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When Adverse Life Experiences Affect the Happiness of our Kids

Sometimes when things happen that are frightening, confusing or traumatic for kids, the disturbing memories can continue to bother them long after the event is over. These memories can get stored in the brain, linked with the heightened emotions and bodily sensations.

Normally, when things happen that are disturbing or confusing, talking to others and thinking through reasons can help make meaning . At night, during REM sleep, the brain processes the day’s events. Normal memories get stored, become less vivid and don’t activate us with overwhelming emotions.

However, the brain is not always able to do this effectively with disturbing or frightening memories. Everyday experiences can then continue to trigger flashbacks, fear, sadness or sleep problems. These memories can affect how we feel about ourselves and lower mood, as well as raise anxiety.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a well-researched, evidence-based and Medicare-approved treatment for disturbing memories and trauma. Like the process of REM sleep helping us process the events of the day, EMDR simulates that process in the therapy session. It helps the person think differently about the experience, feel less powerless  and the memories become less vivid and disturbing. The negative thoughts the person has about themselves when they recall these disturbing memories fade and  are replaced with more positive, empowering thoughts that build resilience and coping.

EMDR is a short-term treatment that makes a positive difference to disturbing memories, flashbacks and feeling overwhelmed with anxiety.

There are 8 phases to the EMDR treatment process.

  1. History and treatment planning -Details of life events, trauma history, treatment goals are discussed.

  2. Preparation for treatment – Learning ways to regulate anxiety and feel grounded.

  3. Assessment – Looking back at the experience and figuring out negative thoughts about self, how bad it feels recalling the memory, bodily sensations, what the person would prefer to believe moving forward

  4. Desensitisation – where therapist moves your eyes back and forth while recalling the memory and the related feelings. New and useful information comes up and the vividness of the memories, feelings and bodily sensations fades.

  5. Installation - At the conclusion of processing the positive beliefs feel true to you and the memories have significantly faded. No unpleasant sensations remain in your body.

  6. Body Scan – Scanning to check if any unpleasant bodily feelings remain.

  7. Closure – Finalising treatment

  8. Re-evaluation – Monitoring outcomes as required.


Sometimes younger children don't cope with the eye movements during the desensitisation stage. This is fine because there are many other ways to simulate this with body movements, puppets and other fun devices. When trauma happens at the pre-verbal stages of childhood, or when working with young children, we use different strategies that help the processing in a developmentally appropriate way.

For more information on EMDR please visit:

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