EMDR integrative attachment trauma protocol for the treatment of severely neglected and abused children


Abused and neglected children who are in foster, adoptive, or guardianship care frequently exhibit challenging behaviors such as aggression, stealing, and defiance, which lead to stuck negative parent-child interactions, ongoing family crises, and interruption of trauma treatment. Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model provides a way of conceptualizing these challenging behaviors as driven by underlying traumas and associated negative perceptions and affect. Because traumatic memories are stored in an unprocessed form, any present-day reminders, conscious or subconscious, can trigger the earlier affect and perceptions and create problems in the child’s functioning. EMDR therapy is an evidence-based trauma method, involving a standard 8-phase protocol and a 3-pronged approach that brings past traumas and current triggers to adaptive resolution and creates new emotional and behavioral responses to future situations. There are obstacles, however, in the implementation of EMDR with children suffering from attachment trauma due to the associated emotional and behavioral dysregulation, lack of insight, dissociation, and fear of vulnerable feelings. The effectiveness and efficiency of EMDR therapy with very challenging traumatized children can be increased through ann integrative family therapy and EMDR therapy protocol. The child’s response to EMDR is improved through family therapy interventions designed to heighten self-awareness, self-regulation, mindfulness, and insight for both child and parents, and to increase emotional support for the child from the parents for increased regulation throughout the trauma work. Additionally, specialized adaptations of the EMDR 8-phase protocol can improve success of the trauma therapy for dysregulated and severely traumatized children. Preparation Phase activities, termed EMDR Attachment Resource Development, create and reinforce feelings of closeness and connection within the office prior to trauma work. Adaptations during the desensitization phase of EMDR therapy include the use of parents for emotional support during EMDR therapy and for interventions termed “interactional interweaves,” in which parents are coached to supply pertinent information needed to help the child find a more adult perspective. This workshop demonstrates the EMDR Integrative Attachment Trauma Protocol through lecture, case presentations, and accompanying videos.

Learning Objectives:
List 3 common negative beliefs held by children affected by attachment trauma.
Identify 2 potential obstacles to EMDR therapy with children with a history of attachment trauma.
State 1 rationale for the integration of a family therapy component within EMDR therapy for children affected by attachment trauma.






Debra B. Wesselmann

Original Work Citation

Wesselmann, D. B. (2016, March-April). EMDR integrative attachment trauma protocol for the treatment of severely neglected and abused children. Presentation at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation 33rd Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA



“EMDR integrative attachment trauma protocol for the treatment of severely neglected and abused children,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed April 6, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/23571.

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