A Community of Heart Profile: Ludwig Cornell
In the course of being involved in the EMDR community, you meet different types of people. The way that I came to know Ludwig Cornil, at first, was through e-mail after he took over the leadership of the EMDR community in Belgium. Immediately, I was touched by his warmth, clarity and sparkle that seemed to dance from the computer screen. I had no image of what he looked like or what his voice sounded like, I only knew that this was a person I was sure I would like when I met him in person. What I did not expect was that when I finally did meet Ludwig, I would like him even better in person than in his e-mails!
Ludwig’s journey to EMDR was an interesting one. He was born to a fire fighter father who would bring home his stories on a regular basis; his childhood resonated with these stories of trauma. In fact, it was only recently that his colleague, Helga Matthess, asked him how he got into the field of trauma. When he replied, “It was a coincidence”, knowing his history, Helga replied, “Your father was a fire fighter commander, that means trauma was all around you all of the time”!
At that moment, the world stopped and Ludwig had an epiphany. He realized how accurate this observation was and he began to remember all of the stories his father used to tell him when he came back from a fire or an accident. There were two stories he said that “Never left me.” The first one was about a car accident. His father told him that the head of the person sitting up front was lying in the back seat! “What do you do with that when you are 7 or 8 years old?” he said. “I just had the picture and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.” The second image that he held was of an old man whose house burnt down; his father told him they found him sitting on his chair all burned up.” He went on to say that “Then, I got a vivid description of how the fat of the body melts because of the heat and the body shrinks and how they carried out the body. There was a horrible smell. But, in my mind, I focused on the smallness of the body. What do you do with that?” He answered himself, “You do not know what to do.”
Still, with a great deal of astonishment, Ludwig said, “I did not realize up until several months ago that the reason for becoming a psychologist was not pure coincidence. I did not realize this! It was only when Helga told me. It just struck me. I saw those images from so long ago.” Trauma can often be where we least expect it.
How did Ludwig’s trail to trauma unfold? Basically, Ludwig’s career path has been a straight trajectory since the age of 13 when his Dutch teacher took his class to the library to learn how it works. Ludwig ended up in the Parapsychology section and looking at a book from Van Praag that was on Hypnosis. When he opened the book, he read a verbatim transcript of a case study. It was there and then that he knew what he wanted to do! He began reading about psychology and at age 17 he found an advertisement for a stage hypnosis course. Because he was not yet 18, he had to get his parents’ permission to attend. Although it fell during the exam period, his father gave him his blessing with the reminder that he needed to keep his grades up. The course was fascinating and he found that he was filled with many new ideas. He asked the Hypnosis teacher to help him with his anxiety (which was appropriate) about his two subjects of English and History. The hypnotist did “a fabulous trance” and his distress over his lack of preparation was greatly diminished; in fact, he was so relaxed that he did not feel a need to study! All of his fellow students were filled with anxiety and, he noted, that the trance worked perfectly. The only problem was that they were the “worst exams” that he ever took!
Despite those exams, Ludwig went on to the University of Ghent for a 5-year program in Clinical and Developmental Psychology. Although Hypnosis was not part of the program, he was able to do his dissertation on “Hypnotherapy and Children.” He completed his undergraduate studies in 1988.
When Ludwig became of age to do service for his country, he decided that he just could not imagine learning to use a gun to kill and did not want to join the army so that instead of spending one year in the military, he applied for the 20-month commitment to the Civil Service. He was very fortunate as one of his professors asked him if he would like to be his assistant at the University and he accepted this position for his service. He had been schooled in Rogerian psychotherapy, but, now, he discovered Milton Erickson.
When he left the university in 1990 with a Postgraduate specialization in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, he went to be the Psychologist in the Mucoviscidosis-Rehabilitationcenter: Zeepreventorium in De Haan. This Center was a place to treat children with breathing problems, including asthma and Cystic Fibrosis. He was responsible for the children with Cystic Fibrosis, many of whom were German. Ludwig learned German for this position. He was in this job for 9 months before he had to stop. The treatment for this illness was very traumatic, especially since the children had to live with the knowledge that their life expectancy was short. Children with cystic fibrosis have tough mucus that has to be removed 3 times a day using difficult physical and breathing exercises to prevent the mucus from getting stuck and getting infected. His job was to keep the children motivated to do the essential daily rituals that were crucial to their survival such as having to eat 6 times per day because they were unable to extract fats from the food or to take 6 pills per day and get weighed frequently to monitor their low weight. He noted that each infection of the lungs shortened their life spans. It was difficult to keep the children motivated but Ludwig said, “That was my job.”
After his Civil Service, he came home and had no job. He had to go for unemployment and found that there was a job in Kortrijk for a Psychologist. In 1991, Ludwig became the Psychologist at the AZ Groeninge Hospital in Kortrijk. This was an academic hospital. Ludwig was connected to a Pediatric department but he was also responsible for the treatment of psychosomatic problems for the whole hospital and he had a great deal of contact with trauma. He also worked with Multiple Sclerosis patients here. In 1994, he started his private practice in Eeklo.
