A Community of Heart Profile: Ligia Barascout de Piedra Santa
What is it that motivates us to champion a cause? Is it something that we are born with? Is it the urgency that comes from something that has happened to us when we are out in the world? Or, is it an integration of the two? In the case of our Guatemalan trainer Ligia Barascout de Piedra Santa, as in the nature-nurture controversy in general, we may never know for sure.
Ligia was born in Guatemala to two native Guatemalans with roots in the Spanish and French cultures. Youngest of three, she was raised in the capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City, during the time of their 35 year-old Civil War. Although the capital was sheltered from the conflagrations that were occurring throughout the interior of the country, Ligia was aware of the upheavals around her, the ever-present feeling of danger and the toll that war took on her countrymen and women. Perhaps, it was here that her passion to help people began. Or, perhaps, it was the spiritual calling that she felt through her childhood and adolescence through her “special connection with God and a big commitment to help others.” We may never know specifically what it was but what we do know is that her commitment to understanding diversity and her deep level of compassion for her fellow human beings has had an enormous impact on those around her.
Ligia learned about diversity during her schooling. She attended the American School of Guatemala from first to tenth grades which exposed her to a greater number of cultures than her own and the opportunity to learn English as well as her own Spanish. Originally, she aspired to be a teacher. In Guatemala, it is possible to become a teacher without going on for an advanced degree. Ligia earned a special degree in Elementary School teaching while she was still in high school. She graduated in 1967. In 1968, she taught at the Instituto de la Asuncion, an urban primary school. There, she discovered that she was interested in Psychology and enjoyed the inquiring minds of older students so she went to the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City to become a High School teacher with a specialty in Psychology. However, her interest in Psychology grew and she decided that she wanted to become a Psychologist. At this point, her father – a revolutionary in his own right during the 1944 revolution- raised objections, “People who are Psychologists are crazy!” he told her. Nonetheless, his passion for his own beliefs was an early influence in her life and she decided to pursue a degree in Psychology, also at the University of San Carlos. She was awarded her degree in 1975.
At the same time, she got married and one year before she graduated had the first of her two children, a daughter. As she was interested in being close to her child, she found ways to work through the office she had set up in her home. One of her jobs was writing for a newspaper called “Chiquirin” (a small child) where she wrote a column called “Problemotas.” For her column, Ligia imagined a child was writing to her for help and then wrote answers. After the column ran for a while, she began to receive real letters from children and then answered them. She did this for about 3-4 years. Also, at this time, she gave trainings for elementary school teachers.
She became more involved in Organizational Psychology doing qualitative research with focus groups and motivational groups. Through this work, she was able to interview people in her own country, Nicaragua and Central America. As she traveled, she saw the effects of poverty and trauma. As a woman from an upper middle class community, she had never seen such circumstances and she was changed by her experiences.
During the early years of her career, she did qualitative market investigation throughout all of Central America for companies such as Data S.A., Generis Latina, Marketing Asociados, and Soporte S.A. Her interest in social economics and politics led her to do qualitative investigations for ASIES. Countless private companies have had the benefit of her teaching for personnel motivation, Transactional Analysis and Group Dynamics such as Paiz, S.A. (the largest chain of supermarkets in Guatemala), Tabacalera Centroamericana and many workshops for teachers.
At the same time, Ligia continued her interest in clinical work. In 1996, the signing of the peace between the guerrillas and the army occurred. This heralded a new chapter in the history of Guatemala. At this time, she decided on a new commitment to her work as a Clinical Psychologist and her work with clients. Equipped with her knowledge of the brutality that the people had endured and her clinical understanding of trauma, Ligia joined together with a group of people who had heard of EMDR. They bought Francine Shapiro’s text and studied it, then, contacted Francine, asking her to send a trainer to teach clinicians EMDR. At first, Rigoberto Flores, a businessman whose brother was killed during the Civil War, headed the committee. Later, he left Guatemala and Ligia was in charge of continuing the work with her team that included Maria Elena Bonatti, Maria Del Carmen Castillo and Elvira Ariano.
John Hartung and Michael Galvin arrived in 1997. John’s training in the Peace Corps in Central America, his work as a university professor and his ability as a trainer has been essential to the way he has gone about building the Central and South American team. Michael took the time and effort to prepare Ligia to be a Facilitator for the EMDR Institute.
Through the amazing work of this Central and South American team the interest in EMDR has grown throughout the Latin American communities. In 1998, Ligia went with John to Nicaragua. Here, Barbara Zelwer did an excellent job organizing and working with colleagues. Sadly, since Barbara’s death 2 years ago, the work in Nicaragua has decreased, however, the Latin American team is looking into ways to fill the large gap left by Barbara’s death.
