How can EMDR help?
EMDR is an approach that seems to ‘unblock’ the brain’s processing so that traumatic memories become ordinary ones. We do not know exactly how this treatment works. It may have something to do with the alternating left-right stimulation of the brain or with REM sleep, in which the eyes often move from side to side on their own. The eye movements may help to process the unconscious material.
What does EMDR involve?
EMDR involves asking the child to think about the upsetting event, after which he or she is asked to look at the therapist’s finger and follow its movements back and forth or about 5 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. The child is then asked to hold this in mind and follow another set of eye movements, hands taps or sounds. Sometimes upsetting thoughts and feelings come up and need to be dealt with so the procedure continues, unless the child gives the ‘stop signal’ (see below) until the event no longer seems upsetting for the child. Feeling safeWhen a therapist is working with a child on upsetting experiences and feelings, 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 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. It can be a refuge for the child during EMDR or between sessions at any time.