Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a form of therapy primarily used to treat trauma which can be utilized by therapists to treat a range of mental health disorders. According to The Permanente Journal, EMDR is, “an empirically validated psychotherapy approach that medical personnel can employ to treat the sequela of psychological trauma and other negative life experiences.” Even for teens, trauma can be treated with EMDR.
History of EMDR
EMDR was introduced in 1989 as an extension of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and was tested thoroughly with trauma patients. The main focus of these studies was treatment for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other trauma-related mental health disorders. EMDR’s effect on those afflicted with PTSD, in particular, is well-documented, which has led the practice into today where it is used extensively in treatment for those with a history of trauma. Its effectiveness has been documented by many organizations, including the Department of Defense (DOD), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Psychiatric Association.
How EMDR Works
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing works by leading the client through eight phases. These phases have standards and protocols, outlined in The Permanente Journal’s Table 1, that gives structure to every EMDR session. Below are summaries of each phase:
- History Taking: Obtain background information about the client, determine if they are eligible for EMDR treatment, and identify targets to work through when treatment begins. This is done by asking questions about the client’s history and identifying past events, current triggers, and future needs.
- Preparation: Talk with the client to prepare them for how EMDR works and how it will help them. Prepare the client for lots of emotion when bringing up and processing past experiences, as well as establishing the ground rules and safety communication so the client knows they have control over their therapy session.
- Assessment: Assess the client by talking about primary aspects of the target memories to reprocess. Talk about what they saw, the negative feelings they hold, their current emotion, and the physical sensations they feel when they talk about it.
- Desensitization: Process these memories so the negative feeling lessens. The goal is that the client experiences reduced distress each time the trauma is brought up until it causes them no distress to think about. During this time the therapist assesses physical behavior in the client such as tapping, sounds, tones, and eye movement that allow the emergence of insights, feelings, physical sensations, and further memories.
- Installation: This is the installation of healing, healthy realization, and connection to positive cognitive networks. The goal is to integrate positive memories and the idea that there are positive things to learn and keep as memories.
- Body Scan: Concentrate and complete the processing of particular disturbing memories. This is a way to assess and process any lingering physical sensations and memories.
- Closure: Ensure client stability after the session and achieve closure by talking through how they think it went, reminding them that they are in control, and briefing them on how the therapist thinks it went.
- Reassessment: Look at each session in the larger scope of what they are trying to accomplish. In doing so, involve the client in their progress and assess different behaviors and breakthroughs that have led them through so far. Assess what further goals there are and determine a plan for the next steps.
EMDR in Teens and Adolescents
Teens and adolescents can benefit from EMDR therapy as much as adults can. There isn’t necessarily an age limit for EMDR, however, teens and adolescents will generally find more benefits from EMDR than, say, toddlers will. Teens may have more of a grasp over what triggers them, and can more effectively communicate how certain memories make them feel. Teens will also recognize their progress and be able to take lessons from this experience to help them in future endeavors.
As teens talk about their trauma with a therapist they’ll notice the lessened distress associated with their memories with each therapy session. The therapist can also establish positive learning experiences, help teach the teen how to deal with future triggers, and show them that they have control over their mind and reactions. EMDR has proven very helpful in teens with past trauma giving them the ability to function unbridled by trauma reactions as they transition into the adult world.
EMDR is not only for PTSD and trauma. EMDR has also proven effective for depression in teens, and extreme anxiety issues. For teens that struggle with many co-occurring mental health disorders, EMDR may be the answer. Help your teen today and talk to their doctor or therapist about EMDR and how it can help your child.
Trauma isn’t something anyone chooses to experience, especially children. Children and teens who experience trauma need treatments like EMDR therapy just as much as adults do to process trauma, and learn healthy habits that will help them as they continue to adulthood. If your child has trauma to work through and you’re not sure how to help them, call Havenwood Academy. At Havenwood Academy, we are here to help your teen daughter work through her trauma and other mental health conditions. Our trauma-informed facility is for teens who display above-average trauma reactions. There is no shame in parents admitting they need help to get their child through this difficult time. Here at Havenwood Academy, we offer EMDR as a method for treating trauma, as well as other treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy, and more. Talk to our professional and helpful staff about EMDR and all services offered by calling (435) 586-2500.
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