At the beginning of the millennium, there was a landslide in Venezuela that covered a number of villages and many people died. The team was invited to the Catholic University Andres Bello to train clinicians to respond to this crisis. In the year 2001, there was an earthquake in El Salvador and Dr. Reginaldo Hernandez organized the EMDR trainings there. He died two years ago after doing an excellent job. Atzimba de Vides (trainer), Sonia Silvia de Hernandez (Reginaldo’s wife and facilitator), and Stella de Soundy and Consuelo Zamora who are preparing to be facilitators have continued his work. Ligia helped coordinate the work and taught the bridge training between Part 1 and 2 trainings there.
This same Latin American team got together and went to a number of places such as Mexico and Ecuador. In the year 2004, they went to Costa Rica and Peru. By this time, she had become a Part 1 trainer and did these trainings with Maria Elena Aduriz. John Hartung did the Part 2 trainings.
In 2005, Ligia was approved to teach Part 2 trainings. By December 2005, her skill level was considered so good that she was asked to be a trainer of Latin American trainers by Francine Shapiro. Five Latin American Trainers had the skill to be considered a “Trainer of Trainers”: Ignacio Jarero, Lucy Artigas, Esly Carvalho and Maria Elena Aduriz.
The goal in Latin America – and with all countries- is that each country become autonomous from the EMDR Institute and has their own Trainers and Facilitators so that participants can be taught in their native language. Ligia has her own team in Guatemala that includes the Facilitators Guisela Carcamo and Anamargarita de Orellana; and a Facilitator in training, Karina Schloesser. They have trained more than 160 psychologists.
At the beginning of the peace in 1996, she and her friends began to think about how to handle the psychological ravages of war. Because this was a civil war, they knew that there would be many difficulties with families because of the strife. They were aware that for many of the men, the only skills they had available to them was their knowledge of how to fight. After several generations of war, the men had few to no skills to provide for peacetime necessities. Many of the men still kept their weapons, and, as a result, there was an increase in personal assaults resulting in many civilians with PTSD. One of the hardest hit communities during the Civil War was the Mayan community as many of them disappeared and/or died. There are about 20 different Mayan languages and communities and most Mayans do not trust outsiders. This included Ligia who was not born to their tradition
About 4 years ago, Ligia worked with a 16 year old young woman who had been molested by her stepfather. She was referred to her by a Psychologist in the office of the government that deals with survivors of abuse whom she had trained to do EMDR. This case was well publicized in Guatemala, as the stepfather was a commandant for the guerrillas. The accusation of this young woman was an enormous scandal. Despite the danger to herself and her family, Ligia decided to testify at the trial because she said, “I think it was what I should do.” Her testimony resulted in his conviction that was –for the times- astounding in Guatemala. By the time, Ligia had talked about the way she had found the young woman and gave the jury a course on trauma and how it could be healed. The jury trusted her word and sent this man to jail. As a result of this well-publicized case, the mother of the teenager -who was a part of the guerrilla movement and knew many Mayan women- told them about what happened with her daughter and how Ligia had helped. Subsequently, some of the Mayan women have started to come in for therapy and are committed to their own healing.
Ligia has been in charge of the work in Central America. Unfortunately, there is no funding for the workshops. She has trained Facilitators in El Salvador. Programs in El Salvador in 2001 were done through a humanitarian program in which the participants pay for the Trainers and Facilitators bed and board. Currently, she is beginning to train a team in Costa Rica. Here, the programs are done at the request of clinicians who pay for the training. For Honduras, she is hoping to find a good connection through which she can introduce EMDR to the professional community. Unfortunately, as yet, no one has come forward.
Ligia is hoping to train more Facilitators and Trainers because –ever realistic – she wants to make sure that there are people to carry on the work of EMDR. Her personal goal is “to have a committed group of people who love the method and go on with the work. I will be happy if I can do that in Central America.”
Ligia has been active in her professional organizations. She has been a member of the School of Humanities of Guatemala since 1976. She founded the Reforma Clinic Center in 1976. Since 1997, she has been the founder and Consultant of International Psychological Services for Asesorias Internacionales, S.A. – ASI S.A. From 1999 to 2003, Ligia was one of the Founders and President of the Board of Directors for Advanced Psychotherapies (PSIAVANZA). She has been the Regional Representative for Latin America for the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology since 2002. As well as being an EMDR trainer, Ligia is an Energy Psychology Trainer and a Seemorg Matrix Trainer for Latin America.
Her words to the EMDR community is as follows:
“I love the method and whenever I go and do trainings I try to honor Francine’s work because I think it is a privilege for me to do it. I think that EMDR is the hope for people because we now know healing is possible. We would like funding to do more work.”
Ligia was married for 28 years and was separated 4 years ago. She has a 31-year old daughter who is an Industrial Engineer and a 28-year old son who graduated in Printing Management and works with his father in his printing company. She likes to do Yoga and Pilates and enjoys art, museums and exhibitions. She is an avid reader and noted that she is a “permanent” student.
Ligia Barascout de Piedra Santa is a compassionate, strong and principled woman who has brought the chance of healing the wounds of the Guatemalan people and the people of those countries around her. The more I listen to the stories of our extraordinary colleagues, like Ligia’s, the more convinced I am of how lucky we are to be part of this ever-growing EMDR community.