A Community of Heart Profile: Elaine Alvarez
The EMDR community is far ranging and engaged in many different activities to promote the healing of individuals, groups, and communities all over the world. Elaine Alvarez, my close friend and colleague, is one of the EMDRlA members who helped make this possible. I first met Elaine in an extraordinary study group hosted by Neal Daniels that we both attended at the Philadelphia Veterans' Administration. On a weekly basis, we had the chance to share our latest discoveries about EMDR, as well as our excitement and enthusiasm. It was there that I first became aware of Elaine's creativity, expertise, and delight in the practice of psychotherapy.
Elaine received her MSW from New York University and did postgraduate work at UC-Berkeley and Santa Cruz. Her professional career has focused on two types of populations: the poor and American Veterans. She was the Clinical Director of a program for quality care for the poor in San Francisco where she worked for seven years. This was followed by a stint as the Veterans' Administration's team leader in Oakland where, during the 1970's, she was the first woman to head a Veteran's Readjustment Counseling Service, a program that reached out to Vietnam Veterans. As the Director of the agency, she arranged for a conference to help other professionals understand what was then referred to as "The Post-Vietnam Syndrome."
Elaine's work with combat veterans was the catalyst for her own personal evolution. As her patients explored their shaken belief systems, she found herself challenged and compelled to delve into a deeper understanding of her values. In her pursuit of understanding herself and the world, she discovered Buddhism and began to study Vipassana-an insight form of meditation. By thus deepening her understanding of human nature, she began to integrate spirituality into "the therapeutic chamber" and felt she became "a transpersonal therapist." Elaine's work with veterans resulted in the expansion of her meditation practice, her use of self in treatment, and the search for cutting-edge methods.
By the time Elaine learned EMDR, she had already explored a wide and varying range of methods of working with trauma and had plateaued in her ability to change the trauma symptoms she encountered. After she began to use EMDR, she saw a phenomenal change in her work with veteran survivors of war and expanded her practice to include work with men and women who have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused.
Since Elaine was interested in working with the poor from the time she began her career in mental health, she has become aware that the middle-class, privileged group have access to cutting-edge methods far sooner than the less privileged. Through Elaine's work with the Humanitarian Assistance Program- through the EMDR Institute-she has found a way to minister to people spanning the socioeconomic classes and ethnic diversity.
In her job as the Special Projects Director for HAP, she supported and encouraged trained EMDR mental health workers to move into communities with special needs and offer their training skills. She acknowledges her debt to her friend and former colleague in the Bay area, Pat Reynolds, who was the Director of Health for the city and county of San Francisco and facilitated the agency's receptivity to proposals made by local EMDR practitioners to offer training. She also highlights the excellent training provided by Linda Cohn in San Francisco.
Another one of Elaine's projects concerned women who had lost children to gun violence. She was moved deeply by a woman who had been in deep mourning for 13 years. With the use of EMDR, she found closure and was able to move on, as did her son and son's girlfriend. These results have been sustained based on a six-month follow-up. Also, she remembers the response of a man jailed for murder who reported that she "must have done something" to him because he found himself thinking at a much deeper level than he had ever known.
As a member of the board of HAP and as a HAP trainer, Elaine has twice visited Bangladesh, with her colleague, Susan Rogers, to do an initial evaluation and to serve as team leader to train our Bangladesh colleagues. After her most recent trip, she recommended that there be far less lecturing and much more focus on small groups and practica.
Currently, Elaine is in charge of the Stabilization Unit at the Inpatient PTSD unit run by Dr. Steven Silver in Coatesville, PA. She also has a small private practice.
Many of us know Elaine as a gifted facilitator for the EMDR Institute who lends her insight, skill and humor to the seminars she attends. Although Elaine's time is amply filled by her VA and EMDR activities, she is an avid lover of the arts, including theater, dance, and jazz. Most days, however, she can be found at home with her new addition, Jockey, a champagne-colored French poodle.
Thank you Elaine for your devotion, creativity and vision on behalf of us all.