Can children benefit from EMDR?

EMDR developed first as a therapy for adults, but 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.

Sad boyWhen working with children, the family & developmental context can have a greater role to play in treatment. For example, children at different ages & 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 unique circumstances and trauma processing ability.

The needs of the family in relation to the child are also important to consider, in terms of who is actually 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 impact on - 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 individually focussed EMDR.

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 key. This is because trauma has been known to have a negative effect on brain development, thus leaving a child disadvantaged in how they learn and cope in the future. 

To address the healing needs of the child has been shown to effectively allow normal development to resume.  If trauma in childhood is not addressed until later in life, the impacts on the traumatised brain can be significant, in how the person copes.

The longer the history of living with trauma memories, the more there is to work through to reprocessing and resolve in terms of the back- log.  This is the reason why processing in adults can take much longer that in children, as they have longer stored histories.

EMDR, in my opinion, can be a very valuable therapy as part of 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.