is crucial as the clinician will be identifying appropriate “targets” or main memories to use for processing in phase 3.

2. Preparation (Safety & Strength Building): Your child will be provided with resources and skills to help enhance feelings of safety, confidence and mastery. Helping your child gain tools to manage some intense emotions is important during this stage. Parents are a big part of treatment during this phase as you can help reinforce new behaviors, adaptive beliefs and skills in between sessions.

3. Assessment (Target Set-up): This part of treatment is essential as it is about working on a specific “target problem.” Your child will work with the therapist to identify 7 important parts: (1) an image that comes to mind when thinking about the problem, (2) unhelpful thoughts and (3) helpful thoughts (4) how true those helpful thoughts feel, (5) the emotions the child feels, (6) how stressed the problem make the child feel and (7) where do those feelings show up in their bodies.

4. Desensitization (“Discharging stress”): This is the fun part for children as it requires movement and creativity! EMDR for children can be adapted to their unique needs. As regular EMDR eye stimulation is commonly used in adults by focusing on a target light or using buzzers for sensations, EMDR Therapy in children can be done differently. Children can jump back and forth, use bubbles, magic wands, pointers, dancing and other integration of play therapy techniques. These movements can help discharge the stress out of their bodies, hearts and minds.

5. Installation of positive and helpful thoughts: Making sure we are helping your child feel confident and secure of themselves when facing a situation is crucial in EMDR treatment. This phase focuses on strengthening those helpful and positive thoughts so when they are reminded or think about the target problem, they don’t feel too stressed. 

6. Body Scan: (“Body Awareness”): It is important to teach children to recognize where in the body the discomfort can be located. During this phase, the child will release all the stress and unhelpful memories stored in their body. Usually, extra back and forth movements might be needed to release any discomfort left. 

7. Closure: Despite being a big or small worry, we often need to validate our efforts in therapy. Engaging in relaxation activities or other exercises is a great way to close up weekly sessions. Therapists will be discussing additional steps and or suggestions about what to expect in between sessions. 

8. Reevaluation: During this phase, the therapist can gather additional information from the child’s parents and caregivers to dictate progress and treatment effects. The therapist will discuss with the parent alone about specific behaviors and observations in between sessions.

Please note that just like any other therapy, it is important that treatment fits your child’s needs and your therapist will create a personalized approach to best fit your child’s unique needs and goals. EMDR has shown efficacy to integrate different types of modalities including sand tray therapy, play therapy, art therapy amongst others.  

Ready to Discover How EMDR Therapy Can Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety

Contact us for your complimentary consultation at 954-391-5305 so we can discuss how EMDR therapy can help your child overcome anxiety or other challenges.

For more information about Lorena Arrarte, LMHC click here

Lorena provides counseling for children, teens, and families at our beautiful Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs counseling offices.

She also provides online therapy via our secure telehealth platform for those who reside in the state of Florida.


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