Can children benefit from EMDR?

EMDR developed first as a therapy for adults. 

The different developmental needs of children and adolescents have slowly begun to be recognised, in EMDR circles.  This said child training options and specialist professional development workshops on EMDR with children, lag behind those available for adults.

When working with children the family and developmental context can have a greater role to play in treatment.

For example, children at different ages and different developmental stages, will have different brain development. As a result the are unable to work using adult EMDR protocols and treatment needs to take into account their needs and trauma processing ability.

The needs of the family in relation to the child are also important in understanding, who is traumatised and who needs help.

For example, it is not uncommon for several members of a family to be affected by a catastrophic event, which can affect parents, siblings and a referred child.

This said, it is important to know that a child who has been traumatised can often, gain very much from EMDR.

Timing is important, but to overlook a child's psychological therapy needs, would be unhelpful.

We know from research that immediately after a trauma, the human brain can go through an initial dissociative shock state, in which the person, needs time to recover.

Any on-going residual trauma that does not naturally resolve, after this initial period, needs to be considered further.

Addressed child trauma sooner in their lives, rather than later has been shown to be important. This is because trauma has been shown to have a negative effect on brain development, thus leaving a child disadvantaged in how they process and cope in the future.

To address the healing needs of the child has been shown to effectively allow normal development to resume.

The type of work undertaken needs to be considered in the context of the childs life and readiness.

If trauma in childhood is not addressed until later in life, the impacts on the traumatised brain can have a possible and significant effect on many areas of functioning and coping.

The longer the history of coping with trauma memories, the more there is to work through to reprocessing and resolve the back- log.

This is the reason why processing in adults can take much longer that in children, as they have longer histories.

EMDR is, in my opinion, a very valuable therapy in helping children and families to heal.

Related reading:

EMDR for the next generation: healing children and families. Joanne Morris-Smith and Michel Silvestre. 2013. Academic Publishing International Limited.