A Community of Heart Profile: Nancy Errebo
How do we learn to be independent, in awe of our surroundings, and a strong leader?
This is the story of how Nancy Errebo grew into these qualities.
Nancy was born in Wichita, Kansas and grew up on a wheat farm. She came from strong Scandinavian stock. Her ancestors were frontier homesteaders who helped bring the railroad into Kansas; in fact, her great grandmother arrived on the very first train that came through Wichita. She remained in this beautiful farming country surrounded by magnificent golden limestone from Kansas and fields of beautiful wheat, until she was 9 years of age. Here, she learned to appreciate the basic things of life and how it feels to be close to the land.
With her parents and 4 younger brothers, she moved to Nebraska for 3 years and then at 12 years of age, they moved to Minnesota. There, they acquired land and -from that point in time- Nancy considered Cambridge, Minnesota her home. After graduating high school, she went off to the University of Minnesota for 2 years.
It was then her independent spirit emerged and she decided to go off on her first great adventure. University of Minnesota was too big and she wanted something more intimate. Her parents encouraged her to continue the family tradition and go west. She ended up finding the University of Montana where she felt immediately at home. Her campus was so remote that you had to take 4 planes to get back home to Minnesota, and, inevitably, one of these airports would be snowed in. The fact that she knew no one did not deter her. She jumped into this new life, began her major in Elementary Education, and graduated in 1969.
Despite the fact that teaching was one of the hardest things Nancy has ever done, it turned out that she loved it. She taught for 9 years in Minnesota, close to where she went to High School. During that time, she got married, and, later divorced. While teaching 3 rd grade on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana, she met friends who were interested in teaching abroad. Ready for her next adventure, Nancy learned what to do, applied for a position and got a job teaching for ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia.
Whether she went very far to the west or took the eastern route, Nancy –in the spirit of her adventurous family- found a new land and culture. She went to Dhahran in 1980 and taught 6 th grade. It turned out to be “a great thing to do.” She was there during the oil boom and met people from all over the world. She was able to broaden her horizons further by traveling all over. Teaching for Aramco Schools in Dhahran was an idyllic situation as her students were from intact and affluent families who were concerned with their children and supported her work. She had a chance to study for a Master of Education from the University of Oklahoma in Saudi Arabia and was granted her degree in 1983. Although she originally thought she would stay for 2 years, she loved the life of an ex-patriot and the two years stretched to six. At this point, Nancy had truly become a citizen of the world; life in the United States would no longer be the same.
What to do next? She was ready for a change after her 1- year teaching career and she decided to go the University of Denver in the School of Professional Psychology. She already knew people there and then met new students who would later, also, become members of our EMDR community. They were Barbara Korzun, Libby Call, Debby Korn and Scott Fairchild.
The training at Denver was very clinical and here is where she became interested in understanding trauma. During that time, the students worked with the Denver police and were on call to go to scenes of homicides, suicides and robbery. She still values some of the people she met in Denver as her closest friends.
From 1989-90, she did her internship at the Brockton Veterans Administration. She was a Clinical Fellow at Harvard Medical School and through the VA did outpatient psychotherapy, was part of a family team and worked on the acute admitting ward for Inpatient Psychiatry. This internship was to be a turning point for Nancy. It is where her career as a part of the VA allowed her to start working with veterans and with trauma.
In 1990, she was awarded her doctorate in Psychology. Libby encouraged her to move to Phoenix where they began a private practice. They also needed jobs and Nancy was hired by the Chief of Psychology to work at the Carl T. Hayden VAMC where she was on the PTSD clinical team, a co-training coordinator and supervised psychology interns and externs and psychiatric residents. Although she was in Phoenix only for a short time, she said, “It was meant to be and I got EMDR training.”
Her chief, Jack Harrington, would do anything if he thought it would help his veterans. In 1992, Francine Shapiro came to talk to this progressive group of clinicians at the VA. She was proud that the psychiatrists in her unit were among the first to be trained in the VA. She felt that these guys were “great professionals” and dedicated to veterans and that “they displayed vision and courage in sponsoring that first Phoenix training when powerful, influential colleagues were dismissing and dissing EMDR.”
Nancy’s first patient was a soldier who had won the Silver Star. He had severe PTSD, Asthma, Cardiac problems and had been in a Burn Unit for one year. He had been sent to what was considered the premier VA in Palo Alto and he had been labeled “too severe to help.” The message was that “If we can’t help him, no one can!” He returned to the Phoenix VA and Nancy became his therapist. She told him about EMDR and he agreed that it would be a good idea to do it. Although he did dissociate at times, they were able to work through his trauma. Nancy said, “It helped him a lot. It was like putting a quarter into a slot machine and getting back thousands of dollars.”
By 1993, Nancy was ready to move back to Missoula, Montana. Since Nancy would be the only Psy.D. and EMDR therapist there, she made sure to be an excellent clinician and do good work. She kept a low profile but made sure to have people trained in her area.
Her interest in the power of EMDR continued to grow and, in 1995, she became a facilitator. During that same year, while attending a lecture on the Rorschach as an outcome measure with Libby Call and Patti Levin, they thought it would be interesting to apply this to EMDR. Their paper, “Efficacy of EMDR Treatment for Trauma Survivors as Measured by the Rorschach” was presented in 1995 at the EMDRIA conference in Denver and the ISTSS Conference in Boston. However, they felt overwhelmed with all that they were doing at the time and decided to cut back a bit.
