A Community of Heart Profile: Franz and Esther Ebner
Ebner What Franz and Esther Ebner both had in common when they met was a strong desire to help others. Neither one was sure exactly how they wanted to do this, but over the years their vision grew clearer. Today, they both have evolved this interest into professions that focus on helping people. In their private life, they have experienced great joy and deep grief and sadness; their story together is one of great love and transformation.
Esther Ohl Ebner was born in Geislingen/Steige Germany. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a tax consultant. When she finished school and was making the decision of “What shall I do?” she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse. She thought that this would be interesting because there would always be new patients to learn from, relate to and assist. Esther completed this goal in 1981 and went to work in the Filderklinik Filderstadt (near Stuttgart).
Franz Ebner was born in Bad Berneck/Fichtelgebirge near Bayreuth in Northern Bavaria, Germany. Although Franz came from a beautiful, idyllic area, he was lonely growing up. It was only in recent years that he realized that his father had PTSD and this affected his early family life. When he was 15 years old, he became active in his Lutheran Church and involved in the church community. As a child, he had been “anxious and insecure” but this new practice gave him “a more positive view of the world and carries me through.” Through the Church, his interest grew from technical things to helping others. His earliest thought was to combine helping people with a Christian organization and do something in psychotherapy; this resulted in his thinking about becoming a missionary. To do this, he thought it would make more sense to become a physician rather than a psychologist, following the assumption that physicians would be more able to travel. In 1979, however, when he made the decision to study medicine in Erlangen und Tuebingen, he was confronted with the reality of medicine: anatomy, physiology and physically sick people. He thought to himself that he did not want to give injections or cut people. The other setback to becoming a missionary was that when he did have the chance to travel, he became homesick! Luckily, during his medical training, he had a practicum at a Psychiatric hospital. The attending physician told him that if he worked in Psychiatry, he would have to forget everything he had learned in medicine. Franz thought that this would be exactly what he wanted to do and, thus, began his career as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist!
The nurse and the psychiatrist met and were married in 1983. Soon after, they had their three children, Tabea, Manuel and Hannah. Esther took care of her children and did not resume her professional career until 1993. During this time, Franz finished his professional training for his specialization in Psychiatry at two Psychiatric hospitals; “Klinik Hohe Mark” in Oberursel near Frankfurt/Main and in Weilmuenster, 60 kms. north of Frankfurt for Neurology. In 1993, he passed his final exam for “Facharzt fuer Psychiatrie.” From 1990-1994, he received training in Analytic Couple-Family and Social Psychotherapy at the Institute for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Giessen. Also, he was trained from 1990 to 1999 at the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft”(working group) for Analytic-oriented Psychotherapy of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt. In 1999, at the completion of this last training, he received the title, “Facharzt fur Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie.” In 1993, Franz took the position of Senior Doctor in the Department of General Psychiatry at the Klinik Hohe Mark in Oberursel where he had been trained.
Franz likes to use the phrase, “It came my way” from C.S. Lewis’ famous “Chronicles of Narnia” for momentous happenings in his life. He explains, “Some things will come along and –at that moment- you will not know it was a very important decision you will make, you have to make a decision and say, ‘I will see what will come out’. The background is to trust the process.” In 1992, Arne Hofmann came Franz and Esther’s way by way of Arne’s wife, Ute. Arne encouraged Franz to take the EMDR training.
In 1993, he took his first training in EMDR in New York and then the second part in California. After the first training, Franz was in a quandary, as he did not know how to treat his population of severely depressed and schizophrenic patients with EMDR. His first severely depressed patient had a “miracle session” and 2 days after her depression lifted. They, then, did 2 more sessions on her grief concerning her father’s untimely death from Bladder Cancer. After that, he said, “I did EMDR with everyone I could grab.” The results were not always as miraculous as his first case, but he began to see that his patients were getting better. This began Franz’ focus on understanding the nature of trauma. He went on to become a Senior Doctor not only of General Psychiatry but, of Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders (1998) and Psychotraumatology (1999). He was a founding member of the German Section of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD) and a founding member of the “Zentrum fur Psychotramatologie” in Frankfurt.
