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EMDR With Neurofeedback for Teen Trauma Therapy & PTSD Treatment

There are a variety of trauma therapy and PTSD treatments available today. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of those approaches. It has been supported by research and has been shown to be effective.

Neurofeedback is another trauma therapy and PTSD treatment available today. Neurofeedback is not as common as EMDR for two reasons:

  1. Training in neurofeedback is quite intensive. The Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) is the main certifying body in the United States and internationally. They require that a neurofeedback therapist receive in depth training, mentoring, and proof of proficiency through passing a rigorous exam.

  2. The sophisticated, state of the art software, hardware, and equipment needed is quite expensive.

Because of the two reasons above, neurofeedback as an approach for trauma therapy and PTSD treatment may not be widely available. Yet, these two reasons above also weed out those who are not committed to the education, training, and sacrifice needed to become an effective neurofeedback therapist.

Both EMDR and neurofeedback on their own are effective approaches in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment. Both approach healing in two different ways:

  1. EMDR approaches trauma therapy and PTSD treatment through helping the mind to process unresolved memories, emotions, sensations, and thoughts related to the trauma.

  2. Neurofeedback helps the brain to balance it's performance and addresses trauma therapy and PTSD treatment at the source of the problem -- the brain.

Combining these two approaches and using them together can be a powerful approach in helping teens heal in teen therapy through trauma therapy and PTSD treatment.

In this post we will:

What is Trauma?

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We often see the word 'trauma' overused today. We hear trauma being associated with simple events that are bothersome but clearly not traumatic. It may have caused distress in the moment for the person but does not rise to the true definition of trauma.

For example, you have people on both sides of the political spectrum who experience 'trauma' if the other party's president is elected. Others report trauma due to work stress and anxiety. And one report of "hair trauma" as described in the Chicago Tribune:

"A trauma sensitive yoga instructor explained her "hair trauma" stating, "I grew up with really curly hair in Miami. When you're 13, a bad hair day is overwhelming. . . Even though I would never compare that to someone who was abused, it's an experience that shaped my identity and, at the time, was intolerable."

Though these events may be distressing to the person at the time, they are clearly tolerable and do not rise to the definition of trauma.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as "an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. And a person can still experience trauma if they find the event or events physically or emotionally threatening or harmful to one's safety or security.

While the word trauma may be overused by some, it carries an incredibly significant meaning to others. Trauma impacts us all differently. Two people could experience the same exact event. One may walk away relatively unscathed while the other develop a trauma reaction.

Is Trauma & PTSD Really an Issue Teens Experience?

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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. It has been estimated that:

  • 1 in 4 high school students were in at least 1 physical fight

  • 1 in 5 high school students report being bullied at school with 1 in 6 experiencing cyber bullying

  • 19% of injured and 12% of physically ill youth have post-traumatic stress disorder

  • 54% of the families in the United States have experienced a natural disaster

And people who have experienced trauma are:

  • 15 times more likely to attempt suicide

  • 4 times more likely to become an alcoholic

  • 4 times more likely to use drugs

  • 3 times more likely to experience depression

  • 2.5 times more likely to smoke

Signs Your Teen May Have Experienced Trauma

It can be challenging for parents of teens to distinguish between what may be a teen 'phase' or something more serious. We also look at events our teens experience through our own lenses. What may not be traumatic for us may be traumatic for our teens.

There are times where a teen may have experienced a traumatic event(s) when they were much younger. Because they experienced the trauma when they were younger and they seemed to be a happy child, we can be lulled into a false security that they were not traumatized.

We often see that these early childhood experiences can rear their ugly head once adolescence starts. Teens brains have matured to the point where they can start thinking more critically and analytically.

Hormones also kick start an emotional process for the teens. As they begin experiencing feelings more intensely, this can trigger an activation of a past trauma that was thought resolved.

If you have a teen who you know or suspect has experienced or is experiencing a traumatic event(s), below are some of the signs of a trauma reaction:

  • Strong, persistent emotions of sadness, anger, anxiety, and/or guilt

  • Blowing up or overacting over seemingly small things

  • Having the traumatic event always on their mind either talking or thinking about it often

  • Difficulty in getting or staying asleep

  • Reports of nightmares

  • Sleeping too much

  • Isolating from family and/or friends

  • Wanting to be alone more often

  • Being very protective of family members and friends

  • A regression in age where they may be acting younger than their chronological age

  • Being self-absorbed and only caring about what is important in the here and now

  • Loss of motivation or interest in school, friends, interest/hobbies, and life in general

  • Pessimistic outlook on life, being cynical and distrusting of others

  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness

  • Memory problems particularly short-term memory

  • Difficulty in concentrating or focusing

  • Difficulty in problem solving

There is Hope and Healing Available

If you observe any of these changes in your teen or are concerned that it may not simply be their 'teen phase', there are specialists in teen therapy and family counseling who can help.

Being able to resolve teen trauma through trauma therapy or PTSD treatment while in their teen years can save them trouble and heartache in their adult years.

