How traumatic events affect children
Sometimes the traumas a child experiences are easy to see – death, or a road traffic accident, for example. But it is not always that easy.
Sometimes you know what they are but your child does not. The traumas may have taken place so early in life that they are not remembered or the child may have pushed them out of mind or “forgotten” them. When children do not remember they often show the effects through behaviour.
For example they may not laugh, play or smile much. They may be too obedient and willing to go with any adult. They may be unable to stand up for themselves or protest when badly treated. Sometimes parents know something is very wrong but are not aware that anything traumatic has happened.
EMDR can be used to help a child with the consequences of this and improving self-esteem and helping with depression, anxiety, non-co-operation or anti-social behaviour.
What does EMDR 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 – see below) until the event no longer seems upsetting for the child.
When upsetting experiences and feelings are being worked with, it is very important that the child feels safe and in control at all times. The therapist will usually set up a “safe place” with the child before starting to use EMDR to work on upset feelings or memories. This procedure involves the child imagining a place where he or she feels safe and happy, and using eye movements to “install” a strong image of this. This safe place is a relaxation technique.
The stop signal
This gives the child control, and helps him or her to feel safe. The child is asked to raise a hand if they want to stop. This signals to the therapist ‘stop immediately’. The child is told that it is important to remember “it is your own brain that will be doing the healing and you are the one in control”.
Confidentiality will be maintained unless I am concerned for your or your child’s safety or the safety of others. I will discuss this issue with you in the first session.
Further information on EMDR for children is available from the EMDR Association