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Teenage Trauma: How EMDR Helps Young People Overcome Painful Experiences

Adults are not the only ones who experience traumatic events. Lamentably, many teens do as well. Can treatments used for adults also help young people to overcome teenage trauma?

Consider one of them: EMDR.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive therapy with a technique that mimics REM (rapid-eye-movement), which naturally occurs during dreaming.

EMDR is often used to treat post-traumatic reactions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, anger, and guilt. However,  it can also help to strengthen personal qualities like self-esteem and confidence.

The treatment consists of eight phases:

Phase 1:

The therapist talks with the teen about the trauma, behaviors resulting from the trauma, and his or her symptoms. With this information, the therapist develops a treatment plan.

Phase 2:

The therapist explains EMDR and teaches the child relaxation methods.

Phase 3:

Afterwards, the therapist helps identify and assess the youth’s disturbing emotions and negative self-beliefs associated with the trauma. Examples of common emotions and beliefs include, “I am helpless” and “I am in danger”. The teen then chooses statements she would rather believe, such as “I am in control” or “I am safe”.

Then, the therapist guides the young person in identifying the physical sensations (tight shoulder muscles, nausea, e.g.) associated with the negative emotions and asks the teen to rate the disturbance on a scale of 0 (no disturbance) to 10 (worst ever).

Phases 4 and 5:

The goal of both these phases is to desensitize a person to the disturbing emotions and negative self-beliefs and replace them (a process known as “installation”) with the positive statements selected during Phase 3.

Phase 6:

The therapist guides the young person through early childhood or teenage trauma in recalling the disturbing memory and then mentally “scanning” his or her body for resulting physical sensations.

Commonly, the therapist will suggest repeating phases 3-6 once, or several times, as the teen’s reactions to the memory evolve.

Phase 7:

This phase occurs at the end of a session. The therapist ensures that he or she is feeling better than at the beginning of the session.

If additional sessions will be required, then the therapist will guide a teen through calming exercises, describe what to expect between sessions, and recommend journaling and other soothing techniques to deal with upsetting memories.

Phase 8:

Phase 8 opens each new session (when multiple sessions are necessary). The therapist confirms that positive results from the previous session have been maintained, and determines new areas to target.

Have you experienced a traumatic life event, loss, or relationship? Take this PTSD Test and find out if you have PTSD symptoms.

Teenage Trauma: What Is a Typical EMDR Session Like for a Young Person?

The teen concentrates on the worst part of the memory while watching the therapist’s fingers rapidly move back and forth. This process is repeated, shifting focus to different parts of the memory, until the participant no longer feels any distress when recalling the trauma.

Moving hands can substitute taps on the hand, clicks, or beeps. It all depends on the preference of the teen or therapist.

In EMDR therapy, the teen is always in control. They can signal the therapist if they are too upset to continue. Of course, they’re always free to decide how much detail about the trauma they want to share with the therapist.

Many therapists will complement EMDR treatment for young people with play therapy, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, or yoga therapy.

Discover ways EMDR can help overcome teenage traumaHow Does EMDR Work?

Moving the eyes back and forth or using other stimuli to activate the information-processing part of the brain facilitates the transformation of the memory into a learning experience. The traumatic memory loses its power, freeing the patient to healthfully adapt.

Various studies have shown that EMDR decreases physiological stimulation, disrupts “working memory”, and increases the volume of the hippocampus, a section of the brain instrumental in regulating memory and emotion.

Is It Really Necessary to Rehash Painful Memories?

Avoiding difficult memories only intensifies their control. Facing the memory in a safe environment with a trained therapist using evidence-based therapeutic methods such as EMDR will defuse it.

Teenage trauma: How Effective Is EMDR for Youth?

Extensive research has proven EMDR effective for treating trauma in adults and youth. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the California Evidence Based-Clearinghouse for Child Welfare recommend two types of psychotherapy for treating PTSD—cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. At Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, TX we have several experienced clinicians that specialize in EMDR therapy and other trauma treatments. Call us at 832-559-2622 for more information or book an appointment online

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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