Ter­ror­ism sur­vivor touts special ther­apy

EMDR helped lo­cal woman who saw fa­ther, brother killed in at­tack.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando nvil­lal­pando@states­man.com

Mae­gan Copeland was walk­ing the streets of Nice, France, with her fam­ily July 14, 2016, when a ter­ror­ist drove a 19-ton truck

into a crowd, killing 84 peo­ple and wound­ing 202 oth­ers. Her 11-year-old brother, Brodie, and her fa­ther, Sean Copeland, were among the dead.

It was Bastille Day and the Copeland fam­ily had trav­eled to France in part to cel­e­brate the 40th birth­day of Sean’s wife, Kim Copeland, and the birth­day of his son from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Austin.

“I was reach­ing over, get­ting candy, and then I leapt back,” she said. Her now 23-year-old brother, Austin, tack­led her out of the way. “My dad saw what was go­ing on, his eyes pop­ping,

he shouted, ‘Austin, grab Mae­gan.’ My dad went in to save Brodie, but there was no way he could.”

Eight days af­ter­ward, Mae­gan Copeland re­turned to Austin with her sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers and held a funeral for her fa­ther and brother.

“The brain, it pro­tects you,” she said. “I was in shock for a while. I didn’t re­al­ize you could be in shock for months.”

Later, her mind would loop back to the at­tack. Copeland, 30, said she was “trau­ma­tized by any mov­ing truck.”

While she was in France, peo­ple help­ing the fam­i­lies of vic­tims told her she needed to find a ther­a­pist who spe­cial­ized in EMDR, which she later learned stood for Eye Move­ment De­sen­si­ti­za­tion and Re­pro­cess­ing.

The ther­apy, Copeland said, is why she can talk now about the events of that day. She thinks about the peo­ple of Suther­land Springs who ex­pe­ri­enced the church shoot­ing, any­one who was in Las Ve­gas at the time of that shoot­ing, or the peo­ple in Hous­ton and along the Gulf Coast who lived through Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Some ex­perts es­ti­mate that 30 to 40 per­cent of peo­ple who di­rectly ex­pe­ri­ence a dis­as­ter will de­velop post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. It can take months to set in but can come in the form of flash­backs or a sense of re-ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the event. It can ren­der vic­tims numb to the things they usu­ally en­joy. They also can ex­pe­ri­ence sur­vivor’s guilt, or hy­per­vig­i­lance, in which the ner­vous sys­tem over­re­acts to com­mon events like the honk­ing of a horn; or they might avoid things that re­mind them of the trau­matic event.

Copeland wants more peo­ple to know about EMDR ther­apy and how it can help.

“It kind of re­places the neg­a­tive feel­ings around how they died and cre­ates a sense of peace with it,” Copeland said of her ex­pe­ri­ence.

EMDR ther­apy was de­vel­oped in 1987 by psy­chol­o­gist Francine Shapiro, who said she was walk­ing in a park when re­al­ized that when she moved her eyes back and forth, it min­i­mized the way she thought about distress­ing mem­o­ries.

Shapiro de­vel­oped a spe­cific tech­nique in which a trained pro­fes­sional takes a client through a trau­matic event. As the client talks about it, the ther­a­pist uses ei­ther a light screen or a wand that moves from side to side, or head­phones with tones that al­ter­nate from the left ear to the right ear, or vi­brat­ing tap­pers in the client’s hands that vi­brate from side to side. That bi­lat­eral move­ment causes the per­son’s eyes to move from side to side rapidly.

That eye move­ment is sim­i­lar to the way our eyes move dur­ing rapid eye move­ment sleep, which is the way the brain nat­u­rally pro­cesses the events of day, said Rick Levinson, a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker in Austin and an EMDR trainer who is work­ing with Las Ve­gas shoot­ing sur­vivors.

What hap­pens with a trauma, he said, is the brain can­not take in all this in­for­ma­tion and ef­fec­tively process it: “It gets stuck in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem.”

The brain re­plays the event over and over again and doesn’t know what to do with it. It causes the per­son to have a fight or flight re­sponse ev­ery time they think of that event.

