Effectiveness of EMDR Treatment for the Pediatric Patient Dealing with Trauma

Young boy

Contributor: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

According to The American Psychological Association, “trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships.”  [1]

Hyperarousal

When an individual experiences trauma, often their body will go into “fight or flight mode.” This state of hyperarousal was evolutionarily advantageous-as it helped us to better escape or comfort danger, when faced with a threatening situation. However, some individuals who experience trauma may find that this state of hyperarousal continues long after the traumatic event has occurred. [2]

Additionally, another common reaction that individuals may experience during trauma is an out-of-body experience, called disassociation. Dissociation often involves a sense of detachment, in that an individual may feel as though they are removed from their body or watching themselves from a television screen. When a child is not able to fight or physically leave, they may utilize dissociative mechanisms in an effort to mentally escape.[3]

EMDR Therapy

There are a variety of different treatment approaches for individuals who have experienced trauma. One treatment that is gaining popularity, known as Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is a therapeutic approach that has been the subject of a lot of research. It has been demonstrated to be effective in treating individuals who have experienced trauma. [4]

girl-797837_640x427According to the EMDR Institute, “During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus.

Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used.” EMDR aids in enhancing information processing and helping to create new associations between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories. [5]

EMDR appears to be an effective therapeutic treatment for trauma, however there is some debate within the clinical community regarding its efficacy in compassion with other treatment modalities. EMDR treatment has been proven to be more effective than receiving no treatment.

EMDR Produces Improvement

According to The Scientific American, there have been a variety of controlled studies, which found that EMDR produces more improvement than no treatment for individuals who have symptoms of PTSD. However, further research must be conducted in regards to EMDR’s effectiveness for other kinds of anxiety disorders. [6]

girls-462072_640x426It is important to note that EMDR has been shown to be as effective as standard cognitive behavioral strategies. According to The Scientific American, “When scientists have compared EMDR with imaginal exposure, they have found few or no differences.

Nor have they found that EMDR works any more rapidly than imaginal exposure. Most researchers have taken these findings to mean that EMDR’s results derive from the exposure, because this treatment requires clients to visualize traumatic imagery repeatedly.” [7]

Effectiveness of EMDR for Trauma

The clinical community also seems divided in regards to the effectiveness of EMDR for children who are dealing with trauma. For instance, Ricky Greenwald, PsyD, executive director of the Child Trauma Institute, has indicated that he is a strong advocate for the use of EMDR with children.

boy-183306_640x429Greenwald indicated that most EMDR research has been conducted on adults, however in his experience, EMDR works very well with children. [8]

However, there are some important things to consider when determining whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment for a child.

Natalie Robinson, LICSW, a consultant and trainer who has been using EMDR in her practice for 15 years, explained that in her opinion EMDR isn’t always a great option for children, due to the fact that many children are often still in danger when they come to therapy. [9]

One therapist exemplified his belief in the effectiveness of this modality when he stated, “I have personally witnessed children and teens improve in their overall functioning after being treated with EMDR, sometimes after only a few sessions. These children experienced PTSD symptoms as a result of bullying, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and invasive medical procedures.” [10]

While the evidence-base for EMDR’s effectiveness in the pediatric population is still growing, there is some research to suggest that this treatment may be beneficial for helping children who have experienced trauma and may propel them further on their journey towards healing. [11]

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!!

What has been your experience with EMDR therapy for eating disorders in children?


Jennifer Rollin photoAbout the author: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and writer who specializes in working with adolescents, body image concerns, survivors of trauma, and mood disorders. Jennifer is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. For body-positive, self-love, inspiration, “like” her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW.


References

[1]: http://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/
[2]: http://www.childtraumaacademy.com/surviving_childhood/lesson02/printing.html
[3]: http://www.childtraumaacademy.com/surviving_childhood/lesson02/printing.html
[4]: http://www.emdria.org/?page=2
[5]: What is EMDR? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
[6]: Lilienfeld, S. & Arkowitz, H. (2012). EMDR: Taking a closer look. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/emdr-taking-a-closer-look/
[7]: Lilienfeld, S. & Arkowitz, H. (2012). EMDR: Taking a closer look. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/emdr-taking-a-closer-look/
[8]: Huso, D. (2010). Treating child abuse trauma with EMDR. Retrieved from: http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/032210p20.shtml
[9]: Huso, D. (2010). Treating child abuse trauma with EMDR. Retrieved from: http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/032210p20.shtml
[10]: Herskovitz, J. (2015). EMDR for children: How safe and effective is it? Retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/emdr-for-children-how-safe-and-effective-is-it-0430155
[11]: Herskovitz, J. (2015). EMDR for children: How safe and effective is it? Retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/emdr-for-children-how-safe-and-effective-is-it-0430155


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

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Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 31, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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