At Cummins Behavioral Health, we know our organization is only as good as our care providers. They are the ones who work directly with the individuals we serve, and their ability affects the success of our services. This is why we work hard to provide our staff with continuing education and professional development opportunities.
In past blogs, we have discussed EMDR therapy (short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is an increasingly popular tool for treating symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress. Cummins has been working to train team members who are interested in EMDR so we can offer this treatment to clients who would benefit from it.
To this end, we recently invited Linda Curran, BCPC, LPC, CAADC, CCDPD, to train 20 of our staff therapists in EMDR! Curran is a mental health clinician, trauma specialist, and best-selling author who has worked alongside influential practitioners and researchers like Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Robin Shapiro, Janina Fisher, and Laurel Parnell. As an established expert in the field, she brings a wealth of real-world knowledge and applications to her instruction.
We were very excited to have Curran visit and train our staff, and we would like to share some of the experience with you! In this blog post, we’ll share some photos from the training and several of Curran’s insights into why EMDR is an important tool for behavioral health practitioners. Keep reading to learn more!
Getting to Know Linda Curran
Linda Curran has dedicated her professional life to understanding and treating psychological trauma. She began her career working one-on-one with patients in clinical settings, but now primarily focuses on training and education for fellow clinicians. “I have a few clients,” she says. “I always say I try to get rid of them through attrition, but they don’t ‘attrish’—people keep coming back. So I have a few clients.”
Through the continuing education organization PESI, Inc., Curran has written and published the clinical workbooks Trauma Competency: A Clinician’s Guide and 101 Trauma-Informed Interventions: Activities, Exercises and Assignments to Move the Client and Therapy Forward. She has also produced several professional training videos and two online courses on the subject of trauma treatment. In addition, Curran is the President of Integrative Trauma Treatment, LLC and manages the website trauma101.com, which provides thorough information and resources about trauma treatment for practitioners and individuals seeking treatment.
“I teach because I love teaching,” Curran says. “I used to do it as an individual therapist, and then I thought, you know, wider and wider circles. I could affect change at a larger level if I did group therapy. And then the same thing: I could do more if I taught therapists, because these therapists touch lives. They’re touching whole families. So I think those wider and wider circles are one of the reasons why I love teaching.”
Funny enough, Curran agreed to visit Cummins to personally train our staff after a meeting with Robb Enlow, our Chief Clinical Operations Officer. Curran explains, “I met [him] at one of the trainings he came to this February past, and he asked me to come. I don’t do this for a lot of people, right? I mean, I’ve done it for other people, but only for bosses who really are going to follow up. And he does consultation, he does supervision groups with all the staff. He cares about their training.”
What Makes EMDR Therapy Different
Curran has been teaching about the neuroscience of trauma for the last 15 years. When asked why EMDR is important for the treatment of trauma, she answers, “It is an effective, kinder, gentler method than anything else we have. I don’t want to act like it is the have-all and be-all of trauma therapy, but most people in the field would say that if you’re working with trauma, you need to be equipped with it.”
However, Curran was skeptical of EMDR when she first heard about the therapy. She says, “From the beginning, some people—and I’m one of them—thought it was nonsense, that the only people getting good results were [EMDR creator] Francine Shapiro’s people, and stuff like that. But then I had a director in my Gestalt therapy training who said, ‘Linda, you work with all trauma, all the time. You have to have this skill.’ And then I’m in the training, and I don’t usually cry in front of people, but tears are running down my cheeks when I’m the role of client in this training. So I thought, there is something different about this.”
EMDR uses a process called alternating bilateral stimulation to help clients recall and reprocess traumatic memories, which makes these memories less distressing in the future and helps clients reframe negative beliefs about themselves. For individuals who suffer from “simple” trauma or single-incident trauma, EMDR can bring relief from symptoms much faster than other therapeutic methods.
“Some people are going to come in, they already have the skills to stay stable, you know, they had a one-time event that overwhelmed them, and that literally can be treated with a good assessment, a session, and a follow-up phone call,” Curran says. “I don’t know any other treatment that can do that. With prolonged exposure, that takes 10 weeks, and you have to keep going over your trauma, you have to keep going into the stress response. With EMDR, it’s a session and a follow-up phone call. It is miraculous for single-incident trauma.”
However, Curran is quick to caution that many—if not most—people who seek treatment for trauma do not suffer from single-incident trauma. Instead, complex trauma is the norm. “When I first brought EMDR to community mental health, what I did was re-traumatize people, because they didn’t have the skills to stay stable,” she explains. “All the people in this room don’t see single-incident trauma. Anybody that works in a prison, a rehab facility, or anybody that works in community mental health—you’re never going to see it.”
When working with clients who have complex trauma, the clinician must first help them emotionally prepare to recall their trauma so they do not become overwhelmed by it. Unfortunately, this can be a long process. “EMDR is a nice tool to have, but you have to get somebody to a point where they would actually benefit from it. For some people, it’s going to be months. For some people, it’s going to be years,” Curran says.
Linda Curran’s Advice for Clinicians
Curran likes to reference a quote from psychoanalyst Carl Jung when discussing EMDR and other therapeutic frameworks: “Know all the theories, master all the techniques, but as you touch a human soul, be just another human soul.”
“There’s no question you have to know all these things,” Curran says. “There’s no question you have to have those skills. But mostly, you have to be able to sit and recognize this is another human being who has entrused you at their most vulnerable.”
When it comes to EMDR, Curran stresses that it is a very helpful tool, but ultimately only one piece of an effective treatment plan. Instead of expecting EMDR to solve all trauma-related issues for their clients, clinicians should view it as a supplement to their existing skills.
As Curran says, “Don’t forget you’re already a clinician. This is just a tool that you’re going to use. You bring your clinical prowess to this modality, not the other way around.“