The in­ten­sity of the trau­matic mem­ory starts to de­crease as client and ther­a­pist work through the event, said Lau­ren Gas­par, a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker at Good Mourn­ing Coun­sel­ing Cen­ter who uses EMDR in her Austin prac­tice.

EMDR, she said, “al­lows your brain to turn on the pre­frontal cor­tex that al­lows you to give that mem­ory a more log­i­cal or rea­son­able per­cep­tion.”

It doesn’t take away the mem­ory, she said: “It al­lows the brain to not make it sig­nif­i­cant any more.” It tells the brain and the body, “I don’t need to hold onto this trauma,” she said.

There are now about 8,000 peo­ple trained in the United States to use EMDR ther­apy, said Michael Bow­ers, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of EMDR In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, which is head­quar­tered in Austin.

The ther­apy is rec­og­nized by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the U.S. Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs for its use af­ter a trauma or for some­one with PTSD.

Sev­eral con­trolled sci­en­tific stud­ies have found that EMDR works, but some re­searchers ques­tion whether mov­ing your eyes rapidly back and forth is key. In treat­ing trau­matic anx­i­ety, EMDR ther­apy is bet­ter than no ther­apy, but it’s not bet­ter than work­ing with be­hav­ior and cog­ni­tive-be­hav­ior ther­a­pists in ex­po­sure-based treat­ments, Scott O. Lilien­feld, an Emory Univer­sity psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor, and Hal Arkowitz, a Univer­sity of Ari­zona psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor, sum­ma­rized in an ar­ti­cle for Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can.

EMDR does have strong pro­po­nents.

“It’s like magic to me,” said Carol Lo­gan, the staff psy­chol­o­gist for the Austin Po­lice Depart­ment. She said she can get to the root of what’s hap­pen­ing with a po­lice of­fi­cer faster us­ing this tech­nique, and she’s found that of­fi­cers are more will­ing to do EMDR than to do tra­di­tional talk ther­apy.

Lo­gan re­ceived a $38,800 grant from the city’s Of­fice of In­no­va­tion to do re­search com­par­ing EMDR with stress man­age­ment ther­apy with 911 op­er­a­tors and po­lice dis­patch­ers. She’s work­ing with Van­der­bilt Univer­sity and elicited the help of 22 EMDR ther­a­pists in Austin to help her study the dif­fer­ence be­tween 30 op­er­a­tors or dis­patch­ers who get EMDR and 30 who get stress man­age­ment ther­apy.

What’s dif­fer­ent about this study is of­ten these op­er­a­tors and dis­patch­ers don’t have one trau­matic event. They have re­peated ex­po­sure to trau­matic events that are hap­pen­ing to other peo­ple.

Lo­gan hopes that, af­ter this study, she can do a study on her work with po­lice of­fi­cers. She be­lieves us­ing EMDR to help po­lice of­fi­cers process the events they wit­ness can help them be less likely to use ex­ces­sive force in the fu­ture.

The city of Austin also has put $50,000 in the 2018 bud­get to train ther­a­pists who work in vic­tim ser­vices on how to use EMDR.

“I’m re­ally proud of the city of Austin for fund­ing re­search like this,” Lo­gan said. “We’re do­ing some­thing re­ally im­por­tant here.”

Copeland’s ad­vice for peo­ple who wit­nessed the re­cent tragic events is to “hang in there,” she said. “It’s a tough road ahead, but be re­silient. Things will get bet­ter. My brother and I are liv­ing proof of that.”

RALPH BARRERA / AMERICANSTATESMAN 2016

Austin and Mae­gan Copeland honor the mem­ory of their fa­ther, Sean, and brother, Brodie, at Lake Hills Church in

West Austin.

CON­TRIB­UTED

Sean Copeland (left) and his son Brodie (cen­ter), who was 11, were killed in Nice, France, on July 14, 2016, when a ter­ror­ist drove a truck into crowds of peo­ple on the Prom­e­nade des Anglais; 84 peo­ple died.

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