EMDR and Teens: Small T Trauma

One of the best-researched current therapeutic techniques, which I have found to be exceptionally useful with teens, is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This technique is often used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I have found it to be very effective for “small “t” trauma,” such as:

  • Bullying
  • Invasive medical procedures
  • Witnessing a dramatic event such as a house fire
  • Hearing their parents fight
  • The death of a pet

Victims of big “T” traumatic events, such as rape, sexual molestation, a natural disaster or a combat experience, can end up with self-attributions such as “I’m powerless,” “I’m worthless,” or “I’m not in control.” In my experience, teens with small “t” trauma can have the same self-attributions and symptoms. It seems that children are particularly vulnerable to the lasting effects of trauma, even if the actual events are things that others might not be so profoundly affected by.

I personally like EMDR because it targets a negative life event that causes a negative thought or belief that is stuck in the brain and cannot be released. With EMDR the memory is processed and becomes unstuck and negative thoughts/beliefs are replaced with positive beliefs that are internalized and become a part of the child’s belief system. Teens are able to process the traumatic memories, and the emotions, physical sensations and sounds associated with it diminish quickly. They are spared unnecessary suffering, and symptoms go away.

Symptoms that may respond well to EMDR:

  • low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Somatic symptoms
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