Back to school season is here. Parents and children face typical stressors such as getting supplies and arranging schedules as with any other year. In addition, there is the considerable additional stress of navigating health concerns and social pressures around increasing COVID-19 cases in different regions. This adds to parent stress as caregivers navigate what the best decisions are for their children and families. And of course, children and teens are affected as well. Many have been excited to join classmates in person after time spent learning online only to worry about safety concerns – again. Others are anxious about the added in-person social interactions after such a long time in a predictable home environment. And some have already returned to in-person classes but are still caught up in the uncertainty of how classes will continue. Recent research has shown increasing levels of anxiety and depression among children around the world during the pandemic.
We turned to an EMDRIA member known for her experience in working with children in school settings: Anne-Marie Brown, LCSW. Below she provides some reassuring answers and helpful resources regarding the back-to-school season. In addition, EMDRIA members can access discussions and resources about using EMDR with younger populations in the EMDR with Children and Adolescents online community, and EMDR therapists can look through our Education Calendar for workshops on EMDR and children related topics such as the integration of dissociation theory and play therapy with EMDR.
Part 1 of an interview with Anne-Marie Brown, LCSW: Back to School
*Be sure to check out Anne-Marie’s blog post on EMDR Therapy in School Settings as well.
Tell us a bit about you, your experience becoming an EMDR therapist, and your experience using EMDR therapy with children.
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and I’ve worked in the field for almost 20 years. I currently work with children and families in the child welfare system. I began with adults in substance abuse treatment and found very high rates of trauma. I wanted to make a greater impact on people before they had to struggle through years of unresolved trauma, so I began working with children who had survived sexual abuse. In the beginning, I was not trained in EMDR therapy, so I used other evidence-based modalities but did not feel satisfied with my client’s results. I had an opportunity to become EMDR trained, and I jumped at the chance. It felt like I had finally been given a magic wand to treat trauma, and I immediately noticed my clients making more significant gains and resolving trauma successfully. I incorporated play therapy techniques with EMDR and saw some great success with children as young as three. I’ve even had teen boys in group home settings tell me they wished they knew about EMDR sooner because they felt like it worked for them.
What is your favorite part of using EMDR therapy with children?
I love seeing the progress of children. So often, when they first come into my office, they are shut down, angry, traumatized, and exhibiting behaviors that are getting them into trouble. It takes some time to build trust, but they quickly learn that therapy isn’t a terrible experience. I enjoy helping children learn about their coping skills and what works well for them, and they start to see their progress when they use positive coping skills. Less trouble at school, fewer consequences at home, and they feel more empowered and positive. I think my favorite part of EMDR therapy with children is seeing the transition from guilt and shame to saying, ‘What happened wasn’t my fault.’ I use Ricky Greenwald’s Fairy Tale Model and ‘dragon slaying’ is how we resolve the trauma. It’s such a great metaphor with children, especially when coupled with play therapy. I remember one child who did some fantastic work in a school setting. We put TheraTappers (therapy tools that produce alternating bilateral stimulation via pulses) in the tops of her shoes and she used a sword and shield to ‘slay’ the dragon from the trauma, which was represented by a large teddy bear. Then, she looked at me, handed me handcuffs, and asked me to arrest the bad guy because he was the one at fault, not her.
What is the most significant stressor you’ve seen for kids as they prepare to go back to school?
Children are anxious about being in person with people again. Most of my kids remained in virtual classes even after schools started to reopen in South Florida so they have been at home with their families for a year and a half. I’ve seen an increase in fear of socializing, being in groups of people, being outside the safety of their home, and fears of COVID19. These fears are made worse when the child has experienced a COVID19-related death. Many of my kids talk about life pre-COVID19 and how they don’t believe we will ever return to that type of normalcy. It’s important to talk about self-care, positive coping skills, triggers, safe adults, and safe places they can use when needed, as well as safety devices like masks. It’s also essential to help children identify areas within their control. Children are also vulnerable to fears of being out of control, and, for children, so many things are often out of their control. There is often greater fear when they see adults struggle with having no control. So, I try to equip my kids with awareness about what they do have control over. I work with the caregivers to identify their areas of control and encourage caregivers to stay positive around their children.
Do you have a favorite free EMDR related resource that you would suggest to parents, teachers, or kids?
