A Community of Heart Profile: Susan Rogers
Susan Rogers’ recounting of her life is as clear and as straightforward as her teaching. Her father, George Phillips Rogers, was from Corry, Pennsylvania and her mother, Mary Louise Warren, was from Fairfield,Connecticut. They met in college and married right before World War II, when her father’s service in theNavy began. Susan is the youngest of five siblings. Her family lived in a small town in Western, New York where there were lots of kids in the neighborhood. When she was eight years old her family moved tothe country.
She was interested in music and received her Bachelor of Music from Ohio University. Originally, she went into music therapy so that she could pursue her passion and have a job at the same time. At the state hospital, she discovered that she was more interested in psychotherapy. She moved to Utah to attend Utah State University and pursue a M.S. in Counseling Psychology. This was an intensive program aimed at training people to work in the western mountain area independently, as they might be the only counselor in the area. She continued her program and graduated with a Ph.D. in Professional-Scientific Psychology with a clinical emphasis in 1993.
It was during her graduate work that counselors from the Veterans’ Center in Salt Lake City invited all of the students to see what they did. She found the Vet Center interesting and volunteered there to help with group sessions. At the time, a bibliography on PTSD would fit only one page, and she wanted to learn more about it. She did her M.S. thesis on using the MMPI as a diagnostic instrument for PTSD and her Ph.D. dissertation on using the Neuro-linguistic Programming technique, visual-kinesthetic dissociation, with veterans. During her training, she had a variety of practica in different areas: neuropsychology at Villa Serena Rehabilitation in Magna, Utah where she saw patients with head trauma; physical and sexual abuse in Logan, Utah as a counselor at Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse; and early child development in Logan, Utah as a mental health coordinator for Project Head Start.
Susan especially liked the challenge of working with veterans. They were a population of clients who were not easy to treat and did not give their trust automatically. She reasoned that treating the most difficult of clients would help with her therapeutic skills. She earned a reputation for wanting to work with trauma, and people referred her clients who had been traumatized in the military as well as in the civilian populations.
For her internship, she wanted to work at one of the 13 PTSD units in the country and in September 1989 completed a year-long internship at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. While finishing her dissertation, she continued at the VA as a Psychology Technician and in this position became Coordinator of the PTSD Stabilization Program (9/89-12/91). From 1991- 1994, Susan was Adjunct Faculty at Penn State University Extension and Immaculata College where she taught statistics, psychometrics, developmental psychology and psychopathology.
Susan went on to be a Staff Psychologist in the same PTSD Program at Coatesville until she retired in May 2013. The program was started by Steve Silver and psychiatrist Peter Sax in 1982 and remains one of the longest continually running programs in the VA system.
The program treats male and female veterans and active duty military personnel who served in all conflicts from WWII through Iraq and Afghanistan. The staff was a mix of disciplines (nursing, nursing assistants, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers art and recreation therapists), veterans and civilians who worked well together and explored a variety of approaches to PTSD treatment.
Susan remembers reading Francine Shapiro’s first article on EMD and thought, “Oh, this is stupid. My second reaction was that this is so stupid I wonder if there’s something to it!” While she did not have confidence to perform EMDR as an intern, Steve Silver did and he took the then EMD training. When he came back, he said that EMD had effects he hadn’t seen with other methods. Susan went to the next training in Denver and has been using EMD/EMDR ever since with much success.
By 1995, EMDR practitioners, Dan Merlis and Gene Schwartz, began a VA training program in Perry Point, Maryland. Staff came from all over the system for EMDR training. Susan was part of the team as a Facilitator and believes that this was when she decided she would like to be a trainer because she found it was valuable to her, helped the vets and thought it would be helpful for other providers of service to vets. This program ran for several years and after they stopped it, Steve, Elaine Alvarez and Susan did trainings annually at their VA in Coatesville and at other hospitals in the VA system.
Susan went on to facilitate for the EMDR Institute, trained as an EMDR HAP Trainer in 1998 and became an EMDR Institute Trainer in 2007.
Internationally, her first training was a project funded by Catholic Relief Services (with support from UNHCR and USAID) in Sarajevo with Gerry Puk, Steve Silver and Geoff White. Although it was not a traumatic experience, Susan said, “It is as close as I want to be to being in a war zone.” She did learn something about hypervigilance that was useful in her work with veterans. She was particularly impressed with clinicians who continued to take care of their patients and families throughout the siege. Some of them were willing to walk for an hour through snow packed streets while there was still some risk from snipers and rocket-propelled grenades in order to get to the training. This was the first time that she worked with interpreters, and from the experience she learned how to teach more effectively by summarizing key points, choosing her words carefully, and giving examples that would work in different settings. Later trips as a HAP facilitator or trainer included Northern Ireland, Poland and Russia.
