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What is EMDR – For Kids

Before we talk about what EMDR is let me tell you about what EMDR does. When we have bad things that happen to us, we have many mixed-up feelings and many mixed-up thoughts. We do not feel good in our minds or our bodies. It is like carrying bags of ugly heavy rocks. When we are so busy carrying all these bags of rocks, we do not have space in our minds and bodies for the good feelings and thoughts. EMDR can help kids by making those bags smaller or even get rid of them so kids will have space for the good feelings and the good thoughts. Adults have a rather complicated name for EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing but kids can call it Eyes Moving to Delete and Recover!

When kids receive EMDR, one of the things they do is move their eyes from one side to another while they think about the bad things that happened to them. Most kids don’t know this, but they actually do this every night….yes kids move their eyes every night while they are asleep and are having dreams. Adults call this Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycle. Some call this the “eyes darting in the night.” EMDR helpers can also do other things instead of eye movement. They can tap your hands or knees back and forth or they can use sounds that move from one ear to the other.

When bad things happen, the brain has a hard time putting all the pieces together and as a result, things that people say or do or things that kids see, hear, smell or touch can bring up the bad memories, the mixed-up thoughts, feelings and body feelings connected to those bad things. EMDR helps the brain put all the pieces together so the bad stuff can leave us and the good stuff or the things we learned from it can stay so we get stronger. Then, the brain can chew up and digest all the mixed-up feelings and thoughts as well as the bad feelings we may have in the body.

Why continue to carry bags of ugly rocks in our minds and bodies when we can be free from them and find our happy and exciting feelings again?

What is EMDR – For Teens

  • Do you feel annoyed, angry or bored often?
  • Do you isolate from others?
  • Do you feel that you are not as good as others are?
  • Do you have nightmares or have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Do you have negative events that happened to you? Do you tend to keep things inside and not tell anyone?
  • Do you use drugs or alcohol or do you do things to harm your body to numb or escape the uncomfortable feelings? Or do you do this to fit in because you don’t feel connected to others, or you don’t feel as good as others?
  • Do you struggle with keeping friends and/or having relationships with peers?

Well, believe it or not a lot of kids, teens and adults feel this way, and there is help for all of us!! There is a way to find hope and find our positive feelings again.

When we have bad or negative events in our lives like abuse, bullying, divorce, accidents, losses and death of a loved one, violence in the home among others, the brain creates an “app” that contain all the feelings, thoughts, and body sensations connected to this event. When we have events that are not ‘too bad’, the brain has the capacity to work on these “apps before storing them and locking them up as memories. What is stored has been sorted out and organized so the negative stuff has been let go, allowing us to keep the good stuff and learn from this experience. However, when the event is really bad or has happened several times, these “apps” get overloaded and the brain can’t do the work of sorting things out and putting all the pieces of the event together. As a result, these “apps” are all messy, in pieces that are not put together and organized by the brain. Different life events we call triggers can open up these “apps” or “click” on them. A “click” may be a classmate making fun of us, being ignored, not getting what we are asking for, parents asking us to clean up our room and so on. When these “clicks” open up the “apps”, we start to have the negative feelings, thoughts, and body reactions we had when the bad stuff happened. EMDR helps the brain organize these apps and put all the pieces together. When the apps are finally organized, the “clicks” of everyday life won’t have the power to make us feel angry, sad or shameful or to think that we are not worthy or that we are not enough or to make us yell, become aggressive or do things we regret later. EMDR is not a “magic” cure. It takes some work, but it is sooo worth it because recovering our ability to feel good is worth all of our efforts.

One of the many things that happen when we do EMDR is that we move our eyes from one side to the other while thinking about the negative or tough event. This is not new for you body; in fact you move your eyes every night from side to side when you are dreaming. This is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle. EMDR therapists know how to use EMDR and will guide you and further explain all the stuff that happens when we do EMDR and what we know about it. Do not try to do this on your own, as it is NOT recommended.

What is EMDR – For Adults

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy approach developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro to help people heal from trauma or adversities such as issues of abuse, bullying, domestic violence, grief/loss, attachment wounds, abandonment, PTSD, and many other complicated life issues. EMDR therapy is now validated as an evidence-based approach. In addition, EMDR therapy has been validated by over 20 randomized controlled clinical studies.


EMDR therapy integrates elements of many traditional therapies and is based on the adaptive information processing model (AIP). The AIP model states that there is an inherent information processing system in the brain that gets blocked when traumatic events occur, causing these events to get locked in the brain with the original picture, sounds, thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Whenever a reminder of the traumatic event comes up, those pictures, thoughts, feelings, and sensations can continue to be triggered. According to Dr. Shapiro, many emotional problems and disorders are a result of these unprocessed trauma memories that are stored in the brain. EMDR therapy works on helping the brain reprocess these traumatic memories, and as a result alleviating the emotional and psychological disorders.