A Community of Heart Profile: Christopher Lee
An inquisitive and adventurous nature is often an attribute that describes early pioneers in EMDR. In 1992, Christopher Lee was given an offer he could not refuse. He received a call from Don Heggie, a very successful, Australian businessman who had been a prisoner of war during World War II. Mr. Heggie had suffered for more than 30 years with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. On hearing about EMDR, he flew from Australia to the United States to work with Francine Shapiro, originator of EMDR. After his treatment, he no longer suffered from the effects of PTSD. As a result, he sent one therapist from every state in Australia to America -all expenses paid- to be trained in EMDR. His only stipulation was that when they returned they were to tell people what they thought about EMDR. Christopher Lee accepted this generous offer and that is how he found his way to Chicago in 1992 for a Part 1 EMDR training given by Dr. Shapiro.
Who is Christopher Lee? A native Australian, Chris was born in Melbourne to Regina and Reginald Lee. His mother came to Australia when she was 14 years of age from Czechoslovakia with her family who had immigrated because of the War. She became a ballroom dancing instructor and had “a fairly uncoordinated student” who eventually became her husband; Chris was their firstborn. Chris’ father worked for Ericsson Telecommunications and travelled throughout Australia and Sweden. This accounted for Chris’ early exposure –from 6-12 years of age- to different people and locales. Chris found it easy to make friends wherever he was and, as a result, wherever they moved, Chris helped his family connect to the people in their new community. When he was 14 years old, his family settled down to live in Melbourne where he stayed until he finished his MSc.
During that time, Chris’ two major interests were in debating and learning about people. He went to the University of Melbourne and received his Honours degree in Science and then completed his Masters two years later in Clinical Psychology, and received a Post-graduate scholarship from this university.
During his Masters, Chris had the good fortune to study with Ian Campbell – a talented mentor who influenced him concerning his thinking and working as a clinician. Ian’s gift to Chris was to teach and model how to use the Socratic method of questioning leading to self-discovery and to appreciate the importance of continually evaluating outcomes as the process evolved. When Chris began working with EMDR, he immediately saw the parallel with his early teacher’s ideas and EMDR: people are always discovering things and needing to re-evaluate in EMDR. In Supervision, he would often be asked, “Could you have helped your client by asking a question so that the client could have discovered an answer on his own?” began to inform the way he worked with clients, supervisees, and organizations.
In Australia, an MSC in Clinical Psychology was an entry into the field of supervised practice. Chris chose a path that led to the Northern Territories working for the Department of Health and Community Services (DHCS) to work with a particular supervisor, Rob Dawson who was at the Royal Darwin Hospital a stone’s throw from Kakadu National Park. His 4-year stay in the Northern Territories was parallel to being thrown into ice-cold water with rudimentary swimming skills and expected to swim expertly. Chris was a new psychologist out in the wilderness and he quickly learned to pull on all he had learned and to make up and/or learn as fast as he could what he did not. He had to deal with few resources, a supervisor who left after 4 months, and how to handle running into your clients in this very small community as you went to parties, shopping or the local pub.
In 1988, he moved to West Australia. The climate was perfect for Chris in Perth, and the health community colleagues were staunch supporters of Psychology. Chris thrived in this atmosphere of curiosity and challenging ideas after “winging it” so long in the territories. It was in Perth that Chris decided to settle and live his life. He began as a Clinical Psychologist at the Murray Street Clinic providing services to people who presented with sexually transmitted diseases through to becoming a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (SCGH) where he provided psychological consultation services to the Psychiatric Unit; gave consultative services to other hospital inpatients; supervised post- graduate psychology students; and advised the director of medical services on policy matters pertaining to the delivery of psychological and psychiatric services in the hospital as a member of the senior management committee. He stayed in this position for 11 years. During this time, Chris began his Private Practice that consisted of working with individuals, couples, and groups. He also was a supervisor for clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, a trainer, and a researcher.
It was soon after Chris went to Perth that he was approached by Don Heggie. As this opportunity unfolded, so did his fascination with EMDR. By 1993, he completed his Part 2 EMDR training when Don brought Francine Shapiro and her team to Australia. This was a golden period for EMDR and there was a huge interest. As a result, many clinicians were trained. Chris –ever inquisitive- began to publish concerning research and EMDR. In 1994, his first article with H. Gavriel and J. Richards appeared in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry on “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: a not so simple treatment for PTSD” where they looked into alternative methods for researching the efficacy of EMDR treatment. In 1996, this same team wrote about “EMDR: Past Research, Complexities, and Future Directions” for the Australian Psychologist and they reviewed the present state of knowledge about EMDR. In the same year, Chris wrote an article in The Bulletin on “EMDR: a major challenge to CBT.”
In 1996, Chris and Graham Taylor applied to EMDRIA and were accepted as trainers; they were the first non-USA trainers to become Accredited Trainers. They have conducted hundreds o trainings throughout Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan.
Chris also has extensive training from the leading figures in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Schema Focused Therapy including other psychological approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnosis, Consultative skills and, of course, EMDR. As he learned in his early training, Chris bases his approach on the careful listening to patients as a way to understand their particular psychological issues and treatment goals. He then links this to the relevant research based on the most effective practice and draws on this wealth of knowledge to create the best treatment for his patients. Chris counts as areas of expertise the following: addiction, anxiety and phobias, bereavement, chronic pain, depression, divorce or life transitions, habit problems, marital conflict, psychosomatic illness, personal crises, poor self esteem, PTSD, relationship difficulties, and sexual trauma.
