EMDR for Children

What does EMDR mean?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is part of approved psychotherapy treatment for children and is supported by clinical research. It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines and is used within the NHS.

At Butterfly Counselling, we have a fully qualified EMDR specialist who has attended accredited training with the EMDR Association for UK/Europe. The psychotherapist/counsellor is trained in EMDR Part 1/2/3/4/ and has also attended the Child Trauma Therapy Centre. She undertook training in EMDR with children Level 1 and in Advanced Level 2.


What does EMDR do?

EMDR is a psychotherapy approach which identifies and processes memories from an over-whelming traumatic/distressing event which has occurred in a child’s life. When a traumatic or upsetting experience occurs, children can feel as though they have no control over their thoughts and feelings. This can feel frightening for children.

EMDR uses the natural function of the body, REM (rapid eye movement) as a way to process trauma. REM happens when we sleep, which can help us process our everyday emotional experiences.

When children experience a distressing event, sometimes the memories become ‘stuck’ due to the high level of stress/disturbance experienced at that time. The memory then becomes an unprocessed memory, a ‘stuck’ memory. The unprocessed memory of the distressing event becomes stuck in the original time and place. This means that one cannot remember the distressing event or similar events without feeling emotionally triggered. Emotional triggers usually arise from our senses – sight/hearing/touch/smell/taste. The painful emotions, negative cognitions and physical sensations experienced in the body during the original event will become triggered in the here and now.

EMDR can help reduce the intensity of the distressing emotions and thoughts associated with the past traumatic event and give children a sense of control back in their lives.

What issues can EMDR help children with?

  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Panic attacks
  • Traumas/Complex Trauma
  • All forms of anxiety and the symptoms linked to it, for example, nausea, sickness, avoiding situations, angry outbursts, struggling with focus and concentration, sleep disturbances, nightmares, sense of dread, body pains associated with anxiety
  • Depression and symptoms linked to it, for example, feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, irritability, low mood, lack of motivation
  • Schooling – For example, peer difficulties, stress linked to schoolwork and exams, the effects of bullying
  • Low confidence/self-esteem
  • Family issues
  • All forms of abuse
  • Transitions (E.g. Schools, classrooms, teachers, family homes, birth of a sibling)
  • Phobias
  • Attachment issues
  • Grief and Loss

There are many other issues that EMDR can help you with – contact Butterfly Counselling Services Ltd for details.

The 8 phases of EMDR therapy

History Taking

The therapist will collate a history from the parents and the child. From this, a treatment plan will be developed.

During the history taking, a target will be identified. A target may be a specific memory from the past, a current situation in the child’s life that causes a high emotional charge or future skills, or behaviours wanted by the child.


Explanation of what will happen during the sessions. The therapist and child together build positive resources to help increase the child’s safety and stabilisation. The positive resources below can be thought of as an image or picture or can be drawn by the child using various modes of creative media including paints/sand tray. 

Calm/happy place

The child can imagine a calm/happy place and what it feels like to be there. Then, activate the 5 senses asking the child what they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. To reinforce the calm/happy place and the positive feelings linked to it, they begin slow short sets using either visual, auditory or tactile stimulation.


The child imagines a container to put all their distressing memories and worries into. They stay there until they are ready to work on them. They begin slow short sets using either visual, auditory or tactile stimulation until the child communicates positive feelings.

Characteristics – strengths/mastery

If the child or therapist identify any positive characteristics, mastery over something, positive coping strategies or an external positive relationship then, they begin slow short sets using either visual, auditory or tactile stimulation to reinforce these.

These techniques can be used during the EMDR sessions and between sessions.


Together the child and therapist choose a target to work on. The target may be broken down into smaller targets to help with the child’s processing. Creative media can be used at this phase.

The therapist also asks the child for a negative cognition and a positive cognition, or what they would want to change about the event. (This is dependent on the child’s age).


The therapist will begin to help the child reprocess the disturbing event by beginning fast sets using visual, auditory or tactile stimulation. There will be breaks every so often to check-in with the child. The child can stop the processing at any time they wish.

Examples of adaptations to bilateral stimulation are dots on walls, drums and other musical instruments, use of puppets, play and toys, dancing, jogging, nursery rhymes, storytelling, drawing and sand tray.


Using visual, auditory or tactile stimulation, the positive cognition that the child previously gave is installed. Creative media can be used for this.

Body Scan

The body scan is used to check whether the child feels any uncomfortable sensations in their body. If there are no uncomfortable sensations, then the therapist will move to closure. However, if there are uncomfortable sensations in the body the therapist will use visual, auditory or tactile stimulation again to work on this.

As an alternative, children could be given a gingerbread cut-out and asked to draw any sensations they feel in the body. If there are any sensations in the body, the therapist again will use visual, auditory or tactile stimulation to work on this.


This happens at the end of all sessions. The target may or may not have been fully processed. If the target is not processed, we will resume processing it in the next session. The therapist will close the session by asking the child to imagine the picture of their calm/happy place. Slow sets using visual, auditory or tactile stimulation will be used. Children and parents are taught techniques to use during the session and to use between sessions to help with self-regulation.


The child/parent and therapist can discuss how the child has managed since the previous session. The child may be asked to draw the target from the last session to see if there is any discomfort in the body. If there is still discomfort in the body, then we will return to the target from the previous session. If there is no discomfort, we can move on to the child’s next target.

More information

The above protocol is modified to suit each developmental age group and to accommodate the different issues children have.

This therapy can be successfully provided either online via Zoom or in a face-to-face therapy room setting, making it a very accessible treatment.

Each session lasts 60 minutes.

Please contact Butterfly Counselling Services Ltd for details on fees.

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