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CGTA Newsletter Article
PLAY THERAPY AND EMDR
by Judith Daniel, M.Ed.,LMFT, Family Therapist

Children vary greatly in their ability to tolerate focusing on “the problem.” The wise EMDR therapist has various ways of approaching a traumatic memory or a current day problem to fit the tolerance level of the client. EMDR and the process of bilateral stimulation to address problematic material is one method of speeding up therapeutic work with children. However, when using bilateral stimulation with children I am simultaneously using my training as a family systems therapist, and the various play therapy strategies that were the backbone of my work with children before I learned EMDR or other alternative therapies. In a way, EMDR and the sand tray saved my professional life. In my first year of practice after my family therapy post-graduate training, I got a job at a family therapy clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. I was assigned to handle all referrals that came to the agency through a Victim Assistance grant. All of these were cases in which a child had been victim of some crime, and the majority were victims of abuse from some one other than a family member. You can imagine the population. Families who had found that a neighbor or teacher had abused their child were common. Both child and family were traumatized. My family therapy skills were good. But in addition to them I needed two things: a better way for children to communicate their feelings and a way to help both adults and children reduce the intensity of emotions around the trauma they had been through. Just (Continued from page 1) when I was beginning to feel that I was not up to the job, I learned EMDR. With this wonderful knowledge, I found I could help both children and adults move beyond the trauma and regain their grasp on the present moment, their strengths and their security. A deepening understanding of play therapy provided the additional communication tools I needed. Since Then I have never looked back, and find that our field is continually generating new perspectives and more efficient tools for us to use.

EMDR, in addition to being a very effective method when applied properly, provides a unique window into the thought processes of children and the development of irrational beliefs. When working with adults and using EMDR, the client comes to their own resolution of emotional disturbance often by making conscious a string of connections which are the building blocks of mistaken beliefs. When we work with children in therapy, we have a unique opportunity to address these issues early, before the building blocks of dysfunctional behavior and false beliefs are piled so high.

EMDR was developed as a therapy for adults. However, as the powerful effects of the treatment for adults became evident, therapists working with

children naturally began to adapt it for their young clients. At the CGTA Conference, I plan to explore the integration of EMDR with two methods of therapy which many child therapist use, play and storytelling. The use of the sandtray, a method often associated with play therapy, meshes well with the EMDR process. When a certain processing method is applied. The sandtray process that I’ll describe is even more effective with adults than children, but it works well with many child clients. I will also discuss other “processing” activities that can be used with sand tray, that do not involve analyzing the tray, but that actively facilitate change for the client.

I will also discuss storytelling and ways to incorporate features of the EMDR protocol into client’s stories. I look forward t sharing with conference attendees some of the lessons my child clients have taught me throughout the years. Judith Daniel is a individual and family therapist, EMDR presenter consultant and supervisor from Louisville, KY.

References: Windows to Our Children by Violet Oaklander Gestault Journal Publication, originally published in 1969. Small Wonders by Joan Lovett, The Free Press, 1999.