I spent yesterday afternoon at a fundraiser for EMDR-HAP's Haiti project and last night at "Living in Emergency", the new Doctors Without Borders/MSF film, followed by a live discussion with MSF staff/volunteers. I'm left with two feelings: overwhelmed that there is so much untreated physical and emotional trauma in the world and gratitude and hope that volunteers have taken on the task of doing what they can to heal it.
(Full disclosure: I'm on the board of EMDR-HAP.)
The EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program started 15 years ago as a sub-program of the EMDR Institute, to address the psychological trauma of disasters. HAP's first big project was sending therapists to work with first responders after the Oklahoma City bombing. After volunteers used EMDR to clear the trauma for medics, fire-fighters, police, and others, some stayed to train therapists to work with the rest of the population. HAP started out responding to disasters and now has a new mandate: building capacity to serve underserved traumatized communities. While they still respond to specific disasters like Katrina, the Turkish earthquake, the tsunami in Indonesia, etc., they are building capacity by training therapists to do EMDR in those places, and in underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world. HAP has done trainings for community mental health centers, rape crisis centers, children's agencies and military services in the U.S. Its volunteers have trained therapist who work in Israel, the Palestinean territories, Iraq, Egypt, India, Bosnia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Columbia, and many other countries. Therapists or agencies may pay the expense of the trainings (dirt cheap, since all trainers and facilitators work for free) or grants may underwrite the entire expense. HAP, under its wonderful director, Dr. Robert Gelbach, has turned to "building capacity". Its goal is for each country or region to eventually grow its own training capacity, so that we can bow out and send our volunteers to other places.
HAP is also promoting Trauma Recovery Networks, regionally-based mostly autonomous groups that train themselves to work with disasters or underserved populations. I'm in the beginning of starting such a group in the Seattle area.
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres/MSF) was started in 1971. It sends medical personnel to over 60 countries to deal with victims of war and other disasters. Volunteers sign on for a 6-month or more hitch and deal with the medical issues of extremely underserved people. Most of the medical people come from developed countries and most do their stints in places with inadequate supplies, electricity, and communications. In "Living in Emergency", I saw the doctors deal with the deaths of patients they would have been able to save in more modern settings. I saw them dealing without the basics of sanitary surgery and doing amazing work (as far as I can tell). Many doctors smoked. All drank. Many used sex to affirm life while surrounded by death. The stress was amazing. About half do a second stint. Some sign on indefinitely.
I noticed the difference between HAP and MSF. Most HAP volunteers fly away for 3 or 4 days or a few weeks, at most. HAP, being a mental health-based agency, pays attention to the stress of its volunteers. MSF, according to the movie and to the discussion, believes that volunteers are responsible for themselves and should deal with their own problems. There is debriefing, but no formal mechanism for support. It made me wonder about a HAP-MSF connection. Could we at HAP have our EMDR therapists available to assist traumatized MSF personnel?
Go see "Living in Emergency". If you want to learn more about Doctors Without Borders/ MSF go to http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/ . If you want to learn more about EMDR-HAP go to www.emdrhap.org . Feel free to leave a donation at the websites. These folks are doing great, life-giving work.