Carol Boulware, MFT, Ph.D.
Los Angeles - Santa Monica & Redondo Beach, California
EMDR and Your Child
How can EMDR help my child?
It has been my observation that similar symptoms diminish faster with young children as compared to adults. Children appear more able to undergo rapid change. Perhaps patterns are not set in the same kind of stone that we see with adults. Perhaps due to the child's age, there has been less time since the onset of the problem. It seems that a trauma, or anxiety or a phobia has had less time to take hold throughout a young person's mind and body. Whatever our hypothesis, it is significant that EMDR seems to help children move in positive directions. I have found that EMDR is a useful approach with younger, less verbal children. It can be administered therapeutically and can also seem like a game; one played between therapist and child. When children are having fun, they are probably more open to being in a therapist's office.
Nine year-old Timmy tentatively walked into my office after a gentle nudge from his parents. He was referred to me by the local school social worker. According to his parents, he was experiencing social difficulties and this was affecting his ability to interact with his peers as well as to complete his classroom assignments. Throughout the first family session, Timmy was quiet and sat picking at his fingers. Scabs were visible on his arms where he had been scratching at himself. I found Timmy to be quiet in the session, often responding with one or two-word answers. This is when I began to consider the idea of using EMDR.
Using a mixture of family and individual sessions, I was interested in learning more about those moments of particular anxiety for Timmy. Their first memory included the time that Timmy had nearly drowned in the family's pool at the age of three. As it turned out, Timmy's parents had recently enrolled him in a YMCA swimming class and on the first day he had refused to enter the pool.
With his family present, I began administering EMDR by doing
hand taps on Timmy's palms while his family retold the story
of his refusing to enter the pool. Hand taps seem to be a viable
alternative to the traditional eye movement technique. Many times,
asking a child to coordinate the necessary eye movements is too
difficult and confusing. I asked Timmy to talk out loud and to
quietly think about that day while I continued the EMDR. At a
certain point in our work together, I integrated coloring and
drawing with EMDR. I moved to shoulder taps when it was necessary.
Timmy began by drawing a pool and a boy and shark-like fish all
around him. As we continued, Timmy's pictures continued to change.
The stick figure was holding onto a piece of wood, then a smiling
fish and eventually floating on his back, seemingly quite relaxed.
We had contracted to work for ten sessions. Timmy, his family, and the School Social Worker all reported that he seemed much improved in terms of his interaction skills and his schoolwork assignments. Timmy ended up completing his school term without incident. His parents contacted me over that following summer to tell me that their son was away at camp and doing well. It seemed to all of us that Timmy had decided to go about the business of being a nine-year-old child.
EMDR can be useful with anxieties as well as with other common childhood problems. I have used EMDR with children who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Clearing away fear, what I call the "emotional noise," has helped children and families to tackle the complexities of ADD. Sometimes medication may be needed, and coupled with EMDR, I have seen children who are by the end of treatment better able to focus, who are less impulsive and more organized. In some cases, they may be able to leave the medication behind.
It is often difficult to separate a child from his problem. And to make matters more confusing, it is also difficult to separate, say that child's learning difficulties, from his anxieties and fears. Talk Therapy can and does work towards this end. The same can be said for Play Therapy. But coupled with EMDR, I have seen and been a part of dramatic and lasting results.
Jon Kramer, CSW, LCSW is in private practice in Santa Monica. He works with families, couples and individuals.
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Copyright ©1998-2001- Carol Boulware, Ph.D.
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