Using EMDR in unresolved neonatal trauma in a 13 year old and in a 7 year old whose father killed their mother


I am presenting the case of a 13-year-old boy who was referred because of uncontrolled rage evident in his relationship with peers in one incident he had a fellow pupil’s head under water until he was gasping for air.. He had shown little remorse towards the boy and described the incident as funny. The family had experienced a series of traumatic events. They were forced to evacuate their home when criminal gangs attempted to burn them out; his was to use the house for drug-related activity. Gang members had assaulted my patient and his mother in the street after going to the police. After meeting with the parents and brother and older sister, I had identified that on top of this recent trauma L had extreme hostility towards his mother who he described as “that woman.” My initial EMDR sessions were with L and his father. During processing of the trauma, my video will show bizarre movement including rolling his head back, hypotonic posture and behavior similar to an infant. This can be understood in relation to L’s early development. He was born at 33 weeks gestation and spends his first 6 weeks in a special care baby unit (CBU) in an incubator. My presentation will discuss the neurological consequences of early trauma and how a narrative approach using EMDR can help in recovery. This approach is based on the work of Dr. Joan Lovett. She is a California-based pediatrician who has developed a protocol for working with children who have experienced significant trauma following premature birth.

My second case is J, a 7-year-old boy who witnessed his father murder his mother approx 1 year ago. He was then held hostage by his father for 6 hours with the body of his mother lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen while the police negotiated with J’s father for his release. My first involvement with J was an in depth assessment of his emotional attachment and placement needs for the court. During this process, he developed frequent infantile rages and I advised the system of care around J on their management. At one stage, he had recurrent dreams about joining his mother in heaven and he was discovered attempting to strangle himself. I will discuss how I used the safe place protocol to alleviate his distress. I am now using EMDR directly with J. I use a variety of bilateral alternating stimuli. These include drumming, musical symbols, and a xylophone. I am able to get J to draw sequentially with each new drawing generated by J performing the “Butterfly hug.” I was inspired to use this technique after I attended a wonderful workshop facilitated by Michel Silvestre entitled “integrating family therapy and EMDR.” I hope to discuss in this presentation how EMDR can be combined with other therapeutic approached in a case of extreme trauma experienced by a 6-year-old boy who is now effectively orphaned as his father is in prison probably for the rest of his natural life. I will also allude to some of the techniques discussed by Dr. Atle Dyregrov at the 5th annual UK and Ireland conference in London in March last year. He presented in depth therapeutic work with a girl who suffered the trauma of her mother’s suicide. I will discuss some of the challenges presented by traumatic grief and how the EMDR protocol can be adapted for use in children.






Arther O'Malley

Original Work Citation

O'Malley, A. (2007, June). Using EMDR in unresolved neonatal trauma in a 13 year old and in a 7 year old whose father killed their mother. Presentation at the 8th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Paris, France




“Using EMDR in unresolved neonatal trauma in a 13 year old and in a 7 year old whose father killed their mother,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed December 5, 2020,

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