One of the most characteristic aspects of psychological trauma is that the effect it has on the mind goes beyond words: it is based on emotions, which cannot be fully described by language.
EMDR therapy is aimed precisely at intervening in the experience of trauma and its associated anxiety without having to rely exclusively on language. This type of intervention is especially useful for children, who often have more trouble understanding the type of emotional distress they experience after a traumatic event.
On this occasion we interviewed the psychologist Cristina Cortés, from the Vitaliza psychology centre in Pamplona , so that she could tell us about the use of EMDR therapy in children and about her picture book . How can I get out of here? , in which he explains how this process of psychological intervention works.
Interview with Cristina Cortés, author of “How can I get out of here?”
Cristina Cortés is a psychologist specializing in child and youth psychotherapy and perinatal psychology, and co-founder of the Vitaliza Psychology Center, which has been in operation since 2004.
At this center, she and her team have been working with EMDR therapy used within their psychological trauma treatment approach for over a decade. In the following lines she explains to us what EMDR therapy is and how she spreads its functioning applied to children through the picture book . How can I get out of here? .
What is EMDR therapy? How is it performed?
When an event surpasses us, the lived experiences are stored in specific networks of memories, disconnected from the rest of the experiences.
In a way it is as if these memories remain frozen, isolated from the rest of the memories and experiences. At a given moment, they are activated by triggers that resonate with those memories, dragging us to re-experience the past in the present without being aware of it.
EMDR intervention allows access to the constituent elements of those memories, images, sensations and beliefs, both positive and negative.
In one of the phases of the intervention, bilateral stimulation is used, which facilitates the maintenance of a state of dual attention between the present and the past and allows the connection and access to wider and healthier memories of our neuronal network. In this way, we change the perspective regarding the traumatic event and how it was stored.
What is the link between traumatic experiences and painful emotions and what is done through an EMDR session?
The experiences remain in the memories stored along with the emotions, sensations and beliefs that were activated at the time of the event. If the event is traumatic, it is stored with the emotional charge of that moment and the negative beliefs that accompany it.
When in EMDR therapy, in phase 3, we look for a memory to be processed, we access all the elements that constitute that memory and they become activated to one with the emotional pain that they entail.
This contact takes place in a safe therapeutic environment and provides a double focus of awareness, allowing you to be aware of the pain of the past and the safety of that moment in the present.
From there, the emotional charge will be desensitized and the traumatic memory will be reprocessed, so that it will be associated with more adaptive and healthy memory networks.
Your book “How can I get out of here” is dedicated to explaining this type of therapeutic intervention. Has it been difficult to adapt these explanations to the narrative format, a story for children?
Explaining any therapeutic process to a child involves connecting with and adapting to their maturing states. My goal was to tell something simple where the parents have a leading role, since they are essential for the child to feel safe.
What are the main ideas you wanted to capture in this story?
That you can get out of suffering, and that you can deal with it without talking about it. It’s very difficult for a child to put words to his pain. That is an advantage of EMDR, it allows you to approach the wound from the body, from the sensory and emotional and from there, focusing on the sensory and emotional, begin to integrate the pain.
Children are wonderful and they know that something is happening and that their pain, their memory, changes. When they tell you “that’s it, it’s gone”, “I look at it and it’s not there”, that’s it, the transformation has taken place. Adults find it hard to understand, we have many more defenses and the process is more costly.
The book also talks about the Emotional Garden. What exactly is it about?
One of the things we observed in the consultation is the difficulty many children have in identifying their emotions. Adults focus on actions and take little care of their emotional world and they, at present, live very centred on the screens and are unaware of the nuance of many emotions.
Through the Emotional Garden I have tried to help families cultivate their children’s emotional world. To make parents aware that they are the gardeners who take care of that emotional world.
And to do this you have to attend to them and they have to be specialists in pulling out the bad weeds, calming the disturbing emotions (this is the opposite of not attending to them and wanting them not to experience) and fertilising the positive emotions.
Does EMDR therapy work for all types of patients regardless of gender and age?
EMDR therapy is designed to treat trauma, and its protocol has been adapted to the different characteristics of patients or different stages of maturity of the child.
The preparation and stabilization phase is very important to prepare the patient until he is ready to process his traumatic memories.
One must always respect the patient and his idiosyncrasy. EMDR therapy in itself is eclectic and includes elements of different approaches. A good psychotherapist must have an open mind and combine different approaches that best suit the needs of his or her patient. The mind is complex and wonderful.