Treatment of children's fears with EMDR


Through case material, the usefullness of EMDR is illustrated for the treatment of children's fears and phobias. The issue of integrating EMDR treatment with more traditional treatment is also addressed, especially with more complex contextual problems. Three case histories are presented with emphasis on the most complicated case. Family therapy treatment espouses the notion that psychopathology in the child results from dysfunctional family functioning, and as such the entire family system has to be treated. This concept is broadened with the use of EMDR. The first case illustrates a single trauma event in which a 6 year old boy was bitten by a rottweiler. Presenting symptoms were nightmares, fear of sleeping alone, poor school performance, persistent thoughts and fear of dogs. The first session of EMDR was successful in eliminating most of these fears. A second EMDR session focusing on a nightmare was also successful. Two follow up sessions with the family dealt with other parenting issues and the possibility of attention deficit disorder. The targeted problem was eliminated via EMDR. The second case demonstrates a successful one session treatment of an otherwise healthy 6 year old girl who had fears of the dark and had slept in her parent's bed for years. In the third case, a complex symptomatology is presented of a nine year old girl (Lily) with a severe, life threatening heart condition for which she has undergone 4 delicate aortal surgeries since age 2 and is on a medication maintenance regimen. Future surgery is anticipated during adolescence. Family history is significant for mother's struggle to overcome alcohol addiction, depression and past abuse. The family has financial pressures. Family system analysis reveals over involvement between mother and daughter, peripheral father and sibling rivalry (daughter 11). Family treatment involved boundary and limit setting, hierarchical restructuring and family communication skills. The illness as an organizing factor in the family system was repeatedly addressed. Interspersed with this treatment approach were EMDR sessions for daughters and mother. Lily had fears of separation fiom mother, fears of dying, choking, becoming ill, swimming, going to bed, and fears of the devil (as learned in their fundamentalist religion) as well as several other fears. EMDR sessions targeted these fears, and sometimes several fears were intertwined, such as fear of sleeping, the devil coming into her room and taking her away to die. Cognitive interweave was used when she appeared stuck. Through the EMDR treatments, Lily was able to deeply examine her fears, based on the real life uncertainties she faced. Her progress demonstrated a particularly poignant attempt to make sense of the meaning of life and cope with the threat of death.






Frances R.  "Frankie" Klaff

Original Work Citation

Klaff, F. R. (1995, June). Treatment of children's fears with EMDR. Presentation at the EMDR Network Conference, Santa Monica, CA




“Treatment of children's fears with EMDR,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed June 19, 2021,

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