By 1999, Nancy decided to direct her energy into the Humanitarian Assistance Program for EMDR. Her first trip was to Fargo, North Dakota with Will Zangwill’s team. She felt that she was a natural for this type of work since she had worked for the Police Department in Denver and had to respond to critical incidents. She noted how traumatized the participants were after this major flood. She said, “It looked as if they had been through a war.”
She realized how much she had missed traveling and decided to become an active member of HAP. She went to Bangladesh and India that same year. Her early travel in Asia informed her work with HAP. She learned that there was no licensing system for counselors, social workers, or psychologists in Bangladesh but there were practicing counselors. Also, she was learning a great deal from observing the different trainers.
After the earthquake in Turkey, she volunteered immediately. With her knowledge of the Middle East and what she had learned working in the field and supervising trainees in the field with victims, she felt that she had much to contribute to the team.
The question of how “difficult to deliver EMDR to the people who most need it” became clear to her in Bangladesh. The team’s experience there made clear how hard it is to deliver services to a target population. Nancy said, “This is a reality for all humanitarian assistance organizations. It isn’t just a matter of providing good training, which EMDR trainers and facilitators always do. We need to help and inspire our HAP trainees to think through how they will deliver the services to the target population and support them in following through on their plan.”
While in Turkey, Emre Konuk and Jim Knipe got the idea of going into the field to deliver the service to the people that the team wanted to serve. When she realized what a great idea was, she paid close attention to how it was done and brought this concept into her subsequent trainings. Also, she thought it would be an excellent opportunity to supervise the trainees. This became clearer when trainees took her to a safe house for people who were targets of the insurgents and had to flee their homes while she was in Indonesia. It seemed that if a person did not have the right politics, a person would be marked and would have to flee or go to a safe house. The setting was spare and there was no furniture in the house, nonetheless, the trainees went to work and Nancy went around and supervised through her interpreters. She was amazed at how when people heard there was help they came and got to work.
Her experiences in Turkey and Indonesia helped her integrate what she had learned for her first time as a team leader and EMDR trainer in Sri Lanka in 2005. After the tsunami, the International Relief Team (IRT) from San Diego sent Victoria Karlin (now a HAP Facilitator) on a fact finding needs assessment. Victoria concluded that EMDR was needed and she approached HAP to enlist their aid. She put the project together and the IRT donors funded the project.
When Rose Uranga, the IRT Project Director, was delivering medicine, houses, fishing boats, etc., she was interested to see if they would do a good job. They did! They started with a traumatology course, then, they taught Part 1 to the closest that they could get to mental health professionals. With Nancy’s education background, she was crucial to the team and succeeded in inspiring the participants to be involved and motivated. Team members included Judith Daniels, Jonathon Brooks and Karen Forte. These colleagues were hard working, talented, personable and knowledgeable and they succeeded in bonding with the trainees. They kept the spirit of the work going through email. Karen, Judith and Carol Crow went back and did a great job in continuing the process. Karen, Jonathon and Judith Lindsay returned to finish up the project. Nancy is proud of the fact that the 30 members of the Sri Lankan National Association of Counselors (SRLNAC) she trained treated more than 1000 tsunami victims (this group included children in groups and 300 adults) and they are continuing to work with EMDR.
Currently, Nancy is part of the team of trainers and facilitators engaged in training military mental health professionals. Nancy, E.C. Hurley, Roy Kiessling, Howard Lipke, Sue Rogers, Mark Russell, Bob O’Brien, Steve Silver, Christy Sprowls, and Jamie Zabukovec are the group of devoted EMDR practitioners who have been dedicated to making sure that our troops get EMDR. EMDR-HAP has been very generous in supporting these trainings as we watch –yet again- what happens when our wounded return from war.
When asked what she would like to say to the EMDR community, Nancy wanted to share some insights she has learned concerning the men and women with whom she has been working:
“Many, if not most, American lives have been or will be affected by the global war on terror. I encourage EMDR therapists to inquire about war-related large-T and small-t traumas in their history taking. Of course, nightmares and intrusive thoughts should be targeted with EMDR. However, the VA and Department of Defense therapists at our HAP trainings are telling us that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan need help with their marriages and other intimate relationships. Finding targets that are the source of intimacy and attachment difficulties may be a subtle and complex process---just the sort of challenge relished by the skilled, sophisticated EMDR therapist.”
She went on to say the following:
“The fourteen years since EMDR and I found each other have been a blast. Every time I go to an EMDRIA conference or get involved in a project, I meet dynamic, fascinating, fun people. I want everyone to know that there are so many opportunities in the EMDR world to contribute and develop your talents whatever they may be. I would like EMDR therapists to ponder on the awesome reality that for the first time, we have a tool that has the potential to relieve the suffering of this generation of disaster victims and war veterans and help them avoid a negative life trajectory. Also, the connections we have forged together have created the critical mass and the organization to deliver services all over the world. I'd like to thank Francine Shapiro for getting this amazing ball rolling.”
Nancy loves to read, cook and travel. Often, she likes to think about decorating and redecorating her house. She enjoys photography and many of you may remember the beautiful photograph that she did in Bangladesh that was on the cover of the notepaper sold to raise money for HAP.
Nancy has taken the pioneering spirit of her great grandparents and forged ahead into the international world of EMDR training and the support of her own country. She is dedicated, resourceful, clear thinking and an asset wherever she is. Her knowledge of different cultures and countries continues to be the source from which she draws as she works nationally and internationally in her role as trainer and facilitator. How do we learn to be independent, in awe of our surroundings, and a strong leader? We can follow the model of how Nancy lives in our EMDR community.