While at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, in association with the Anaesthetics Department, Chris set up the Hospital’s multidisciplinary pain management program. He was responsible for developing Clinical Supervision and Training Groups for therapists to address the difficulties of treating patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at SCGH. He has also worked in and/or established programs for dealing with anger and violence in a number of settings. He runs the Australian Psychological Society’s training workshops for supervisors and advances in Cognitive Therapy. He was the first clinician to bring training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder to Australia and conducts workshops on “Schema Focused Therapy for Personality Disorders,” “Cognitive Behavior Therapy,” and “Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” both in Australia and overseas.
Chris has had a long-standing interest in research and evidence based practice. In the late nineties, Chris found that sometimes he used traditional CBT and other times EMDR. He was interested in learning about what clients did better with which treatment so he set up a research study to figure out this intriguing question. As the hospital did not have the capacity to carry out his research, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Murdoch University to get the statistical help he needed to answer this question. Although the results did not answer who might benefit from EMDR and who might benefit more from traditional CBT, he found that there was a general advantage in using EMDR over traditional CBT. In 1998, he reported on “A Comparative Outcome Study of EMDR with Stress Inoculation Training” at the Proceedings of the Second World Congress of Cognitive and Behavior Therapy with Helen Gavriel. In 1999, he received an award from EMDRIA For Outstanding Research in EMDR for this contribution and, in 2002, he went on to publish these results with H. Gavriel, P. Drummond, J. Richards and R. Greenwald in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Their results indicated that although there were no significant differences on global PTSD measures at the end of both therapies, EMDR did significantly better than Stress Inoculation Training with Prolonged Exposure (SITPE), on measures of intrusive symptoms, and on follow-up, EMDR was found to lead to greater gains on all measures.
In 2002, however, there was a groundswell of anti-EMDR rhetoric by 4 or 5 prominent Australian clinicians and researchers who were powerful in the Health Services and stated that EMDR was not an evidence based practice; although this critique was inaccurate, it had a huge effect and the interest in EMDR in Australia waned.
After Chris got his results, he thought, “Why worry about the Ph.D. anymore, I got help with my study, I will just withdraw?” However, as a result of his frustration when attending conferences featuring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where he heard colleagues saying that EMDR was the same as exposure, he got fired up to do a second study on what happens with EMDR. By then, Chris (2000-2004) joined the EMDRIA Research Committee and became its Chairperson in 2006. His doctoral dissertation was completed in 2006 on “Efficacy and Mechanisms of Action of EMDR as a Treatment for PTSD” and, in the same year, he published “The Active Ingredient in EMDR: Is it Traditional Exposure or Dual Focus of Attention?” in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy with Peter Drummond and Graham Taylor. They found that with EMDR -unlike with Traditional Exposure- clients generally do not relive their trauma; in fact, they process it at a distance; this is the antithesis of Exposure Therapy and they concluded that the mechanism of action in EMDR is not the same as Exposure Therapy.
Recently, interest in EMDR has surfaced again. Chris thinks that this could be the result of the Cochrane Reviews that came out in 2007 that’s supported EMDR as evidence based practice and rated it as effective as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). They also found that EMDR and TFCBT were superior to stress management in the treatment of PTSD at between 2 and 5 months following treatment. Around the same time, the Australian Guideline for PTSD was published by the Australian Center for Posttraumatic Mental Health and stated, “Adults with PTSD should be provided with trauma- focused interventions (TFCBT or EMDR, in addition to In Vivo Exposure). As a result of these reports, EMDR was accredited and the voices of those critical of EMDR in Australia were nullified.
As a result attendance at trainings began to increase again and a leadership group has emerged of practitioners trained from the early nineties begun by Zara Yellin, spearheaded by Pam Brown and joined by Chris, Graham, Nick Cocco, Mark Grant, and Dave Howsam.
Chris has continued to be fascinated by the crucial processes in EMDR and has published two papers concerning this subject in 2008. In June, 2008, Chris and Peter Drummond wrote on the “Effects of Eye Movement versus Therapist Instructions on the Processing of Distressing Memories” in the Journal Of Anxiety Disorders; this research again supported that the mechanism of change is not the same as traditional exposure and that post-hoc analysis revealed a significant reduction in vividness of the memory only for the eye movement and distancing instruction condition. For the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Chris extended the discussion of his previous findings in the “Crucial Processes in EMDR-More than Imaginal Exposure.” He also took the time to respond through EMDRIA: “A Reply to the Institute of Medicine Report Commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs to Assess the Scientific Evidence on Treatment Modalities for PTSD.” In this commentary, he detailed the serious omissions and misinterpretations of the scientific literature that would have effected the conclusions about EMDR in the report and prepared a Power Point presentation for EMDRIA members to use in support of the efficacy of EMDR. This response was published in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research (2009).
Chris also is a reviewer for the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, Australian Psychologist, Cognitive Research and Therapy, Journal of Clinical Psychology and the European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He is one of the Editors for the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research and will be giving one of the keynotes (Understanding EMDR: A History of Practice Guiding Science) at the EMDR European Conference annual conference in Amsterdam this June.
To the EMDR community he would like to say the following: “Unfortunately EMDR is not as widely used as it deserves to be. EMDR therapists have a wealth of knowledge about how EMDR works and the potential to contribute to scientific knowledge without necessarily working in a setting that fosters or encourages research. I’d like more therapists to make a contribution to our journals. This can be achieved by a commitment to first collecting before and after measures of the various clients that we see, (see the two volumes by Fischer and Corcoran for a comprehensive set of measures) so that trends or unique findings can be supported by data. Our 2006 study is an example of data that can be collected as part of routine clinical practice and later analyzed for research purposes. The more EMDR research is informed by clinical practice, the better.”
Chris has been a vibrant member of EMDR community from the early days. He has combined his fascination with clinical questions with science to create an evidence-based way to approach his clients and his practice. He has contributed to all of us through his humor, good nature and incisive thinking that he has applied to his practice and to his research. We are delighted and grateful that he is part of our EMDR community.