In 1994, there was another miracle. Franz was diagnosed with testicular Cancer that was very dangerous. The surgery resulted in a remission that was very untypical. The Ebners were grateful for his recovery and went back into their lives with great relief and great joy. Meanwhile, Esther and Franz’ children were growing up. During that time, Esther did her own psychotherapy and found it very helpful. She decided that she wanted to work with the body, mind and soul; but, in her chosen profession, she was only working with the body. She was becoming more and more interested in the psychosomatic theme in patients and, in 1992, decided to learn “Konzentrativer Bewegungstherapie” or KBT (Concentrative Movement Therapy), a body oriented psychotherapy that had some of its roots in Psychoanalysis and the Feldenkrais method. Esther’s teachers were Heide Heckert and Arne Budjuhn. As she learned this new profession, she started working as a nurse in the Psychotherapy Department in “Klinik Hohe Mark” in Oberursel where Franz was working. In 1995, she worked as a KBT therapist under supervision and then, in 1997 until 2003, she worked as a KBT Psychotherapist in the Psychosomatic Department in “Klinik zum Heiligen Geist” in Frankfurt/Main. In 1998, she was licensed as a Health and Mental Health Professional. This license enabled her to start a private practice for KBT Therapy for individuals and groups in Oberursel. She began full time private practice in July 2003. Also, she completed a curriculum for Psychotrauma at “Deutsches Institut fur Psychotraumatologie.” In 2001, she completed a 3 year training in “Myoreflextherapie, another body therapy which involves acupressure on special points – especially tendons and muscles; this therapy can be used with trauma patients. She followed in Franz’ footsteps and took the first part of the EMDR training in March 1998 and the second part in September 1998. In April 2003, she became an EMDR Institute Germany Consultant and Supervisor and later that year became a Facilitator for this organization.
The EMDR explosion for Franz had come earlier. In partnership with Arne Hofmann, they embarked on a mission in Germany and Europe to educate and teach professionals about EMDR. Arne became the first German-speaking trainer and began the German EMDR Institute. Franz was the founding member of the EMDR Network in Germany responsible for setting up the structure from which the EMDR community could grow in Germany and which later became EMDR-Germany in 1999. He set up a Network day once a year and then wrote a newsletter to the members, often including articles form the EMDRIA newsletter. This organization started with 30 members and now includes approximately 700 members! In 2000, he was a founding member of HHP Germany and Europe, the German and European branch of HAP. When Franz retired from this position in 2003, he became the treasurer of HHP Germany.
Franz became a facilitator in 1995, a Supervisor in 1997 and an EMDR Trainer at the German EMDR Institute in 2000. Currently, he is training in the German speaking areas of Europe.
In July 2000, a great tragedy occurred in the Ebner family. Their beloved son Manuel died during a family holiday. This was a terrible blow and each member of the family struggled with his/her tragic loss in his/her own way. Franz said:
“Trauma changes your life and identity. I had not got that before. I had told patients that but never really felt it in my heart. There is a before and an after. It will never be like it was, after the trauma. I think that the task afterwards is what Viktor Frankl says which is to find the personal meaning for the rest of the life after that. You can’t change it. There is no way back.” Later, he went on to say that, “I realized I had been working with grief without having a concept for it. There is a lot of grief in depression and I was not conscious of the impact until Manuel died.”
It changed the way Franz understood his clients and worked in his practice profoundly.
Through the process of grieving, life continued and Franz and Esther continued working in their fields and continuing with their EMDR work. Franz notes that, “The special thing is that we are working as a couple. It started in 1998 when Esther accomplished her specialization in body work and EMDR and that is a great thing.” Their HHP EMDR work has brought them together as they have traveled to Slovakia and China together. Since Esther has become a facilitator, they have been able to go to trainings together that allow them to see each other!
