EMDR For Children & Youth (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)

By Sandra Wilson, PhD and Robert Tinker, PhD, © Copyright 2008.

EMDR Has Helped Kids With

  • Fears, anxieties, compulsive behavior, depression, sleep, and eating disorders
  • The effects of big traumas such as ongoing abuse of any kind, war, many surgeries, or a death in the family.
  • The effects of little traumas, such as single scary accidents, failures, social problems, animal nips, and nightmares
  • Instances where the child feels stuck and wants to change her or his feelings or behavior but can’t do it alone
  • Phantom limb pain (when pain is felt to be coming from an amputated body part)
  • Emotional effects of all degrees of abuse -- emotional, physical, sexual, and social (abandonment and betrayal)
  • Fixes “broken feelings”
  • Children who act up or are depressed because they don’t know who loves them and don’t know how to love because they have not bonded to their parents, show huge improvement and participation in life after EMDR sessions
  • Children of all ages, who have been traumatized by war, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, etc., can recover the urge to live after EMDR sessions

EMDR Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: EMDR helps children recover their damaged souls.

Body: It helps children recovering from challenges such as bedwetting, facial tics, and phantom limb pain.

Mind: EMDR is especially useful for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, withdrawal, and poor school performances caused by traumas.

Emotions: EMDR is great for children with low self-esteem caused by physical and/or sexual abuse.

Social: EMDR helps children who are violent, anti-social, or difficult to get along with in general due to trauma and abuse.

Brief Description Of EMDR

  • EMDR is used to help children recover from strong emotional reactions to difficult things (traumas) that have happened in their lives.
  • Only licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, social workers, and psychotherapists, can be trained in EMDR.
  • EMDR uses eye, or hand movement, or tapping with talking, to achieve emotional release and to gain new ways of reacting to what has occurred.

Success With EMDR

  • Juan, a three year old, was able to relax and sleep through the night after fears brought on by many surgeries on his mouth and face to correct a severe birth defect.
  • Amy, a child who had been raped repeatedly and was in shock, recovered after EMDR sessions.

EMDR Is Appropriate For Ages

  • Two and up

Children & Youth’s Reactions To EMDR

  • They like it when they can be free of troublesome feelings.
  • They can experience intense emotion during sessions, and highly-trained therapists can help them as these feelings change.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Very complex traumas can be present when many different and difficult things have happened to the child.
  • Extra care is needed when the child has many overlapping problems.

Contraindications: When EMDR Should Be Avoided

  • A consulting physician must check out existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, vision problems, etc.
  • Use with caution during pregnancy.
  • When the causes of the traumatic reactions have not yet stopped.


  • In 1987, Dr. Francine Shapiro, in dealing with her own cancer, discovered that her negative thoughts disappeared when she moved her eyes back and forth in a certain way.
  • She researched her discovery with rape victims and with shock victims of the Vietnam War, and learned that it worked with them as well.
  • Methods were developed to train therapists to use EMDR as part of the efforts to help children and adults heal from the effects of the Oklahoma bombing by Sandra Wilson, PhD.
  • As part of the Humanitarian Assistance Programs (HAP) of the Spencer Curtis Foundation, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing-HAP has now been used throughout the world, wherever there are natural or manmade disasters--such as Rwanda, Kosovo, Albania, Scotland, Turkey, and Japan.

Basic Concepts And Components Of EMDR

  • Whenever humans get emotionally overwhelmed, it is like a logjam in the river of life. EMDR helps to release the logjam.
  • In the child’s brain and nervous system, EMDR produces something similar to intensified brain waves usually associated with sleep and dreaming - yet the child is fully awake.
  • When used by trained mental health workers, EMDR speeds up the healing of “broken feelings.”

Description Of A Typical Session

  • At the first session the therapist takes a history of the child’s traumas from the parents (and from the child if 12 or older). The practitioner explains to the parent what EMDR is and how it works. Together, the practitioner, the parent - and the child when appropriate, set goals for the work.
  • In the next and following sessions if needed, EMDR is practiced. The work is done with the child fully clothed. Parents are generally not in the room with the child, unless the child is very young or is too fearful.
  • The practitioner has the child establish a safe place in his/her mind and “sets” the place with eye movements or other methods.
  • The practitioner has the child picture in his/her mind whatever the problem is and asks them questions about the thoughts and feelings it brings up, and again has them do eye movements or other techniques.
  • Both the safe exercise and the exercise about the problem may be repeated several times, until the safe place has replaced the problem space in the child’s mind.
  • Goals and targets are reset during and after each session.

Major Differences Of Opinion Between Practitioners

  • Highly directive structured framework is needed to allow EMDR to work. There are two basic rules; if moving, stay out of the way; if stuck, certain techniques are used to help get it unstuck. Differences may occur over when to think of a child as being stuck.
  • Some practitioners add their own methods to their use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing; others may omit some EMDR steps.

Fees/Costs In 2007

  • Costs vary according to geographic location and the practitioner’s training.
  • EMDR is used by qualified mental health professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychotherapists, so expect to pay their usual fees - which may be covered by many insurance plans.

Average Time Per Session

  • Time per session depends upon the age of the child.
  • There might be ten minutes of actual EMDR work for a five year old; up to an hour for older children.
  • Most sessions are 50 to 60 minutes long and often include other things such as talk, play, drawing, etc.

Recommended Length Of Time Between Sessions

  • Generally one week

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Two or three sessions

Suggestions To Make EMDR More Effective

  • Parents need to pay attention to any changes that occur after sessions and reward improved behavior.
  • Parents need to tell the EMDR therapist about these changes.
  • Parents can be taught some of the exercises to perform at home.

