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EMDR netowrk brings coordinated response

In 2005, a team of therapists from western Massachusetts traveled to Louisiana to offer counseling to people affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

When the therapists returned and met to discuss their experiences, they agreed that things could have gone better.

“The therapists who went down there felt that they were thrown into trauma treatment with therapists from all over the country and they had never worked together before,” said Amy Kahn, a coordinator of the Western Massachusetts EMDR Trauma Recovery Network. “They felt that their work would have been more effective if there was a more coordinated approach.”

Two years later, the local trauma recovery network was born. It offers five free EMDR and individual psychotherapy sessions to people in a community who have been affected by a crisis, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the tornadoes in Springfield, a bus accident in Amherst that killed a toddler, arson fires in Northampton and more.

The network also makes presentations to the community about the psychological impact of trauma.

Kahn said the goal is to help people in the first three months after experiencing a trauma, so they are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life- threatening event.

In 2011, for example, therapists from the network helped employees of a company that was devastated by the tornado that swept through downtown Springfield. The employees were trapped in the basement of the building for a few hours and could hear the destruction unfolding around them.

“We talked to the employees about what the experience was like for them and told them the stress symptoms, such as fear and anxiety, that they were experiencing afterwards were completely normal,” Kahn said.

Efforts are underway to develop similar teams of therapists trained in EMDR across the country, to respond to catastrophic events as they are happening or immediately afterward, she said. For example, a team from Stamford, Conn., went to Newtown to train therapists working with families and first-responders affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Kahn said the trauma recovery network reaches out to emergency service providers and Red Cross offices across western Massachusetts to educate them about its work.

“We have found that when there is a public calamity, those organizations can refer us to people who need our help,” she said.

For more information about the trauma recovery network, visit its Web site at http://www.wmassemdria.com/trauma-recovery-network.

— SANDRA DIAS

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