Both Franz and Esther have been deeply touched by their experiences with HAP and HHP. Franz’ first experience was in Turkey. He says:
“Turkey was where the dream came true. We were in Turkey on holiday in 1990. Later, when the earthquake happened and they were looking for therapists, I knew I had to go. There were many people I knew from other trainings but this was the first time I met Gary Quinn from Israel. There was a spiritual relationship with Gary even though this was the time I saw him. I felt very close to him. Another special thing was that 10 years before I went as a tourist and now I came to help. My Turkish friend and EMDR facilitator, Visal Tumani, told me a lot about the Turkish people and culture. I thought that I would do this when I got older but it is happening now. After 5 days of training, they learned EMDR! It was amazing that it worked there, too!”
Esther joined Franz in China. Franz talked about China in this manner:
“The first time in China was a culture shock. It was so different. We did sightseeing inwardly as there was a great deal of self-experience by the participants. During the first trip, we did trauma training and not EMDR. We had one-on-one sessions and taught about the history of trauma and about resources. The Chinese colleagues were open with us. Usually, they have such shame that they only trust their family. During the Cultural Revolution, it was dangerous for people to open up. There was a great deal of psycho- social trauma as when families were ripped apart and mothers had to leave their children and go to work in different parts of the country. We were only 7 people and we had 52 participants with whom we worked. We did lecturing and we worked from 9 am to 9 pm. There was no Chinese speaking person in our group until Cynthia Kong joined us for the second trip. We found that you need someone from the country as a liaison. Our Chinese colleagues learned fast but it has taken 3 years for them to truly understand what trauma is about, like in Europe. It takes years to figure out what trauma is and what it means for your country. It was the key. Many things in China reminded me of Europe. There are different regions where groups grow now. There are people who can work a lot and people who take longer. We are looking for those who can become facilitators and who will be a trainer. We are interested in how to adapt EMDR to Chinese control. We have just come back from our 4 th trip to China.”
Esther highlighted another aspect of their trip to China:
“I was very touched by the colleagues. They opened their hearts and told their stories. For the first time, they told the story of the Cultural Revolution. We did self-experience with them through a translator. It was not easy but it was great work. You could see the progress after 4 years. They get the point and get what EMDR is and it was great. They told us about things you would not hear if not in this role, very personal things about China. They told us so much that they would not tell others. It was very personal and trusting and we liked them very much. The relationships and learning about the culture were very important. The most important was giving them something that was meaningful to them.”
Another area that they have traveled to together was Slovakia. Esther observed the following: “We have only been teaching 2 years in Slovakia. I think that working in another language is not so easy but if you do EMDR the heart of the process is the same. People are more alike than you would think. Usually, we think that people are so different but if you work with EMDR you see how the basics are the same. People want to be loved, want to feel good about them selves and want to be in control. The basics and the affects are the same. I think that you can work with EMDR in all the countries around the world because it is about dealing with the basic things in life. The process will go on.”
Both Franz and Esther work with severely traumatized patients on a regular basis. They both were in agreement when asked what they wanted to share with the EMDR community. Both emphasized the importance of installing resources with this difficult population and the comraderie amongst the therapists themselves.
“The amazing thing in EMDR is that you can work on both sides of the experience – the trauma and the resources.”
“When you connect the resource work and use EMDR with trauma, the work moves more smoothly. Those with early trauma do much better with resources. There is so much that they did not learn in their childhood.”
Franz put it accurately for all of us when he said:
“The other core part of the EMDR community is the therapists themselves. We come from every different therapeutic methods and the importance is that we are united with the single goal of treating trauma patients to get them better.” He went on to say that “You work with people from the United States and Europe. I had never seen a psychiatrist from another European country before. For me EMDR is the window to the world. It is really amazing. The greatest thing were those dreams from when I was 19 is that they both came true in different ways. The first thing I wanted to do is psychotherapy and I am doing it. The second thing is that I can travel to different countries and help people even if I am not a surgeon!”
Franz and Esther Ebner are an inspiration. Their kindness, courage and vision make them wonderful friends, superb parents and excellent teachers. We are lucky to have them as part of our world.