Another important international EMDR training experience for Susan was the Bangladesh Project under the auspices of UNICEF. Susan first went over with Elaine to visit the prospective places where they might find practitioners. The first challenge was to identify clinicians who were working with clients as there were psychiatrists working in hospitals and social workers working with addressing the needs of the poor but no clarity about their prior training to be mental health practitioners. Some of the most effective trainees were in the army, doubled as disaster responders, and were supervised by psychiatrists. What was originally designed as a six month project stretched to eight months when work had to be suspended for annual floods. Susan learned that EMDR works well across cultures with little modification, and teams found ways to present EMDR to account for cultural differences. Despite the challenges, trainees were able to use EMDR effectively with traumas as varied as road accidents, acid attacks, floods and war. Some of the trainees went on to contribute to later humanitarian outreach in Asia.
They met with UNICEF in Bangladesh, including Rolf Carriere who has been unfailingly supportive of EMDR and knows how to work within large international systems. Dr. Johnny (Dr. T.O. Kyaw-Myint) was another member of the Bangladesh team who impressed all of the EMDR trained clinicians with his humanity, very gentle approach and sense of humor. His good heart affected many people. Susan especially enjoyed the creativity of the teams, as they would encounter new situations and had to brainstorm what would be the most effective ways to teach EMDR.
One of the great limitations of the earlier EMDR trainings was the lack of follow-up. Steve Silver was putting together multiple training teams in the U.S. At the time, the Internet access was more limited so it was more difficult to stay in contact with practitioners. We have since learned how important it is to continue consultation with patients to trainees to help ensure EMDR takes root. David Servan-Schrieber invited her along with Carolyn Settle to be part of his team to do trainings with him at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; it was here that she learned more about being a good teacher by just sitting in the room and learning from him.
When the September 11th attacks occurred, Steve and Susan had completed their book “Light in the Heart of Darkness: EMDR and the Treatment of War and Terrorism Survivors.” Due to the timeliness of the topic the publisher decided to move up the release date for the book. She was pleased that the words readers have used most frequently to describe the book were words such as “practical” or “a useful reference not just for vets and anybody wanting to understand EMDR.” She was pleased with their work and gave Steve the credit for first authorship.
Research began to be of importance to Susan as she worked in the EMDR community and saw the resistance from the CBT community.
In 1999, she participated in a small study comparing EMDR and Exposure Therapy. She learned to design a study, take it to completion and how to go through the publication process. She was interested in getting the word out about EMDR. She began doing presentations and summaries of EMDR research, as well as her presenting at Conferences such as EMDRIA, ISTSS, American Orthopsychiatrists Association, American Association for Behavior Therapy, Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, International Conference on Conflict Resolution, Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, American Psychological Association, Forensic Rights and Treatment Conference and the EMDR Europe Conference. Although she continued to be interested in doing research, she had little time for it with
her other responsibilities, so she supported others work. She was on the EMDRIA Research Committee and has recently joined the Board of Directors for the EMDR Research Foundation. She has also been on the editorial board of the Journal of EMDR Practice and Researchsince 2006.
Susan was awarded the EMDR Institute Ron Martinez Award for her contribution to EMDR in 2004, followed by the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs Elizabeth Snyker Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 2005.
To the EMDR Community, Susan has this to say to you:
“Although we have so many therapists, not that many clinicians realize how they can contribute to the research base. There are designs that are easy to implement and a very natural fit for clinicians and very valuable for the field. One of the things I like about EMDR research is that we are finding out how good EMDR is and we are learning how it works, how we resolve trauma and how the brain works – the ripple effect is broad. I was one of those people who thought I would never get close to research after finishingmy dissertation, and it has been one of the most interesting parts of my career.
Even small studies are little pieces in a big mosaic. When I started doing research I also looked at science history – when you start to present you might be sparking an idea that will lead to the next piece of the puzzle. This process has been going on for a long time. As unpleasant as the EMDR controversy has been, it has also been the prompt for a lot of good research.
I have a healthy respect for unorthodox sounding ideas, and for a lot of good ideas people have used before they found out how and why they work. It has been an interesting period of being with EMDR because everything has changed. There was not much psychotherapy research when I started and now the whole field has changed and is evidence-based.
I want to encourage people to do research because I have encountered so many EMDR therapists through my teaching and have heard how valuable they think EMDR is in their clinical work. Because of the results they are getting with their patients, they do not understand why there is criticism of EMDR. They wait for others to do the research but with a little extra effort they could do it themselves.
For the EMDR community of practitioners, I have this message: Don’t wait for somebody else.”
As dedicated to EMDR as Susan is, she noted that she lives with her cats, knits and has kindled a love for baking pies since she has retired. And, she remains an avid fan of Steve Silver’s numerous series of books!
Susan Rogers is an important member of our EMDR community whose influence is being felt through her teaching, writing, presenting and defending of EMDR therapy. We are fortunate that she has been with us from the beginning and has tackled the issues that she has done.