EMDR for Children and Why It can Help

EMDR for Children and Why It can Help

By Gina Cipriano


EMDR can be used with children and adolescents to assist in the treatment of attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, and attachment issues. This blog post will address how it can help in treating trauma and ADHD. In the previous blog post on EMDR, I discussed the phases of EMDR treatment. Similar to adults, EMDR with children follows these eight phases (Adler-Tapia & Settle, 2012). These phases entail helping the child and their parent understand what EMDR is and discussing what can be addressed using EMDR (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012). Then, the child will be asked to recall their memory, feelings associated with it, and sensations in their body while bilateral stimulation is employed (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012). The therapist will teach the child age-appropriate coping mechanisms that they can use in the process of recalling the traumatic memory (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012). The goal is to assist the child in turning a negative thought associated with the memory to a globally more positive thought and decrease the distress felt in association with the traumatic or adverse event (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012).


Adverse Childhood Experiences


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explains that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can include traumatic situations that a child endures such as abuse, violence, divorce, and mental health problems within the family (2019). The CDC outlines that ACEs increase the risk that children will experience physical difficulties such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes as adults. Additionally, ACEs have been shown to increase the likelihood that an adult will experience mental health issues such as depression, substance use, and alcohol use. Also, adverse experiences and traumas can result in children having symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and acute stress disorder. Similar to adults, EMDR can assist in the treatment of these diagnosis through addressing traumas that are associated with them. Beer (2018) evaluated 15 studies which showed that EMDR reduced PTSD symptoms in each of these studies.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) results in symptoms such as inattention, difficulties with organization, forgetfulness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Symptoms of ADHD can demonstrate underlying trauma or anxieties that EMDR can effectively treat (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012). Further, having ADHD puts a child at greater risk to be in stressful situations in which adults become frustrated with them (Adler-Tapia &Settle, 2012). These situations can be processed with EMDR and help the child process feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and anxiousness related to these events. Through EMDR, the therapist can provide the child with coping skills that will help them manage their emotions. Further, the therapist can help the child alter negative beliefs they have informed about themselves due to traumatic experiences to more adaptive ones. For a child with ADHD, this can look like the child saying, “I’m not smart and can’t focus” to “I may make mistakes, but I can learn from them” or “I am loveable the way I am.”




Adler-Tapia, R., & Settle, C. (2012). Specialty topics on using EMDR with children. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 6(3), 145-153. https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3196.6.3.145


Beer, R. (2018). Efficacy of EMDR therapy for children with PTSD: A review of the literature. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research12(4), 177-195. https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-3196.12.4.177


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aces/index.html#:~:text=Adverse%20Childhood%20Experiences%20impact%20lifelong%20health%20and%20opportunities.,increased%20risk%20for%20health%20problems%20across%20the%20lifespan.


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