EMDR and Your Adolescent: Helping Your Teen Recover and Thrive
Does your teenager deal with depression, anxiety attacks, nightmares, phobias, past abuse, or bullying?
If so, EMDR may help.
EMDR is a type of therapy that can help people recover from painful past memories. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I am trained in EMDR and use this technique in addition to traditional talk therapy with teenagers (and adults). I’m super excited about the results clients are seeing from EMDR, so read on to find out more about EMDR and how it may be helpful for your teenager… or for yourself.
We’ve all had sensory experiences that reminded us of something in the past. “Oh, this spaghetti tastes just like my mom’s recipe”, “that perfume smells like the one my grandma used to wear”, “that guy looks just like my old friend from high school”. Then, bam… all of a sudden, those memories come back to us. We don’t mind this for good memories, but when this brings up bad memories, it can be downright awful.
Part of what makes an experience awful or traumatic for one person but not necessarily another is whether the person has any negative beliefs about themselves that get triggered. Using a small example, a poor grade on a test may trigger one teen’s old feelings and belief that they’re not good enough (from old, bad memories), while another student wouldn’t be as bothered.
EMDR can help teens feel more confident, less withdrawn, and less depressed. It can help clarify issues and uncover things that were stuck that aren’t able to be accessed just through thinking and talking. EMDR tends to help teens contain themselves a bit, as we work on using the mind to become more aware of triggers and put them away mentally. In EMDR work, I help your teen use their mind to transport themselves to a peaceful place (“go to your happy place”) when in distress. These are things they can practice at home in between sessions.
WHAT CAN EMDR HELP WITH?:
Abuse; physical, emotional, or sexual
Anxiety, including social anxiety and panic attacks
Disturbing memories that you can’t get out of your mind
Eating disorders (because these tend to relate to other things)
Grief that seems to be lasting longer than you’d expect to be normal
Phobias/ fears (e.g., spiders, flying, heights)
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
WHY DO PAINFUL MEMORIES GET STUCK?
We store memories in our bones almost. Something that made you mad two weeks ago didn’t make you mad again until you had to talk about it again. You start to feel angry, your body tenses up, you start thinking negatively, etc.
Picture your brain as a computer, in that your life experiences get ‘saved’ into your memory in a manner similar to how data gets saved on a computer. Haven’t you had the experience where something reminds you of something you hadn’t thought about in years? That’s because your brain has it ‘stored in the archives’ and accesses it spontaneously. When we have an experience that’s scary, traumatic, or painful, memories don’t save the same way on our brain’s ‘hard drive’ as our everyday memories do. When you recall certain painful memories, it can almost feel like it’s happening in the present time, or part of what gets ‘stuck’ from the past are the feelings or negative beliefs.
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
EMDR helps the memories that are ‘stuck’ be reprocessed in the way your brain saves much of the rest of everyday information, again going with the computer metaphor. When disturbing memories are reprocessed appropriately, you’ll still recall them, but no longer experience any or much of the images, sounds, or feelings that had been stuck in association with that event or memory. EMDR helps drastically reduce the level of upset associated when recalling these memories.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO FEEL BETTER?
Seeing me for EMDR, I generally use it in conjunction with standard talk therapy; generally meeting one appointment for EMDR, then the next time for talk therapy, and so on. However, if you or your teen currently have a therapist you’re attached to but who isn’t trained in EMDR, I can see folks for EMDR only treatment where your therapist and I would communicate together and work in conjunction, so you could come here to help you through the ‘stuck’ memories and continue seeing your other therapist.
EMDR can clear a single incident trauma up in about 2 – 5 sessions; more complicated things may take 10 sessions. It is hard to know for sure how many sessions will be needed, but this is an estimate.
WHAT IS AN EMDR APPOINTMENT LIKE?
In an EMDR session, much of the work is nonverbal. You process the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that come up as if you’re on a train passing by and the memories are the scenery flashing by as you look out. You won’t need to verbalize everything that happens in the memories. By not talking much, and letting your brain do the work, it seems to let processing happen more quickly and get the memories better ‘saved to your hard drive’, therefore being less troubling in the future.