There are approaches available that have been supported by research and shown to be effective. Finding a specialist in teen counseling and family therapy trained in these approaches can free your teen from the chains of trauma.

Trauma Therapy & PTSD Treatment:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

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Trauma therapy and PTSD treatments have been studied and researched since the 1960's. As a result, there are a variety of approaches in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment.

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use those trauma therapy and PTSD treatment approaches that are supported by research. These approaches have been shown to be effective.

We have also been intentional in selecting those approaches that can be effective in the shortest amount of time. Teen years should be fun and enjoyable. The effects of trauma can interfere with this and we want to help your teen fully resolve them in a timely manner.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the research supported, trauma therapy and PTSD treatments we use at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980's. It is an 8 phase trauma therapy and PTSD treatment that does not rely on talk therapy. The phases of EMDR are:

Phase 1: History Taking

In this phase, the EMDR therapist is being intentional in ensuring a thorough history is taken. The EMDR therapist is creating a sequence of events, or a trauma timeline, with the teen. The EMDR therapist does not go into depth or detail at this phase while taking the trauma timeline.

In this phase, the EMDR therapist is getting the main elements of the traumatic event and the age it occurred. The EMDR therapist then asks the teen to rate the experience on a 1-10 scale on how disturbing it is for them today.

Once the history taking phase has concluded, the EMDR therapist moves on to the Preparation Phase.

Phase 2: Preparation

This phase is an important phase in teen therapy as it teaches the teen emotional regulation, stress reduction, and grounding skills. These skills are used in the trauma therapy or PTSD treatment sessions but can be used out of session as well.

We practice these skills with the teen in their teen therapy session to ensure that they are competent with these skills. These skills are also a safety net for while processing trauma. If the emotion experienced becomes overwhelming, we can use these skills to help let the energy out of the emotions.

Phase 3: Assessment

In this phase, the EMDR counselor helps your teen identify key elements from the traumatic experience to process. The EMDR therapist will help your teen to:

  • Identify the irrational, negative belief about themselves that trauma creates

  • A rational, positive belief about themselves that is based in fact to replace the negative belief

  • The EMDR counselor will help your teen rate how true the positive belief feels to them

  • The EMDR therapist will help the teen identify the negative feelings that go with this belief and the traumatic incident

  • The EMDR counselor will help the teen rate on a 1-10 scale how disturbing these feelings are to them today

  • And the EMDR counselor will help the teen to identify where they feel these negative feelings in their body

EMDR helps teens to process the image of the event, the negative belief, and the feelings and where they feel these feelings in their body. Trauma is stored also in the body. To fully process trauma, we have to process the discomfort trauma creates in the body.

Phase 4: Desensitization

In this phase, the EMDR therapist helps the teen process the unresolved trauma. The EMDR therapist uses the brains natural mechanism in processing memories, feelings, thoughts, etc.

During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the brain is sorting the images, feelings, and thoughts of the day. The brain helps these experiences to be processed and stored in the appropriate regions of the brain.

Trauma is an experience that has not been adequately or correctly processed. It is an experience that has become 'stuck'. EMDR uses bi-lateral movements like in REM sleep to help this experience to be fully processed by the brain. The only difference is that the teen is awake during this process.

Finger movements moving back and forth that the teen tracks with their eyes is one mechanism the EMDR therapist uses. Another is the use of 'hand tappers'.

Hand tappers are little paddles that vibrate. The teen holds one paddle in each hand and this becomes the bi-lateral movement, or sensation, the EMDR therapist uses in helping the teen resolve trauma.

Phase 5: Installation

We use the rating scales and the teen's self-report to determine whether the trauma has been fully processed. Once this occurs, the EMDR counselor wants to 'install' the positive belief the teen wishes to hold.

Using the same mechanism of bi-lateral movement for processing, we help install or strengthen the positive belief the teen wishes to have. Over the course of several sessions, the teen's rating, and own self report, we can determine whether the belief has been adequately strengthened.

Phase 6: Body Scan

Once the positive belief has been strengthened as much as possible, the EMDR therapist moves on to the body scan. The EMDR therapist will ask the teen to pay attention to the sensations in their body.

The teen is instructed to scan their body from head to toe and notice any discomfort they may have in their body. If there is lingering discomfort, the EMDR therapist will help them process the discomfort until it is no longer present. Bi-lateral movement is still the mechanism to help process lingering discomfort in the body related to the trauma.

Phase 7: Closure

At the end of each EMDR therapy session, the EMDR counselor will provide some instruction to the teen. At the end of a trauma therapy or PTSD treatment session that is not yet fully processed, the EMDR therapist will practice with the teen their coping skills while in session.

The EMDR counselor will also remind the teen to use their coping skills should they feel strong emotion between session. The teen can always reach out to their EMDR therapist as well should the need arise.

If it is a session that has fully processed the trauma, the EMDR counselor will encourage the teen to continue to practice the skills they learned.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

To start the session, the EMDR therapist will ask the teen to rate their level of disturbance regarding the target from the last session. This will help the teen and the EMDR therapists to assess progress made.

