Neural processing of emotions in traumatized children treated with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy: a hdEEG study

Front Psychol. 2015 Nov 5:6:1662. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01662. eCollection 2015.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been proven efficacious in restoring affective regulation in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. However, its effectiveness on emotion processing in children with complex trauma has yet to be explored. High density electroencephalography (hdEEG) was used to investigate the effects of EMDR on brain responses to adults' emotions on children with histories of early maltreatment. Ten school-aged children were examined before (T0) and within one month after the conclusion of EMDR (T1). hdEEGs were recorded while children passively viewed angry, afraid, happy, and neutral faces. Clinical scales were administered at the same time. Correlation analyses were performed to detect brain regions whose activity was linked to children's traumatic symptom-related and emotional-adaptive problem scores. In all four conditions, hdEEG showed similar significantly higher activity on the right medial prefrontal and fronto-temporal limbic regions at T0, shifting toward the left medial and superior temporal regions at T1. Moreover, significant correlations were found between clinical scales and the same regions whose activity significantly differed between pre- and post-treatment. These preliminary results demonstrate that, after EMDR, children suffering from complex trauma show increased activity in areas implicated in high-order cognitive processing when passively viewing pictures of emotional expressions. These changes are associated with the decrease of depressive and traumatic symptoms, and with the improvement of emotional-adaptive functioning over time.

Keywords: EMDR; children’s emotional-adaptive functioning; complex trauma; emotion processing; hdEEG.