What is EMDR and how can it be helpful in schools?



Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic intervention that can support children to regulate their emotions more effectively by helping them to overcome the impact of trauma. Being better able to regulate their emotions often leads to significant improvements in conduct behaviour, learning and relationships with other people.


So, with such potential, Dr Jonny Craig will talk you through what EMDR is and how it might be a cost-effective option for supporting mental health in children and adults in school.



What is EMDR?


EMDR is a powerful psychological therapy. It does not require much talking, instead using the person's own rapid, rhythmic eye movements to help them recover from traumatic experiences and psychological difficulties.



How does it work?


A number of theories exist that explain how EMDR may work, although no single theory is agreed upon by everybody. One popular theory suggests that the guided eye-movements administered by the EMDR therapist enable the recipient to obtain similar experiences to those that occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep (Stickgold, 2002). This is thought to have an important information-processing function in the brain.


Mimicking the REM process while awake enables specific traumatic memories to be targeted, processed and stored in the brain in a more functional way, rather than being ‘frozen’ on a neurological level, which is how adverse memories are often stored. EMDR appears to enable the person to ‘unlock’ this frozen information and allow it to be processed and stored properly.


This means that when the individual recalls the distressing event(s), they can remember what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted, thought or felt without the level of distress experienced previously. The intensity of the memories are reduced and they feel like ‘ordinary’ memories.



Who is EMDR for?


EMDR therapy is most widely used with people suffering from the effects of trauma and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) but can also be very effective for anybody who is experiencing psychological distress when trauma or other negative life experiences are likely to underlie some of the difficulties. This is because it is becoming increasingly evident that negative life experiences often contribute significantly to many psychological difficulties, such as anxiety-related problems (including OCD), depression, eating disorders, phobias and even conduct behaviours in children (Soberman et al., 2002).


It can also work well for children as they are often not able to verbalise their thoughts and feelings.



What can I expect?


For adults, the first session will involve a discussion about your needs, history and desired outcomes, as well as further explanation about the process of EMDR and the potential benefits, in order to make sure that EMDR is right for you. All subsequent sessions will involve working through an established EMDR therapy procedure.


For children and young people, the first session will involve introducing EMDR and the therapist to the child, parents and relevant school staff, addressing any questions and explaining the process and nature of EMDR therapy. Subsequent sessions will involve working through a children’s version of an established EMDR therapy procedure.


Sessions can be conducted face-to-face (depending upon location) or remotely via video conference. The therapist will guide the participant through various memories while asking them to follow an object with their eyes. Parents are welcome to attend sessions alongside their child, where appropriate.


Each session lasts approximately 50 minutes. Sessions with younger children may be shorter and/or involve breaks.


The number of sessions required can vary, but a full course of EMDR therapy usually lasts 4-6 sessions. A final concluding session and written report can also be provided upon request. This can be particularly useful for school-age children, where additional school and home-based strategies can be discussed.



Does it work?


Yes it does! Lots of research has demonstrated the benefits of EMDR in treating psychological trauma arising from a diverse range of experiences. More recently, EMDR has also been adapted to help individuals with other psychological difficulties such as phobias, anxiety, pain management and depression. EMDR has also been found to be of benefit to children (e.g. Rodenburg et al, 2009) and people with language difficulties.


This has led to the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2004), World Health Organisation (WHO, 2013) and the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2005) to officially recognise the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for trauma-related difficulties. The World Health Organization has also recommended EMDR as one of the treatments of choice for PTSD for children.



What are the other advantages of EMDR?


EMDR does not rely upon language skills as heavily as most forms of therapy, and so is suitable for people who have language difficulties, younger children who have not yet developed the necessary language skills to engage in therapeutic work, and those who do not like to, or are not able to, speak about their feelings or previous traumatic experiences.


EMDR is also a short form of therapy. Depending upon the individual client, EMDR usually lasts between 4-6 sessions.



Why are schools beginning to use EMDR to support children and adults?


EMDR is an approach that is likely to be used more and more within schools, which is something that we are already starting to see here at Applied Psychologies.


With schools only recently opening their doors fully again following the extended periods of lockdown that we have all endured over the past year, many staff, parents and children are finding it difficult to 'adjust’. Often they have experienced traumatic events themselves, or, like almost all of us, been privy to the traumas of others and society as a whole.


EMDR is one approach that can hopefully help to redress this balance and support children and adults to get back to feeling good, acting positively and learning effectively.




For further details or to book an EMDR session please contact Dr Jonny Craig at Applied Psychologies on jonny.craig@appliedpsychologies.com


Dr Jonny Craig is an Educational Psychologist, EMDR Practitioner and Director at Applied Psychologies



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