EMDR installation for facilitating emotional identification in the treatment of attachment disorders


The accessibility of emotions in children with attachment disorders is known to be complex at best. This presentation looks at a new method of enabling a child dissociating from emotions with severs attachment disorder and complex, traumatic histories to access emotions using the installation phase of EMDR.

For teaching purposes, this presentation will use real-life cases of 4 attachment disordered children where EMDR has been used successfully. All the children had been taught safe space (or similar containment methods) to enable them to self regulate their emotions – however, prior to the installation they did not experience emotions to self regulate.

In all four cases, none of the children were able to access emotions and were severe attachment disordered. The children aged between 12 to 13 years of age and all had a diagnosis of attachment disorder, comorbid with post traumatic stress disorder. Most of the children did not experience emotions directly and when asked where they “felt emotions,” would state that they experienced emotion because they were told that they were experiencing emotion.

An example is one child who mentioned that she had been angry – she only knew this, because an adult had told her she was angry. Some4times, her hands were mottled when she was angry – but there appeared to be no internal awareness of emotional feelings. The three other children reported similar lack of awareness of internal emotions.

Using the installation phase of EMDR within the context of a one-to-one therapy session, each child was asked to focused on a particular emotion and focus where in their body they experienced any feelings which may be associated with emotion.

The children began to describe complex emotions, which they had never previously been able to. Many of these children had never cried or expressed emotions “normally” prior to this. An example of one child’s experience follows. “I feel sad in my heart. It feels cold – as if someone has smashed it into a thousand bits. It’s blue and very lonely. It feels empty.” (This was a child who had never experienced any internal emotion since the age of t when he remembered feeling angry at being taken away from his parents by a social worker. This was the last time he remembered every experiencing any kind of emotion).

Following this, all the children were also encourage to sit with their new emotions and not to be afraid of them.

One child reported: “I never knew how god it could feel to finally be allowed to cry and my throat doesn’t feel so stuck no more.”

Another child stated, “It feels good to be sad. When I cry – that stops my heart hurting so much and the treats make the glue to fix my broken heart.”

Another child experienced: “It’s okay to be angry. Anger isn’t scary – it’s just a feeling – just because I feel it doesn’t mean I have to kick off – and it feels strong to e angry – I have a right to be angry and that’s okay.” So far, we have not experienced an unsuccessful outcome; however, this method is still in the early stages of being developed.






Susan Darker-Smith

Original Work Citation

Darker-Smith, S. (2007, June). EMDR installation for facilitating emotional identification in the treatment of attachment disorders. Poster presented at the 8th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Paris, France



“EMDR installation for facilitating emotional identification in the treatment of attachment disorders,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed February 25, 2021, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/19361.

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