The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 1 in 7 children has experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year in the United States. 

Even here in the Rio Grande Valley, children are physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. In 2020 alone, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties (CACHSC) served 1,878 child abuse victims. 

As one of the first responders to child abuse in Hidalgo and Starr County, CACHSC is committed to educating our community about the signs of child abuse and how to recognize them. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a treatment that can help children who were abused, but is it right for you or your loved one? Let’s take a closer look at it to better understand this form of treatment.

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing?

While there are several treatments that can benefit child abuse victims, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been very successful in helping victims and survivors (both young and old) recover from their trauma.

Dr. Francine Shapiro, executive director of the EMDR Institute, pioneered the EMDR process nearly 35 years ago. 

EMDR is an eight-phase psychotherapy treatment that utilizes eye movements, bilateral stimulation, sounds, and/or pulsations to stimulate the brain. 

By focusing on the past, present, and future, attention is dialed in on past traumatic memories and other related events. When paired with the aforementioned sensory experiences, it can positively impact the brain to help people overcome symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, among other related conditions. 

Let’s take a quick look at the eight phased treatment approach used in EMDR: 

Phase 1:

The first phase of treatment involves an assessment of the client’s traumatic history so the therapist can develop a treatment plan. The client and therapist work to develop specific skills and behaviors for the client to use in future situations. 

Phase 2:

The second phase dials in on producing rapid and effective change while the client maintains equilibrium during and outside of sessions. The therapist equips the client with a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques to help them handle emotional distress. 

Phases 3-6:

In these phases, EMDR clients are asked to identify a positive belief before focusing on three core factors:

  1. A visual associated with a memory 
  2. A negative belief about themselves
  3. Related emotions and body sensors

The client then rates and compares the positive belief to the intensity of the negative emotions before focusing on the image, negative belief, and associated body sensations while engaging in EMDR processing using bilateral stimulation. This can include taps, tones, or eye movements. 

After each stimulation, the therapist will advise the client to let their mind go blank and report whatever thought, feeling, memory, or sensation comes to mind. Once the client reports that there’s no distress associated with a targeted visual/memory, the client is instructed to refer to the positive belief identified at the beginning of the session. 

At this point, the client may adjust the positive belief as necessary and focus on it during the next set of distressing events. 

Phase 7:

This is the closure phase wherein the client is asked to keep a log throughout the week. The client is asked to document any related events that may arise. It aims to remind the client of the self-calming techniques mastered in phase 2. 

Phase 8:

Phase 8 examines the progress made by the client and looks at all related past events, current incidents, and future events that will require different responses.

How Can Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Help Child Abuse Victims?

Specialists such as Natalie Robinson, LICSW, and Ricky Greenwald, PsyD, are strong advocates for using EMDR to help treat child abuse victims. 

Greenwald notes that the process is quickly picked up by children when compared to adults, and suggests that EMDR enables children to quickly deal with traumatic memories since the treatment doesn’t require clients to talk through everything they’re mentally experiencing.  

Furthermore, Robinson points out that in her experience, talk therapy alone has not been enough to adequately treat child abuse victims. She points out that talk therapy only reaches the left side of the victim’s brain, whereas EMDR stimulates both hemispheres, allowing for a more comprehensive treatment. 

Overall, the treatment may help drive quicker resolution to child abuse victims, helping them differentiate between what’s important in the past and what’s important in the present. 

The Importance of Reporting Child Abuse in Hidalgo and Starr Counties 

Child abuse and neglect are widespread issues that affect our community every day. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties works tirelessly to educate our community so we can help fight against child abuse. 

The contributions made by our supporters help us continue our work and positively impact the lives of children who have been abused or neglected. If a contribution is beyond your means, we encourage all to volunteer to support a child’s life today!