Links to EMDR News Stories
Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma?
Evidence for EMDR Therapy – NY Times
Innovative Therapy in Minnesota
EMDR helping Veterans
Can you benefit from EMDR Therapy?
How EMDR Opens a Window to the Brain
Eye therapy to tackle military stress
Unique Therapy Helps Traumatized New Yorkers Heal
[EMDR-RESEARCH] Eye Therapy Has It Over Antidepressant for PTSD
Link here for NPR interview on FCTRN Inc Sandy Hook shooting response
‘I Can’t Turn My Brain Off’: PTSD and Burnout Threaten Medical
From left, Valerie Gillies, LCSW; Karen Alter-Reid, PhD and Michael Crouch, LCSW of the FCTRT Inc.
Changing the culture: Trauma treatment improves for Stamford firefighters
By Kat Russell, Stamford Advocate March 17, 2018
STAMFORD — Fire Chief Trevor Roach can still recall the mother’s shrieks to rescue her family at the 2011 Shippan blaze that killed three little girls and their grandparents on Christmas morning.
“The call came in at about 4 a.m., and when I got there, the mother was out in the front yard screaming to save her little girls,” Roach said.
He can still see the looks of frustration and defeat on the faces of some 70 firefighters who responded that day, having made valiant attempts to enter the engulfed house to no avail.
“My people are trained not to fail, and the feeling coming out of that fire was that we didn’t succeed,” he said. “It was a difficult event for everyone to cope with.”
For firefighters, these are the types of calls that stay with them for the rest of their lives. In his 31 years as a firefighter, Roach has a long list of calls that haunt him.
“It’s a difficult job,” he said. “When there’s sadness and sorrow, our people are there and it’s our job to absorb some of that sadness. What we see on a day-to-day basis is not normal. What we experience is not normal. And we try our best to deal with it and not take it home with us, but of course, we do take it home.”
According to a 2016 study published by the National Emergency Training Center, repeated exposure to traumatic events can lead to increased mental health struggles for firefighters, who may suffer from irritability and flashbacks and become desensitized cynics.
As a result, “Firefighters are 25 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population,” said Dr. Michael Crouch, a clinician with the Fairfield County Trauma Recovery Team who works closely with first responders. “Their life expectancy is shorter due to the stress they carry. Firefighters have a higher rate of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer, and higher incidence of domestic violence and divorce.”
“We all like to think of ourselves as superheroes, but we’re not,” Stamford Fire Lt. Ted Stanek said. “We are human beings and we are subject to the same feelings and emotions and vulnerabilities that all people are.”
‘Suck it up’
For Stanek, the Shippan fire marked a shift in the conversation around mental health and first responders.
“(It) made us look at how we deal with stresses on our job and ask how can we make things different, so we are better prepared to provide the appropriate resources,” he said.
After the Shippan fire, Stanek said it was clear the department lacked the resources to handle a call of that magnitude. Through the wife of one of the department’s members, trained trauma clinicians were brought in to work with the firefighters who responded that day. They talked to the department about trauma, mental health and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Out of that interaction, the Fairfield County Trauma Response Team (FCTRT) was born.
The volunteer network is comprised of clinicians who specialize in the way trauma affects the brain and body. Dr. Karen Alter-Reid, a co-coordinator of the FCTRT, said the group’s staffers understand the culture of first responders, who live every day with stressful schedules and pressure to “suck it up” under emotionally trying circumstances.
“I was greatly affected by the Shippan fire, and for three and a half years, I didn’t even know it,” Stanek said. “I exhibited behaviors that I explained away, that I rationalized, and those reasons seemed to make a lot of sense. When the Fairfield County Trauma Response Team came in and worked with some of us guys who were affected by that fire … that was when I realized that I needed help dealing with this.”
The Stamford Fire Department has also formed a peer support team, comprised of 18 city firefighters who received training to provide emotional help to their fellows. If a firefighter needs help that goes beyond peer support, Stanek said the team can refer that person to an FCTRT Inc clinician.
Stanek, who is the director of the peer support team, said he can’t change the outcomes of the calls that have upset him, but treatment has helped how he copes with tough situations.
“I had a call last New Year’s morning (2017),” he said. “It was a car accident that involved a young kid, and something about the accident, the way it presented, I realized it could jam me up and I was in front of a therapist within three days so that I could talk about it.”
Changing the culture
One of the biggest obstacles to getting first responders help is not a lack of resources, it’s the culture embedded within these organizations.
“The culture of first responders is different than that of civilians,” said Mr. Crouch, LCSW, who also serves as a member of the FCTRT. “By definition, first responders are expected to be ‘tough,’ they’re supposed to have ‘thick skin.’ And because of that, they don’t want others to see that they’re struggling — they feel like there’s something wrong with them.”
