Treatment of people with developmental disabilities. How far can we go?


There is evidence to suggest that people with developmental disabilities are at greater risk to suffer from the disruptive effects of traumatic events. However, parents, teachers, caregivers and even clinicians who offer specialized outpatient treatments often lack awareness of this. In general, emotional and behavioural problems are attributed to other diagnosed disorders such as genetic syndromes, cognitive impairments, ADHD or autism. Taking history with regard to behavioural changes following overwhelming events appears not to be a common practice at all. Moreover, the expression of trauma symptoms as well as the interpretation of distressing experiences often differs in comparison with the general population. Furthermore, because of their limited communication skills, common treatment methods are not appropriate. As a result, this patient category seldom receives treatment for exposure to disturbing events, including apparent symptoms of PTSD. Preliminary research findings illustrate that EMDR, because of its strongly non-verbal character, seems to be an applicable, effective and efficient treatment method for this patient category. But how far can we go? During this workshop these findings will be presented, illustrated by many video clips of treatments of patients carried out in a centre for child and adolescent psychiatry and an outpatient treatment of adults with mental health problems. Special attention is given to creative adaptations of the EMDR protocol and the cooperation with parents, who are often traumatized themselves and have to be treated as well, either to make them able to function as a co-therapist or to strengthen their skills in educating a child with special needs.

Learning objectives: After this workshop attendees will be aware of the specific expression of PTSD symptoms in people with various serious developmental disabilities and the various possibilities of EMDR treatment in this population.






Liesbeth Mevissen

Original Work Citation

Mevissen, L. (2011, June). Treatment of people with developmental disabilities. How far can we go? Presentation at the 12th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Vienna, Austria



“Treatment of people with developmental disabilities. How far can we go?,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 27, 2020,

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