If you have a teenager or are a teenager, you know that it can be difficult for teens to navigate the emotional and physical challenges of growing up. Struggling with an emotional problem is not uncommon, but no one has to deal with it alone. Unfortunately, children and teenagers are exposed to trauma in the form of natural disasters, accidents, abuse, and tragedies and these traumatic experiences can greatly affect their development. At Shortridge Academy, we offer relief with various therapeutic methods, including EMDR, which can help resolve distressing feelings related to trauma.
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that relieves stress associated with traumatic experiences. In this method, patients are guided to move their eyes in a specific way while talking about traumatic memories and targeting feelings or thoughts associated with the event. EMDR therapy is most popular for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it has been useful in treating depression and anxiety disorders too.
Who Can EMDR Help?
EMDR therapy is helpful for anyone who has a mental health condition such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, or substance use disorder. It can also help people struggling with stress, phobias, or grief. EMDR therapy isn’t typically recommended for those with co-occurring disorders or physical illness. EMDR is a major part of The Ridge program here at Shortridge.
This form of psychotherapy is especially effective for treating children ages 4 to 18 with PTSD, which is why, at Shortridge Academy, we have specialists who can administer this treatment. Our therapists use EMDR to address mental health issues such as:
- Eating disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Sexual assault
- Physical or emotional abuse
- Grief and loss
If your child or a young person you know has experienced a distressing event such as a car accident, school shooting, natural disaster, abuse, or death of a loved one, they may be a good candidate for EMDR therapy.
Brainspotting vs. EMDR
Both brain spotting and EMDR are forms of therapy that help individuals who’ve experienced trauma. Although each therapy uses similar techniques, there are a few key differences.
Brainspotting is a talk therapy that focuses on the brain-body connection. The goal of this therapy is to identify, process, and release trauma or emotional stress. Brainspotting is based on a theory that eye positions correlate with experiences and can help access unconscious emotions. In this form of talk therapy, the brain spot is the position of your eye that connects to the part of your brain that stores the traumatic experience.
During a session, a therapist encourages the patient to look in certain directions in order to access the brain spot. Meanwhile, the patient will talk about their trauma and grief. This technique creates a more intense focus and prevents the eyes and brain from scanning the environment for threats or danger. It can be relaxing and allows the patient to release trauma their body stores.
The development of the brain spotting therapy utilized some of the basic principles of EMDR. So both therapies focus on eye movement to reprocess trauma. They also both include bilateral stimulation and brain-body processing.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy has been used since the 1980s, so it’s been practiced for healing trauma longer than brain spotting. The main difference between the two therapies is that EMDR requires eyes to move left and right while talking about trauma and brain spotting requires the eyes to be in a fixed position. Rather than identifying trauma and where it is stored in the brain, EMDR therapy engages both sides of the brain at once. This technique helps reprocess trauma and store it in a more stable area of the brain so that patients are able to manage their emotions when exposed to a trigger.
EMDR is also effective in treating other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and addiction. But brain spotting is primarily used to treat trauma. Both are heavily supported by research and it may be worth trying both treatments when seeking professional help to heal trauma.
What Can You Expect from EMDR Treatment?
When you bring your child to Shortridge Academy for trauma treatment, you both can expect that our therapists will work to help reprocess and heal that traumatic experience. Therapists meet weekly with students for sessions and are available to your child throughout the week outside of scheduled sessions as well. After assessment, if it’s determined that your child will benefit from EMDR, then treatment will start. There are eight phases of EMDR therapy, which typically requires 12 sessions to work through.
Phase 1: Treatment Planning
In the first session, the therapist will take a history of the young adult. This includes a discussion about their traumatic experiences and problems that may stem from the trauma. Through discussion the therapist can learn what event caused the trauma, what triggers are present in the teen’s life, and what skills and behaviors the patient needs to learn for healing.
With this information, they will develop a treatment plan. A benefit of EMDR treatment for your child is that they do not have to disclose details of their traumatic experiences in order for the treatment to be effective. Some patients of EMDR provide a vague outline and it’s enough for the therapist to identify and target the event that is causing distress.
Phase 2: Establishing a Relationship
Next the therapists builds trust between themselves and the patient. Often this phase takes between one and four sessions. During these sessions, your child’s therapist teaches coping strategies so that the student is prepared to handle any emotional disturbances that may occur during treatment.
During this phase, the therapist will also explain the process of EMDR, including how it works and what their patient can expect to feel during and after therapy. This is helpful in establishing trust, which is vital for the treatment to work. When the patient is able to trust their therapist, they feel safe and comfortable sharing how they feel during the therapy which allows the therapist to better assess and treat them.
Phase 3: Assessment
Together, the therapist and student identify specific aspects of the traumatic event that cause the most distress. These are called targets. During these sessions, your teen will imagine a mental picture of what represents the target. Then they express a negative thought they have associated with the event to focus on. For example, a negative cognition may be “I’m helpless”. They then get to replace that thought with a positive statement.
After replacement, the therapist assesses how true the patient feels the positive statement is. The goal is to increase the belief in the positive statement and reduce the validity of the negative thought.
Phase 4: Desensitization
In this phase, the therapist starts to use eye movement to help desensitize their patient to the targets. The bilateral stimulation of moving the eyes left and right while focussing on the traumatic experience can help resolve the disturbing elements. By talking about the one target of the traumatic event, other elements or memories associated with the trauma may come up. This is a good thing because then your teen will have the opportunity to process all the feelings and triggers that they associate with what happened to them.
Phase 5: Installation
The installation phase is for installing the positive belief. The goal is for your child to fully accept a positive thought of overcoming their trauma rather than holding onto a negative belief that the traumatic experience controls them. In these sessions the patient concentrates on strengthening their emotions surrounding the new belief.
Phase 6: Body Scanning
After installing positive cognition, the therapist works on resolving any trauma stored in the body. A body scan involves recalling the original target to test if there are any tensions in the body associated with the memory. If there are, then these physical sensations will be targeted for reprocessing.
It’s very common for physical sensations to be associated with the original trauma, but EMDR can help relieve these tensions. When your teen processes how the memory of trauma effects them physically then they are able to resolve these sensations.
Phase 7: Closure
Closure is an element of every session and ensure that the patient feels safe and comfortable throughout the treatment. Often the therapist will end a session with self-soothing techniques so that your child doesn’t struggle with the reprocessing of trauma outside of the office.
During the session, a patient is able to stop the treatment at any time. This level of control is helpful in strengthening positive thoughts involving the trauma.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
At the beginning of every session for EMDR, the therapist will reevaluate the student and adjust the treatment plan if needed. Reevaluation also helps track the process each patient is making during their sessions. EMDR therapy is complete when all past memories that contribute to emotional and physical issues are resolved and any skill needed to manage future disturbances is learned.
How Shortridge Uses EMDR
If your child has experienced traumatic events, our team at Shortridge Academy specializes in treating teenagers while also helping them to keep up with academics. We offer EMDR therapy and teach teens how to cope with their feelings and overcome past traumas.
Contact us today to enroll in our program and begin treatment for trauma right away!