A Community of Heart: Gyða Eyjólfsdóttir
Gyða Eyjólfsdóttir was born in Reykjavik, Iceland. Gyða’s father, Eyjolfur Thor Georgsson, was working as a taxi driver when he met Dora Olafsdottir, who was working at the taxi station. They instantly became friends. After his marriage ended, he and Dora became a couple, got married and a year later, Gyða was born. They lived next to her maternal grandmother and later moved into a different part of town.
Gyða had always been interested in people and what changes and influences their behavior to allow them to become the person they are. She pursued an interest in astrology so that she could learn more about her family, her friends and herself. What she wanted to know was what affected them, so she read voraciously on the subject. When she was fifteen, Gyða was looking for help in deciding what course to pursue academically and decided to take a vocational
inventory. The results suggested that she try professions in the fields of psychology and/or astronomy. She decided on psychology, and even though her first course in psychology was dry, she persevered.
During high school, she concentrated on learning the following languages: Icelandic, Danish, English, French, German and Latin. In the transition year, after high school, she and her friend went to language school in Hyeres, France and lived with a French family to improve their French. She then got a job working in an office for nine months as a bookkeeper, as she had learned bookkeeping in high school; a skill that later served her well in her own private practice.
In September 1991, she attended the University of Iceland with a major in Psychology. In her course work, she was introduced to all types of psychology and received a good foundation with an emphasis on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Research. During that time, she was involved with many interesting projects. For example, in Iceland, non-infected members of their society were ostracizing HIV+ diagnosed patients because of insufficient information about their condition. Gyða and her fellow students wanted to see if they could influence attitudes concerning HIV+ patients. They began by creating a psycho-educational pamphlet. Their pamphlet emphasized what types of behaviors were safe and those that were not and was helpful in influencing people’s attitudes to people diagnosed with HIV+ in a positive manner. In their study, the information from the surgeon general was the control. They found that the surgeon general’s information was worse than nothing as it was scaring people and they became more prejudiced after reading the pamphlet!
In 1994, Gyða was awarded her BA in Psychology. She decided to take two years off to work and to take care of her maternal grandmother, as she had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. Her grandmother went to daycare during the day and then Gyða came home and took care of her at night. It was here that her interest in gerontology began. During this same time period, she met her husband, Jón Kjartansson, through her best friend. She knew from the beginning that he was the one she would marry.
Since there were no graduate programs in psychology in Iceland, Gyða began researching programs outside her country. In August 1996, she decided to move to Austin, Texas so she could attend the University of Texas. Just four days before they leave for the United States, Gyða and Jón were married. Her Fulbright Scholarship included a work permit for her husband and they began their American adventure. From 1997-2004, as part of her doctoral program, she pursued the Portfolio Program in Gerontology where she was prepared to do academic research or engage in a practical career in the field of gerontology, carrying on her interest in working with the older members of our societies.
During her doctoral work, Gyða’s found out she was pregnant. During the course of her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with “Symptom-giving Pelvic Girdle Relaxation” which is prevalent in Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Russia and in Africa and some other countries. During the course of pregnancy, a hormonal process causes the ligaments to become more elastic and the pelvic girdle to become more flexible; the name for this is physiological pelvic girdle relaxation. If the pelvic girdle relaxation involves pain to the extent that one can only function in daily activities with difficulties, it is called symptom-giving pelvic pain (http://lkb.no/about-2/?lang=en). Once her daughter was born and she was so involved with her new status as a mother, she decided to decrease her stress, so she could enjoy motherhood. Gyða took a year off, went back to Iceland and got a less strenuous job at a bank.
The difficulty of her pregnancy, at a crucial time in her doctoral work, influenced her course of study and she ended up doing her dissertation on the “Psychosocial Aspects and Functional Analysis of Symptom-giving Pelvic Relaxation in Icelandic Women.” As she had other friends who had this condition, Gyða decided to do an informal assessment of the variables that she thought seminal to what was have it were the following: physical or sexual abuse; somatic symptoms; emotionally more inhibited; having one domineering and one submissive parent; and less social support. These variables explained 70% of the women who got this condition.
