EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing was first developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro when she went on a walk to think through some disturbing events in her life. She noticed that she no longer felt distressed and then remembered her eyes had naturally been moving back and forth during the walk. Over the years, Dr. Shapiro developed the formal method of EMDR including elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic theory, and body-centered therapy, as well as the alternate stimulation of the right and left hemispheres through of the use of eye movement, tapping or auditory tones. Today EMDR is used worldwide to treat the effects of trauma in both adults as well as children.
Though we tend to think of trauma as a life threatening event, “trauma” can be any event that disrupts one’s sense of safety or well being and leaves destructive beliefs about oneself and the world. For children, who simply due to their age and stature are more dependent and less skilled, a traumatic event could include a playground accident, choking on a piece of food, a medical procedure or hospital stay, the loss of a pet or grandparent, or a fight with a friend. More important than the event itself is the degree to which the child perceived himself as powerful, able to take some type of action on their behalf. If his natural “survival” instinct is thwarted, the child freezes. Neurochemicals (like adrenaline) sensory data (like sounds, sights, smells) and corresponding emotions (like fear or panic) get stuck in the body. As a result, the child stays in emergency mode, ready to respond to danger. Small, seemingly random occurrences remind the child of the traumatic event and set off an alarm in the child’s brain and body. Without thinking the child reacts with highly charged and intense behaviors.
Fortunately, humans and especially children, are naturally resilient. They inherently posses a strong sense of power and healthy ego-centrism that gives them the energy they need to meet on-going developmental milestones throughout childhood. As long as they also believe they are safe, competent and worthy.
And here is where EMDR can help. As the child is playing and thinking about the traumatic event the EMDR therapist incorporates bi-lateral stimulation through tapping games, drumming, stomping, rocking, swaying or eye movement. The skillful blending of play, story telling and bi-lateral input enables the child to effectively process and discharge the associated sensory data, emotion and neurochemicals. And the EMDR process also restores the child’s self-affirming beliefs in their competence, power, safety and well being.
The fee for a 50 minute session is $175.