Trauma can really mess with your mind. People who live through both big and small traumas often experience significant difficulty in life. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an effective evidence-based technique used in counseling to help the brain process the trauma and allow the victim to move on (see here for more information).
I recently saw a client whom I’ll name Juan (name altered to maintain confidentiality), an 11-year old boy who was referred to me after witnessing a violent crime. The sessions were so successful that I felt it would be worth telling the story here.
The traumatic event…
Juan had a happy family dynamic – his parents had a good marriage, he had a little sister that he was very close to and he had two older half sisters that often visited and whom he got on with. He enjoyed school and had friends that he liked and felt close to. The family lived in a ‘rough’ part of town where violence is not uncommon, but he had not been distressed by any of it until this time.
One afternoon Juan was playing in his front yard by himself. He looked up when he heard a sudden commotion across the street. Three men were leaving a convenience store, yelling and swearing as they left the store. Two of the men got into a white truck and as they pulled away, one of the men leaned out of the window and shot the third man who collapsed on the street.
The men were arrested and Juan was interviewed as a witness. It quickly became clear during this time that Juan’s mental state was suffering. His mother stated that the experience of the shooting had left him terrified and nervous to leave her side. His grades in school had deteriorated and he had lost pleasure in his normal activities like going to the park to play ball or ride his bicycle. He no longer wanted to sleep in his own bed at night and was terrified to be by himself in the home without his parents.
Juan’s therapy – EMDR
Juan was easy to communicate with and was open about his feeling of fear and panic after the shooting incident. He seemed desperate for help.
We started EMDR on session 3 (since it can bring up strong emotions, protocol is to not start the intervention to soon in the counseling process). Juan recalled the shooting scene: he clearly remembered the men, the convenience store, the white truck and the shooting. His worst memories (his ‘triggers’) were “the man falling over” and the “white truck with the man”. He was very worried and sensed it in his stomach and in his head. He was worried that he was going to die and ranked his distress at a level of 8 out of 10.
During desensitization (part of the EMDR process to remove the emotion from the memory) he came to a rapid realization that the ‘man in the truck’ had been caught and would spend 25 years in jail. He initially feared that the man in the truck would escape and come looking for him to kill him, but later realized that it wouldn’t much of a problem since the man would be old and Juan would be grown up with children of his own. He stated that he, “wouldn’t be scared anymore.”
There was a dramatic change in Juan’s level of anxiety by the fourth session. He briefly panicked when he was asked to testify in court but one preparatory session helped him deal with this challenge. Juan was able to testify with no problem and proudly told me later that he had had “no fear”. He had used tapping (EMDR technique) during his time in the private room in court and even explained to the court investigator who was present that he was calming himself like his “psychiatrist” had told him. 🙂
He came in for 3 more sessions. We played and drew pictures and he stated emphatically, “I’m not scared!” His mother was pleased that he had resumed going to the park by himself and wasn’t afraid to be at home alone anymore. His school grades were also improving.
EMDR proved to be a very effective intervention to use with Juan. He responded rapidly and experienced significant relief of his symptoms. EMDR is a very promising technique to use in traumatized children.
Contact me for a free counseling consultation today. My counseling practice is situated in Monterey and my contact number is 831-444-1747.
PS: I accept payment from several insurances and payers: Aspire, Coastal, MBIPA, MHN, HMC Healthworks, Victims of Crime. Check on your insurance card under Mental Health benefits to verify what coverage you have.
Many clients pay cash for their sessions (my fee is $125 per session or lower negotiated rate in special circumstances) and then submit the superbill provided by me to their insurance for possible reimbursement. See here under the FAQ section for some more information.