This event in Gyða’s life marked when she became interested in learning more about trauma. It sparked her attention and she began focusing on concerns about pregnancy in general such as infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, etc. For her pre-doctoral psychology internship, Gyða went to the Southern Mississippi Consortium in Hattiesburg. During this time, from August 2003-August 2004, she had four supervisors and she asked each one what was the most important thing they had learned; two of the four said, “EMDR.” In July 2004, she decided to attend an EMDR Part 1 of the Basic Training in Atlanta. During her first practicum, she worked on a memory about when she had found her husband on the floor bleeding after he had fainted and struck his head; she thought he had died. After the incident, she had PTSD symptoms for a year, and during the EMDR practicum (within 20 minutes!) it had cleared. She was amazed. During another practicum, she used a difficult phone call with her father as the target. She had been in therapy for 1½ years and found again, that the charge on the event had cleared in about 20 minutes. Even her therapist, who did not believe in trauma at the time, could see the difference in her demeanor when she returned from the training!
Before she completed her postdoctoral fellowship in 2005, she took Part 2 of the EMDR Basic Training. She was convinced now that EMDR was a tremendous asset to her work. She returned to Iceland that year and became an advocate for her colleagues to be trained in EMDR. With Brynhildur Scheving Thorsteinsson, she translated the worksheets, list of negative and positive cognitions and the DES and DES for Adolescents into Icelandic.
Gyða had become fascinated with EMDR and looked for ways to increase her knowledge. In 2006, she signed up for Roger Solomon’s, “The Art of EMDR,” returning from this training energized personally and professionally. She continued to use EMDR for herself and her clients. In 2008, there was an economic collapse in Iceland and Gyða began to do crisis intervention work with one of the banks. She was one of a very few EMDR practitioners and she had a waiting list that was six months long. Over time, it became overwhelming, so she did what she could to take care of herself. In 2011, Gyða took the “Art of EMDR” with Roger Solomon again and worked with a colleague on her burnout. When she left, she had new ideas about how to run her practice more efficiently and actualize her creativity.
She became an EMDRIA Certified Therapist in 2008 and EMDRIA Approved Consultant in 2013. She continued to educate herself and receive supervision to include trauma-related training as in dissociation and complex PTSD.
One of her undertakings was to make sure that her colleagues in Iceland became EMDR trained. The trainings began in 2011 with EMDRHAP sponsored trainings by Hope Payson and Robbie Adler-Tapia and an EMDR Institute training with Roger Solomon. Currently, there are just over 80 Part 2 trained and approximately 17 who have almost completed Part 2 EMDR Trained therapists in Iceland. She has also become an EMDRIA Provider of specialty trainings. The first one is “EMDR and Traumatic Bereavement” with Roger Solomon.
In 2012, Gyða and Brynhildur Scheving Thorsteinsson founded the EMDR Iceland Association and they are hoping to become part of the EMDR Europe Association. She has been running a practice group for EMDR therapists to go deeper into the manual and to support more practice of the protocol. She has noticed that EMDR has been growing in Iceland and more and more clients ask specifically for EMDR Therapy.
She collaborates with Tilvera, Iceland’s infertility organization, and responds to questions on their website. She has also been working for Kraftur, a national Cancer Society for Young Adults, and she designed a volunteer training program for the Cancer Society. She also collaborates with a maternity clinic specializing in high-risk pregnancies. She continues to conduct psychological assessments and released a DVD in 2013, with a lecture on the emotional aspects of infertility. She has written a number of articles in Icelandic journals concerning the above issues.
To the EMDR Community, Gyða wants to convey the following:
“I am very appreciative of this approach that I planned to never learn! It has been amazing where it has taken me, my clients, and my fellow therapists. I hope that it continues to grow, and we allow it to go to places that we never dreamed of! I also think that it is important that therapists get more training in dissociation.”
Gyða is a woman who loves to spend time with her family and travel. They have a small house in the north where her husband grew up, which is ideal for a getaway. They enjoy doing projects together and she is an avid knitter.
Gyða is an example of the type of ground-breaking pioneer that we have recognized in so many of our EMDR practitioners who have seen in EMDR Therapy a therapy that is extraordinary. As with the many leaders in their countries before her, she has taken the time and the energy to help her colleagues in her country learn about it. She is a leader and has helped EMDR grow in Iceland. We are delighted that she is a member of our EMDR community.