I often direct people to Ana Gomez’s website. She offers excellent explanations of EMDR for kids and their caregivers. I also like the two video explanations of EMDR for children from the EMDR Association UK “Animation to Explain EMDR Therapy to Children” and “How EMDR Can Help Bad Memories”. My favorite exercise to teach everyone is progressive muscle relaxation because we can do this at almost every age and in any setting. I like to teach kids how to stretch their hands, feet, toes, and fingers under school desks where no one will see what they are doing.
As we approach the back-to-school season with its COVID ups and downs, is there any wisdom you can share that could help parents, teachers, and/or kids?
Listen to children when they talk about being scared or anxious. Validate their worries and concerns. Don’t just tell them they’ll be okay, or there is nothing to worry about. Answer their questions as best you can or help them find the answers. Please encourage them to play and use art activities to express their fears. Our children have been through so much since the pandemic began. They have had even less control than we adults. At the nonprofit where I work, Center for Child Counseling, we offer many free online workshops for caregivers, and I always refer people to our website for these resources.
Anything else you would like to add?
It’s essential for all of us to remember that everyone is struggling right now, including ourselves. Some days, I feel like our entire world is a dumpster fire, and we’ve run out of water. I do my best to hold space for my clients, friends, family, and colleagues, but sometimes I forget also to hold space for myself. I recently read an article that talked about how much tragedy happens daily around the world. We try so hard to care about and make a difference with everything and for everyone, but we can’t, so we are often left feeling empty and as though we are not good enough or didn’t do enough. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay not to focus on everything. It’s okay to take care of yourself and take a vacation or personal or sick time. It’s okay to feel sad and cry about all the hurt in the world. It’s okay to only focus on what you are passionate about because someone else will be passionate about another cause. And you are hard-working enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, motivated enough, caring enough. You are good enough, and every day, you change lives. To the caregivers and therapists alike out there: thank you for being a healer.
Anne-Marie Brown, LCSW, MSW, MCAP, CIP, ICADC, has worked in mental health for over 15 years. She is an EMDRIA Certified Therapist and Approved Consultant, a TF-CBT Certified Therapist, a Registered Circle of Security Parenting Facilitator, and a Qualified Supervisor for Clinical Social Workers and addiction professional candidates. Brown is a member of EMDRIA, the National Association of Social Workers, the Florida Association for Play Therapy, and the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. She has been published in EMDRIA Go With That magazine and the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice and most recently served as the EMDRIA Child & Adolescent SIG Communications Chair. Brown has presented on the topics of trauma and resiliency, child development, and adverse childhood experiences at state conferences for the National Association of Social Workers, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Georgia Partnership Against Domestic Violence, local workshops, and onboarding training for ChildNet, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the Palm Beach County Unified Family Court Department. She currently focuses on providing individual and family therapy for children and caregivers who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect as the Director of the Childhood Trauma Response Program at Center for Child Counseling and at her private practice in South Florida.
Bluejack Kids. (2021, March 9). Returning to school (after being home due to the pandemic). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x7y-4CoVjk
Dr. SMART Team. (2020, September 3). Watch this before going back to school – COVID school reopening video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH1oGgNaA3Q
EMDR Association UK. (2020, May 12). Animation to explain EMDR therapy to children. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7yKY8Hm12Y
EMDR Association UK. (2020, May 26). How EMDR can help bad memories. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Accwvz4Q37g
GoZenOnline. (2017, March 29). Progressive muscle relaxation for kids. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDKyRpW-Yuc
Major, S. (2020, June 23). Social story: Going back to school. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PKEuB8W1NI
weLEARNplay. Online learning for mental health professionals, parents, and caregivers. Center for Child Counseling. https://www.centerforchildcounseling.org/training/welearnplay/
Books/Chapters for EMDR Therapists working with Children and Adolescents
Adler-Tapia, R. L. (2011). EMDR for the treatment of children in the child welfare system who have been traumatized by abuse and neglect. In A. Rubin (Ed.), Empirically supported programs and interventions in child welfare: Part of the clinician’s guide to evidence-based practice series. (pp.141-160). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Adler-Tapia, R. L. & Settle, C. S. (2009). EMDR assessment and desensitization phases with children: Step-by-step directions. In M. Luber (Ed.), EMDR scripted protocols. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Adler-Tapia, R. L. & Settle, C. S. (2009). Healing the origins of trauma: EMDR psychotherapy with children. In A. Rubin & Springer (Eds.), Treatment of traumatized adults and children: Part of the clinician’s guide to evidence-based practice series. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Adler-Tapia, R. L. & Settle, C. S. (2008). EMDR and the art of psychotherapy with children: Treatment Manual. New York: Springer Publishing Co.
