EMDR Therapy in the Group Setting
For kids with ADHD, movement is medicine. They often are asked to sit still and pay attention when their natural impulse is to move. What if they were validated and encouraged to trust this instinct and to use it creatively?
I had been doing EMDR with children for a number of years for trauma and resultant anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, nightmares, hair pulling and a variety of symptoms, with excellent results. EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a powerful tool that seems to have a direct on the way the brain functions, reducing the disturbance of traumatic events and allowing the client to see them in a new and less distressing way. Researchers worldwide publishing in prestigious journals have shown its efficacy. Having a background in dance and movement therapy, I had previously developed an innovation, EMDR Bilateral Movement Therapy groups, for women with body image issues who are in 3rd stage trauma recovery. (Presented at the 1999 EMDRIA Conference). It was during a conversation with an EMDR trained child psychiatrist about these groups that I realized what a natural application they would have with ADHD children.
I began my first group with six children ranging from ages 5-8, most of whom I had seen in individual therapy. We began by installing their "safe place" in their bodies through bilateral or full body movements instead of eye movements as in regular EMDR. When you consider that all full body movements are naturally bilateral, going from one side to the other, this can become a very creative exercise.
I asked them to remember a time and place where they felt safe and happy, to go inside and feel where in their bodies that good feeling was, and to begin by moving from that place inside their bodies. I then proceeded with "resource installation" by asking the children to think of a time in their lives when they felt good about themselves and where they felt that good feeling in their bodies. "In my tummy", volunteered one child, and soon they had all named their feelings and where they were located in their bodies. Next I had them take turns making these feelings into movements, each child leading the group through his or her movement/feeling. Children diagnosed with ADHD are traumatized on a daily basis, by peers for missing social cues, and by teachers, parents, coaches, etc. for not paying attention and being impulsive. "Big T, little t, middle t,"--they are traumas nonetheless and can lead to the downward spiral we're all so familiar with. After 2-3 sessions group trust had been steadily developing, so we were able to process these daily traumas according to the regular EMDR protocol, that is through a narrative of the event, identifying the feeling and its location in the body and when developmentally appropriate, the negative belief about themselves that resulted. This technique seemed to help them develop empathy for each other while empowering each child with a sense of leadership by having everyone in the group following their movements.
A part of each group session was devoted to teaching coping skills such as the ability to feel the sensation of calm in their bodies when they need it and installing it through the "Butterfly Hug", where hands are crossed at the chest to pat alternately on opposite shoulders. When group became too loud at one point, after learning this technique, one child spontaneously began the butterfly hug which, one by one, was picked up by each child until order was restored. This became a ritual from then on, each time a particular child felt the need for order or attention, it was initiated by that child and respected by the entire group. I was also able to install the benefits of the group by having them visualize the group, the good feelings it gave, the location of the feelings in their bodies and then tap alternately on their knees any time they felt the need. Upon leaving group one day a five year old boy, holding his Mom's hand, turned and said, "Thank you for the calm!"
These groups have opened up the possibility that EMDR Bilateral Movement Therapy, with its movements initiated and performed by the participants, works as well as traditional EMDR and can be done with children in group settings. Like traditional EMDR, it allows the participants to control the process of therapy, and with children that means in the most creative and authentic ways imaginable. When left to follow their own instincts children inherently know how to heal.
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Greenwald, R. (1999) EMDR in Child and Adolescent Therapy.
Northvale, NJ. Aronson Inc.
Lovett, J. (1999) Small Wonders, Healing Childhood Trauma with EMDR.
New York. The Free Press.
Shapiro, F. (1995) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,
Basic Principals, Protocols and Procedures.
New York. The Guilford Press.
Tinker, R. Wilson, S. (1999) Through the Eyes of a Child: EMDR with Children.
New York. WW Norton & Co.
Deborah Withers LICSW, is an EMDR therapist and certified consultant
in Holliston and on Martha's Vineyard. Training and consultation available.
Contact Deborah at 508 429-1602 or, email@example.com.