If there remains additional processing to be done, the EMDR counselor will begin the process again starting at phase 4 and continue this process until the target has been fully processed.

A Life Changing Experience for Teens

EMDR for trauma therapy and PTSD treatment has been a life changing approach for many teens. The negative self-belief and the emotions accompanying this are metabolized and no longer plague the teen.

The freedom from trauma that they feel allows them to live their life to their full potential. EMDR for teen therapy has helped many teens. It can help your teen too.

Trauma Therapy and PTSD Treatment : Neurofeedback

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Neurofeedback can be an effective approach in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment. It is especially helpful for those teens who struggle to communicate what they are experiencing emotionally.

The therapist trained in neurofeedback addresses the problem at the source which is how the brain is functioning. In neurofeedback, the teen places a cap on their head that has 19 sensors embedded in the cap.

The neurofeedback therapist then records the brains performance. Areas of the brain that are over performing or underperforming are matched with the symptoms the teen reports experiencing.

A brain map is created and compared to brain maps of other teens the same age and gender. From this comparison, a symptom checklist is created that correlate to regions of the brain that are under or over performing.

A training protocol is then developed that will help the regions of the brain come into balance. As the brain comes into balance, the symptoms related to trauma are alleviated or eliminated altogether.

Brain Training for Trauma Therapy and PTSD Treatment

The training protocol is very relaxing, enjoyable, and fun. The mechanism that helps the brain learn to perform differently is through operant conditioning.

In operant conditioning, the brain is rewarded when meeting the threshold for performance that would help balance the regions of the brain that are over or under performing. The reward for the brain comes in the form of simple, novel stimulation.

This novel stimulation is often in the form of a video game that the teen plays not with paddles, but with brain performance. When the teen's brain is performing in a balanced state, the teen is able to control the video game. When the brain is not performing in a balanced state, the teen cannot control the video game.

Our therapist trained in neurofeedback will also use movies or tv series in the same way as the video game. The mechanism is the same. When the brain is performing in a balance state, the teen is able to hear and see the show. When the brain is not performing in a balanced state, the teen cannot hear or see the show.

The neurofeedback therapist is able to control the difficulty and finds the 'sweet spot'. This is where the teen's brain is challenged enough but not too much that it becomes frustrating.

Typical Course of Neurofeedback for Trauma Therapy and PTSD Treatment

For neurofeedback to be effective, the teen needs to participate at least two times weekly for around 40 sessions. Each round or training in each session, the brain is rewarded hundreds of times. In a full neurofeedback session, the brain could be rewarded for balanced performance up to 1,000 times.

Over the course of 40 sessions, the brain learns to perform without the symptoms related to trauma. The teen can gradually find themselves:

  • Sleeping through the night

  • No longer perseverating or ruminating on images, thoughts and memories of the traumatic incident

  • Waking up happier and experiencing less anxiety and,

  • Able to live their lives free of the symptoms of trauma

Neurofeedback is powerful as it takes minimal motivation for this approach to be effective. The only motivation the teen needs is to show up, two times a week at minimum, and sit in a comfortable chair playing a video game or watching a show. The neurofeedback software does the rest.

A Combined Approach in Trauma Therapy & PTSD Treatment: EMDR & Neurofeedback

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As we take these two approaches individually, on their own, they can be a powerful tool in helping teens reclaim their lives. Combining EMDR with neurofeedback addresses healing in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment through psychological and emotional healing as well as healing at the level of the brain.

EMDR can help address the psychological and emotional healing through helping the teen to process unprocessed trauma. Neurofeedback can help providing healing for the brain in helping it to learn to perform in a balanced state.

As the psychological and emotional healing take place through EMDR, the brain is learning and building new pathways through neurofeedback to help maintain the healing that has taken place.

Though time and cost intensive, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment through EMDR and neurofeedback can help teens reclaim their lives. A traumatic event(s) is typically something that happens outside of our control. Through EMDR and neurofeedback, we can place your teen back in control of their lives.

Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

Specialists in Trauma Therapy & PTSD Treatment

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, our EMDR and neurofeedback therapist is skilled in helping teens heal from the effects of trauma and PTSD. Utilizing specialized training in EMDR and neurofeedback, he can help your teen restore hope, happiness, and connected family relationships.

If your teen is ready to start the journey to reclaim their lives from the effects of trauma, you can follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Speak with our specialist in EMDR counseling and neurofeedback therapy

  3. Begin the healing process today with a specialist in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment

Other Teen Therapy & Family Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling

While we specialize in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment through EMDR and neurofeedback, we also provide other teen therapy and family counseling services. Below are some of the other therapeutic services offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

Neurofeedback For:

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

About the Author

Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He is a Specialist in Teen Therapy & Family Counseling. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003.

Through his expertise, he has helped teens who struggle with ADHD/ADD and with teens who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, and other teen and family challenges.

He works with talented teen athletes who have experience mental blocks. Gifted students have unique challenges that Jason understands well.

Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, and Motivational Interviewing. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, through teen therapy and family counseling, we can help your teen and family restore hope, happiness, and connected family relationships.


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