Adler-Tapia, R. L. & Settle, C. S. (2017). EMDR and the art of psychotherapy with children: Infants to adolescents (2nd edition). New York: Springer Publishing Co.
Adler-Tapia, R. L., Settle, C. S., & Shapiro, F. (2011). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy with children who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma. In P. Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of child sexual abuse: Identification, assessment, and treatment. New York, NY: Wiley Publishing.
Beckley-Forest, A., & Monaco, A. (2020). EMDR with children in the play therapy room: An integrated approach. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Flynn, J. (2021). Virtual EMDR and telemental health play therapy. In J. Stone (Ed.) Play therapy and telemental health: Foundations, populations, and interventions. New York, NY: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003166498
Gomez, A. (2012). EMDR therapy and adjunct approaches with children: Complex trauma, attachment and dissociation. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Gomez, A. (2018). Stories and storytellers: The thinking mind, the heart, and the body. Agate Books.
Greenwald, R. (1999). EMDR in child and adolescent psychotherapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Greenwald, R. (2000). EMDR for traumatized children and adolescents. In K. N. Dwiveldi (Ed.), Post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents. (pp.198-212.) London, England: Whurr.
Greenwald, R. (2006). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) with traumatized youth. In N. Webb (Ed.), Helping traumatized children and youth in child welfare: Perspectives of mental health and children’s services practitioners. (pp. 246-264). New York, NY: Guilford Press
Greenwald, R. (2007). EMDR within a phase model of trauma-informed treatment. New York, NY: The Haworth Press, Routledge.
Greenwald, R. (2009). Treating problem behaviors: A trauma-informed approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
Lovett, J. (1999). Small wonders: Healing childhood trauma with EMDR. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Lovett, J. (2015). Trauma-attachment tangle: Modifying EMDR to help children resolve trauma and develop loving relationships. New York, NY: Routledge.
McGuinness, V. (2001). Integrating play therapy and EMDR with children. Bloomington, IN:1st Books Library.
Morris-Smith, J., & Silvestre, M. (2014). EMDR for the next generation: Healing children and families. (2nd Ed.) United Kingdom: Academic Publishing International Limited.
O’Shea, K. (2009). EMDR friendly preparation methods for adults and children. In R. Shapiro (Ed.), EMDR Solutions II: For depression, eating disorders, performance, and more (pp. 289-312). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co.
Shapiro, F., Wesselmann, D., & Mevissen, L. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). In M. A. Landolt, M. Cloitre, & U. Schnyder (Eds.), Evidence based treatments for trauma-related disorders in children and adolescents (pp. 273-298). NY: Springer.
Struik, A. (2014). Treating chronically traumatized children: Don’t let sleeping dogs lie! New York, NY: Routledge.
Sullivan, K. & Thompson, G. (2016). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and play therapy. In E. S. Leggett & J.N. Boswell (Eds.), Directive play therapy. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.
Turner, E. (2005). Affect regulation for children through art, play, and storytelling. In R. Shapiro (Ed.), EMDR Solutions: Pathways to Healing (pp. 327-344). New York, NY: W. W. Norton &Co.
Wesselmann, D., Armstrong, S., & Schweitzer, C. (2017). Interweaves for children with an attachment trauma in foster and adoptive families. In R. Beer & C. De Roos (Eds.), Handbook EMDR: Children and adolescents (pp. 399-413). Houten: LannooCampus.
Wesselmann, D., Armstrong, S., & Schweitzer, C. (2017). Using an EMDR integrative model to treat attachment-based difficulties. In K. D. Buckwalter & D. Reed (Eds.) Attachment theory in action: Building connections between children and parents. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Roman & Littlefield.
Wesselmann, D., Schweitzer, C., & Armstrong, S. (2014). Integrative team treatment for attachment trauma in children: Family therapy and EMDR. New York, NY: W. W. Norton
Wesselmann, D., Schweitzer, C., & Armstrong, S. (2014a). Integrative Parenting: Strategies for raising children affected by attachment trauma. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Wesselmann, D., Schwietzer, C., & Armstrong, S. (2015). Child Attachment Trauma Protocol. In M. Luber (Ed). EMDR therapy: Scripted protocols and summary sheets (pp. 9-44). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
Wesselmann, D. & Shapiro, F. (2013). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In J. Ford & C. Courtois (Eds.) Treating complex traumatic stress disorders in children and adolescents (pp. 213-244). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
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