Other Practices That Are Similar To EMDR

  • There are none like it.

Other Methods That Complement EMDR

  • Practically all therapeutic methods; especially expressive art therapies, such as art, dance, music and theater

Nature And Length Of Training To Be A Practitioner

  • Only licensed, certified mental health professionals, such as psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists, doctors, and psychiatrists, can take the training. Make sure your practitioner is one of these.
  • The training is highly structured and lasts for two weekends.
  • Level one trains practitioners for use of EMDR with simple traumas. Level two focuses on working with more complex challenges.
  • There is also specialty training for particular traumas and age groups.

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • Part One EMDR training

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners

  • The EMDR Institute (see below) grants EMDR certificates.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing International Association; 5806 Mesa Drive, Suite 360; Austin, TX 78731; Ph: 866-451-5200; Fax: 512-451-5256; Website: www.emdria.org; Email:info@emdria.org
  • EMDR Institute; P.O. Box 750; Watsonville, CA 95077; Ph: 831-761-1040; Fax 831-761-1204; Web: www.emdr.com; Email:inst@emdr.com

Number Of Certified EMDR Practitioners In U.S., Canada, And Mexico

  • There were 5,000 in the USA as of 2001.

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Practitioner

  • Look for someone who is kind and compassionate.
  • Check for EMDR Institute Level Two certification.
  • Check for two years of experience.

Leading Clinics, Centers, Practitioners

  • EMDRIA Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing International Association Institute (See above.)
  • Spencer Curtis Foundation; Colorado Springs CO; 719-630-8212
  • Carol York MSW; Austin TX; 512-451-0381
  • Joan Lovett MD; Berkeley CA; 510-524-0488
  • Ricky Greenwald PsyD; c/o Child Trauma Institute; P.O. Box 544; Greenfield, MA 01302-0544; 413-774-2340; Fax 413-772-2090; Website: http://www.childtrauma.com; Email:cti@childtrauma.com
  • Frankie Klaff; Wilmington, DE; 410-392-6086; Email:fklaff@crosslink.net
  • Margaret Moore MSW, Albuquerque, NM 505-247-8915

Resources, Research Papers, Books, DVDs, Websites

  • Refer to the EMDR Institute – See above.
  • Carlson, JG, Chemtob, CM, Rusnak, K, Hedlund, NL, and Muraoka, MY. “EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Treatment for Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 11, no. 1 (1998): 3-24.
  • Chemtob, CM, Nakashima, JP, and Carlson, JG. “Brief treatment for elementary school children with disaster-related PTSD: A field study.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 58, no. 1 (2002): 99-112.
  • De Jongh, A, Ten Broeke, E. and Renssen, MR. “Treatment of specific phobias with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): Protocol, empirical status, and conceptual issues.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders 13, no. 1-2 (1999): 69-85.
  • Greenwald, R. “Applying EMDR in the treatment of traumatized children: Five case studies.” Anxiety Disorders Practice Journal 1, (1994): 83-97.
  • Puffer, MK, Greenwald, R, and Elrod, DE. “A single session EMDR study with twenty traumatized children and adolescents.” Traumatology 3, no. 2 (1998).
  • Wilson, SA, Logan, C, Becker, LA, and Tinker, RH. (1999, June). “EMDR as a stress management tool for police officers.” Paper presented to the annual conference of the EMDR International Association, Las Vegas, Nevada.


  • Refer to the EMDR Institute: www.emdr.com.
  • Tinker, Robert and Sandra Wilson. Through the Eyes of a Child. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
  • Shapiro, Francine and Margot Silk Forrest. EMDR: The Breakthrough “Eye Movement” Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
  • Parnell, Laura. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Transforming Trauma. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.
  • Lovett, Joan. Small Wonders: Healing Childhood Trauma with EMDR. New York: The Free Press, 1999.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Children can be taught by the EMDR therapist to do some of the processes at home, to soothe themselves.
  • Parents can remind their children by learning self-soothing techniques from the EMDR therapist.

Biography of Sandra Wilson, PhD, Co-Author

  • Sandra has 10 years experience.
  • She has worked with hundreds of infants, children and teens.

Sandra Wilson’s Personal Statement

EMDR brings a gift of health and normal development to children individually and in groups, worldwide.

To Contact Sandra Wilson, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Sandra A. Wilson; c/o Spencer Curtis Foundation; 18 East Monument St.; Colorado Springs, CO 80903; Ph: 719-630 8212; Fax: 719-630-2213; Email: drswilson@msn.com

Biography of Robert Tinker, PhD, Co-Author

  • Robert has16 years experience with EMDR: 35 years as a psychologist.
  • Has worked with thousands of infants, children and teens.

To Contact Robert Tinker, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Robert H. Tinker; c/o Spencer Curtis Foundation; 18 East Monument St.; Colorado Springs, CO 80903; Ph: 719-630 8212; Fax 719-630-2213

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About EMDR: I have many patients, young and old, who have benefited from EMDR. I recommend it to parents whose own childhood traumas prevent them from supporting their children effectively. I strongly recommend that children & youth receive EMDR from licensed mental health or medical practitioners.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About EMDR: EMDR is surprising and strangely effective. Most children appear to enjoy it. They can recover their quality of life quickly and the changes seem to be long lasting. I have used it and am still amazed. Choosing a practitioner who resonates with the child appears to be very important. (Look for a practitioner who has experience and training in other healing modalities.)

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