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Ukrainian refugees receive therapy to deal with trauma

June 16, 2022

By Maple Ridge News |

When the memories of death and destruction get stuck in the brain, they can cause lifelong disability, sheet-soaking nightmares, anger and hair-trigger tempers.

A trauma workshop set for this June 24 and 25 in Maple Ridge is intended to relieve those symptoms for women who’ve fled the bombs and bullets of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Crystal Arber, a certified therapist, is leading the workshop where about 20 refugees will be participating in the two-day session that will use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

The therapy involves having people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder think of a traumatic event they’ve experienced. While doing so for a few minutes, they do some kind of physical activity, such as using a butterfly hug where they hug themselves and then tap their hands. The physical activity is believed to keep the person in the present, thus allowing the reduction of the trauma of the thoughts or memories.

Another variation, and which gives the technique its name, is having a person move the eyes side to side by following a therapist’s hand. That is called bilateral stimulation.

“The BLS, what it seems to do … it calms the amygdala,” the part of the brain responsible for flight or fight.

“It shows that they get very good results, that most people’s symptoms are manageable or completely eliminated,” said Arber.

Initially, she was skeptical of EMDR. But she started using it to help the homeless and drug addicted in the Downtown Eastside.

“I saw dramatic results, even after a few months.”

She also offered a pilot program at the B.C. Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Vancouver to RCMP members and members of the armed forces suffering from PDST.

“It was a huge success,” Arber added. Now, EMDR as a therapy has become mainstream. Since 2015 or 2016, “It’s blown up. It’s taken off. Everybody is talking about it now. Nobody questions whether it works anymore, which is great,” she said.

The Maple Ridge workshop for the refugees will focus on the recent memories that resulted from the invasion of Ukraine. By offering it in workshop format, only one or two translators are needed, along with four other therapists.

However, people taking the course have to be pre-screened to ensure they’re stable, safe, and not at risk of re-traumatization.

Participants in the workshop do the process three or four times for each memory, with each step reducing the trauma of the memories, thoughts or feelings. The workshop doesn’t require people to share their experiences, which can also be disturbing.

At the end of two days, individual sessions are offered to those who need it. About a dozen therapists in the Metro Vancouver area have offered their services for free to the refugees.

Arber said that she’d also like to organize another EMDR therapy session for children and noted that therapists across Ukraine are now learning the technique.

* Female refugees who want to take the workshop, can do so using Google docs to register at docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLSdAUfW4C8azN7…/viewform

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