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In The Trauma Therapy Movement

Maybe this story starts when, at age 11, I tell my uncle that when I grow up, I want to make the world better. He both smiles and scoffs, knowing that I’ll learn the ways of the world and get a regular job like everyone else. I scoff back, because I know I will do it.

As a young adult, I was not sure exactly how to do this. I felt that I had missed the boat. All the boats: Freud was long gone, family therapy had been invented, the civil rights movement, feminism, organic farming… Would there be any big/important movement left for me to join?

The story picks up in 1992, when I walk away from the already-started dissertation, to do one instead on a new trauma treatment I had learned, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR offered a method of healing that was far more effective and efficient than anything I had encountered. By the time that dissertation was done, I had found my focus, my mission, my historic movement: the burgeoning development of trauma therapy. Having acquired the expertise in EMDR for children, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to further develop and disseminate it, so that trauma-exposed children could get the healing they needed.

I became a student of teaching and training. I joined Toastmasters to improve my presentation skills. I learned how to tie a tie (yes, in my 30’s). I developed interventions, developed child trauma symptom scales, conducted research, wrote papers, wrote a book. Became an EMDR trainer. Presented at many EMDR conferences; gave workshops in several countries.

Following the 9/11 tragedy, I provided a series of five-day trauma therapy trainings to mental health professionals working in the NYC school system. These went really well, and I realized that over the years I had developed a model of trauma therapy that was uniquely teachable/replicable — so I wrote another book. I ultimately left my day job (assistant professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine) to start the Child Trauma Institute. Within a couple of years we had added two EMDR trainers, and we had hosted the first week-long Trauma Trainers Retreat for mentorship of up-and-coming trauma therapy experts.

Over time our repertoire of training programs expanded, and we gradually added trainers, as individuals went through the rigorous trainer development program. We incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2005, and added “Trauma Institute” to our name in 2008, to reflect that our focus included adults as well as children and teens. I was on the road about 3/4 of the time, training all over the USA as well as many other countries.

Then my twins were born. I didn’t want to travel so much anymore; fortunately we had other trainers who could pick up the slack. I decided to work towards building a research & training clinic in my home area. This would facilitate the development of our treatment approach, while also developing more experts who could eventually take over a larger share of the growing training activity in agencies and communities around the world.

So I started providing therapy again, but scheduling was tricky as I was still on the road a fair bit. I started using the intensive therapy format, in which a client works for full consecutive days to get the bulk of the work done. While I did this initially to suit my own scheduling limitations, it became my preferred treatment mode, because it is so quick and efficient. Also around this time period I had inadvertently developed progressive counting (PC), a spinoff of the counting method. PC seems to be about as effective as the other leading trauma treatments, while being well tolerated and uniquely efficient – even moreso than EMDR. And PC is a lot simpler than EMDR, requiring only 2/3 of the training time.

Putting it all together, we have an extraordinary thing going. We’re using (and teaching) EMDR, the best of the established trauma therapies (Greenwald, McClintock, Hall et al, 2015), as well as PC, a newer method that appears to be even quicker (Greenwald, McClintock, Jarecki, & Monaco, 2015). We’re treating people intensively, which further increases efficiency as well as speed of results; clients are routinely making major progress in a matter of days. We use an overall trauma therapy approach that gives clients their best chance of being successful; and this approach is highly teachable and replicable. As you can imagine, we’re pretty excited about our work, and we’re keen to further research and disseminate it.

Half a year ago, “we” was me, one therapist on staff, a mid-career fellow, and a part-time office manager, plus a number of affiliated trainers and therapists. Then in July we got a major multi-year grant to provide free intensive trauma-focused therapy to victims of crime in our region. Oh yeah, and in October we started our first satellite clinic, in Buffalo, NY. Suddenly we’ve more than doubled in staff and budget. (This is probably a good time to mention that although I’m telling my personal story here, many other talented people have put a lot of hard work into building up the organization to this point.)

What’s coming up? A lot… We continue to provide plenty of intensive therapy, in our clinics and  via affiliated therapists around the country. We’ve got good people in two other cities who are ready to start satellite clinics, in perhaps another year or two once we’ve refined the model. We hope to renew and expand our victims of crime grant, to add more staff and serve more people. We continue to offer plenty of therapist training, including a 14-day certificate program each year; we’ll also be offering more internships and post-docs. We’ve got several research projects running, to further study EMDR, PC, and intensive therapy.

Ultimately, and pending further research that confirms the promising findings to date, we plan to widely disseminate PC. We also hope to establish intensive trauma therapy as a standard format that will routinely be provided by therapists and reimbursed by insurers.

Meanwhile, along with the excitement of growth, we have a lot to learn. We have to learn how to operate a larger and still-growing organization. And we have to learn how to ask for financial support to cover the gap between the grant funding we receive and the services we provide: some no-cost therapy, some unfunded research, and some below-cost training. We’ll probably come out with a formal “ask” next month, but if you want to beat the rush you can donate now.

I am so pleased to be part of this trauma therapy movement, that enables psychotherapists to become ever more effective and efficient healers. And pleased to be part of the growing community of people who support us with donations, read our books, participate in trainings, and who become our interns, staff, faculty, and colleagues; as well as the larger community of those doing similar work. It’s good work, and it makes the world better.


Greenwald, R., McClintock, S. D., Hall, S. L., Verbeck, E. G., Lamphear, M. L., Seibel, S., Doss, J., Halvorsen, L., & Gray, A. K. (2015). A meta-analytic comparison of EMDR to other trauma treatments: Effectiveness, efficiency, and acceptability to clients. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Greenwald, R., McClintock, S. D., Jarecki, K., & Monaco, A. (2015). A comparison of eye movement desensitization & reprocessing and progressive counting among therapists in training. Traumatology, 21, 1-6.