A patient who was severely burned and sent to his hospital motivated Ludwig’s interest in EMDR. He had been on the burn-unit in another hospital over a period of 1½ years, where he almost miraculously survived the burns that covered 76% of his body. Ludwig worked with him for 4-5 months and, finally, realized he could not help him, despite their good relationship. This patient was resourceful and liked to talk about his problems. It was around the time that this patient was under his care that Ludwig read an article about EMDR. He thought, “It is not possible!” However, since he had to do something, he decided to find out more information. He went to the public library and went on the Internet to Amazon. Com. He said he bought “the wrong book” as he did not buy Francine Shapiro’s EMDR text. However when he read “EMDR: The breakthrough therapy”, he was intrigued because he identified with the thoughts and feelings of the therapist in the first chapter. It turned out that this was the right book as he was inspired to move forward. In 1997, he went to the Internet again and found out where there were trainings in EMDR. He went to Boston for Part 1 and took Part 2 in Cologne in 1998. Because his boss would not pay for the training, he had to make a decision about how useful this training would be. He decided that he could possibly use EMDR with almost ½ his patients; this was the deciding factor and he decided to go.
When he completed his training, he came back and worked with his burn survivor. He said, “It was a miracle!” Before, any time the patient thought about the explosion at work, he would have the sensation of being on fire! After one session of EMDR, the burning feelings stopped and for the first time in two years he could think about the accident and feel no upset. Two more sessions later the patient asked if he had to come back and continue to see Ludwig because his life had completely turned around for the better and he experienced no more problems. Ludwig asked the patient to follow up with him and let him know how he was doing. He called six months later and told him he was doing fine and that he had even gone back to work. He asked Ludwig not to laugh and then told him that when he gets stressed, he goes into his garage and gets into his car and then watches the windshield wipers go back and forth as he thinks about what upsets him! To Ludwig, this was a “miraculous experience” because “his patient took EMDR into his life as his own skill.”
For Ludwig, EMDR was “like a rocket.” However, in the workplace he had not yet convinced his boss. Unfortunately, the medical staff had only read articles that stated that EMDR did not work. Although, it could be dangerous, Ludwig was so convinced of the efficacy of using EMDR that, at the risk of losing his job, he continued to use EMDR. As research began to show the effectiveness of EMDR, the climate towards EMDR in his hospital changed. Now Ludwig is training other psychologists in his clinic in EMDR and the trauma cases from the hospital are assigned to him.
Ludwig decided to become more active in the EMDR community and became a facilitator. To become a facilitator in Germany, where there was a larger EMDR program than in Belgium, he had to learn German again. He did this under the watchful eye of Ute Hofmann, Arne’s wife and administrator of EMDR-Germany.
In 2000, Marc van Knippenberg decided to pass on the baton of EMDR Belgium to the next generation. As the trend in Europe was to include trauma training into EMDR training, Ludwig founded BIPE, the Belgian Institute of Psychotraumatology and EMDR; he became its President (www.bipe.be). In the beginning, his team was completely Flemish and included Ann Vermeire, Catherine Barbez and Manoëlle Hopchet. They were responsible for organizing the trainings and workshops, and keeping up to date with the latest EMDR research and changes in the training. However, his vision for Belgium has been to integrate the Flemish and French areas of the country. He found 3 French colleagues, Francoise Detournay (Vice President of BIPE), Corrine Pottiez and Anne Dewailly, and supervised and trained them to become facilitators. His wife, Anneke Van Hoecke, originally volunteered her time to run the organization and now is working as BIPE’s Secretary. The current goals of the team are to provide the European Community with the 6 th EMDR European Conference “Where Science and Practitioners Meet” at the University of Brussels (June 11-12 2005) and in 2006, to begin the first trauma curriculum that incorporates EMDR. Eventually, they would like to see this type of program in Belgian universities.
In 2004, Ludwig became an EMDR Institute trainer. It was during HAP-Germany’s trip to China that he earned his Trainer status. Currently, he teaches in French and Flemish. Belgium has joined HAP Germany in trainings and projects in China and Slovakia. He has translated the “EMDR Handbook for Clients” into Flemish and French and has used it to support their philanthropic work.
Ludwig is married to Anneke and they have 2 teenage children. Anneke is also a psychologist and supports her husband in his working with trauma and EMDR. He is an avid reader and says that his major hobby is his BIPE mission to create an excellent EMDR and Traumatology training and network in Belgium. Although Belgium has been divided into the French and Flemish parts of the country, Ludwig believes in unity. Just as we integrate the various traumatic elements of a situation that needs healing, he is interested in the Flemish and French working together to form an integrated and whole country. So far, he is doing an excellent job.
When asked what message that he wanted to give the EMDR-community Ludwig said:
"'United we stand' are the words that enter my mind when I think about my message for the EMDR community. It was the title of the EMDRIA-conference after 9/11. For me these words symbolize two important ideas: in times of trauma we feel an urge to connect to people. We extend the borders of the self and open up our hearts to others pain and suffering. And this human bond creates a force that makes us 'stand in unity.' Entering the EMDR community years ago I immediately felt the force of connecting to people who care for people, whether it was in Europe, or in America or in China. Transcending the limitations of the 'ego' to get in touch with the 'human we' has brought me deep satisfaction. I hope the human bond can continue to be at the core of our EMDR community.”
Ludwig is a bright light in our community. May he and his team actualize their dreams in their country of Belgium and all the other countries in which they touch with their kindness, scholarship and determination.