“We have a very difficult culture to crack,” Stanek said. “To a large extent, as a para-military organization, it came from those vets who had seen far worse in World War II, in Vietnam or in Korea. It was easy for them to say ‘don’t worry about it kid, you’ll get over it, do your job.’ So, there wasn’t a culture where people felt comfortable or even safe to be vulnerable.”
That culture, Stanek said, is something the fire department is trying to change. The process he said is gradual and still in its infancy.
“Mental health is something that no one wants to talk about,” he said. “It can be a very unconformable topic for people. But these programs, these conversations, are long overdue.”
Stanek said he can’t force his fellow firefighters to get help when they’re struggling, but he can let them know they’re not alone.
“Sometimes a conversation over a cup of coffee around a kitchen table can be all that’s needed,” he said. “The power of a conversation is immense — just being able to talk about it, and let them know they’re not alone and that what they’re feeling is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, can make a huge difference.”
Roach said the department has made steady progress in addressing the needs of its firefighters, but many obstacles still remain.
“Firemen are very good at helping others, but the one thing we’re not very good at is helping ourselves or asking for help,” Roach said. “Most of us see that as a shameful thing, asking for help, and that’s what we want to change.”
What Israeli schoolchildren sing to deal with rockets
Jewish Standard News interview summary of the local teacher who composed the song in the Israeli school children’s video:
This song was composed by a local teacher and has been taught to hundreds of schoolchildren within firing range of Gaza’s rockets to help them deal with the fear and trauma of having 15 seconds to run for cover when the Color Red siren sounds.
Shachar Bar, an art therapist who teaches in Sderot, became increasingly alarmed after seeing the thousands of children of the western Negev suffering the …cumulative effects of trauma due to the ongoing barrage of Kassam rockets from Gazan Palestinians. Teachers reported the fear and panic being heightened each time the recorded alert “Color Red” sounded, giving students 15 seconds to run for cover.
“Children experienced real developmental regressions, some began bedwetting,” she said. “They were getting hysterical when the alarm sounded – some freezing in place, unable to seek cover. One day I felt like ‘now is the time’ and I took this song I’d made up to a kindergarten class.”
The song begins with the children mimicking the alarm system, chanting “tzeva adom, tzeva adom,” Hebrew for Color Red. (The original alarm was “shachar adom” (red dawn), but children named Shachar were reportedly being affected socially and the municipality changed it.)
“[By mimicking the alert system] we touch slightly upon this threatening thing in a playful way, while in a safe, protected place with people we trust,” she explains. “That is the introduction.”
The song continues, with children seeking cover as they sing:
Hurry, hurry, hurry, to a protected area Hurry, Hurry because now it’s a bit dangerous
“Running to our safe areas or ducking under the table, depending on where we are, coincides with the song,” Bar explains. “There is a fact: it is dangerous outside and we must seek shelter.”
My heart is pounding, boom, ba-ba, boom, boom, boom My body is shaking, doom, da-da doom, doom, doom
“I am giving validation and legitimization to my fear and my body’s reactions,” Bar explains. “It is OK that my heart is pounding, I am even singing about it. It is OK that my body is trembling – I am afraid. Along with the words ‘boom-boom’ and ‘doom-doom,’ the movements of arms crossed and pounding on our chest borrowing from the EMDR method of treating trauma and anxieties. The movements help to break out of it and dissolve the anxiety, improving the mood.”
But I am overcoming Because I am a little bit different …The impact…boom – now we can get up
“Again, we remain in the reality,” Bar says. “We hear the impact and we can get back on our feet and begin with the release.”
Our body we shake, shake, shake Our legs we loosen, loosen, loosen Breathe deep, blow far Breathe deep, now we can laugh
“We breathe deep and release – a yoga method, even a yoga laughter method when we release the laughter,” Bar says. “Laughter releases endorphins into our brain and into our entire system.”
The song concludes: It all passed and I’m glad it’s over – Yes!!
Bar says the song has spread throughout Sderot and the area kibbutz and moshav schools as well. “The joy that the children display there with the release…Once they learned it they were asking to do it again and again. Suddenly they had a tool to deal with all this, that they could hold on to.”
Wildland Firefighting: Everyone Goes Home
Read the email one of the surviving firefighters wrote to her EMDR therapist in the link below.
Innovative Therapy Helps Minnesotans Recover from Trauma
EMDR AND PTSD
TEDxGroningen talk on EMDR: Healing Trauma, Healing Humanity
TEDx Gramercy: Michael Crouch “The Cost of Courage”