A Community of Heart Profile: Udi Oren
Udi Oren comes from a tradition of service to family, community and country. Yechezekel Oren, Udiʼs father was born in Poland and came to Israel as a child; his father assisted in the building of Tel Aviv. His mother, Ruth, was born in Israel; her father was a union leader and her mother a member of Kibbutz Merchavia. Both families were poor and worked from their early teens, devoted themselves to learning and were part of the resistance movement before the establishment of the State of Israel. They met while serving in the army, married in 1950 and had two sons, Gil and Udi. Ruth became a High School Teacher and Yechezekel, an Accountant.
Growing up in Israel, Udi leaned towards his motherʼs interests in spirituality, literature, the arts and fun. Although, he was politically on the left, when 18, he surprised everyone and volunteered to go into the infantry in 1974. He completed officerʼs training and ultimately went into intelligence. After 4 years of service, he balanced his life by becoming a tour guide. During this 2-year period, he met his wife, Doreet, and they married in 1981. Also, he read voraciously and decided on a BA in Psychology at Hebrew University after reading Paul Watzlawickʼs book, “Change.” In 1983, when Udi was accepted at Boston Universityʼs Clinical Psychology Program, they moved to the US. What drew Udi to psychology were ideas about change, psychological health, resources and systemic thinking but this was not part of the curriculum at BU. He found his professional home during his post doc at Harvard Community Health Plan and directed a Mental Health Unit with the focus on short-term therapy. It was the first time Udi felt like an agent of change. It was intoxicating!
During this time, his sons, Danny and Tomar were born and, in 1991, the Orens moved back to Israel and their families. Udi began working as the Regional Director of Mental Health Services at “Meuchedet” Sick Fund (HMO) and stayed until 2005. Here, he was responsible for providing mental health services to over 240,000 members of this national Israeli HMO. He was one of 4 people entrusted to establish all Mental Health services. His responsibilities included supervising direct service, doing utilization reviews, staffing, determining policy and representing the HMO on the National Mental Health Council. In this capacity, he was able to push through his agenda of hiring others committed to short-term treatment. It was because of this mindset that Udi Oren was drawn to EMDR when he read The Family Therapy Networkerʼs cover story on EMDR.
Although he thought EMDR bizarre, in 1995, he attended the EMDR training at Zichron Yaakov sponsored by Elan Shapiro and Mooli Lahad. Udi had a moving experience in his practicum when old military service wounds were activated and subsequently healed. Despite this, he did not use EMDR until 6 months later when the manager of an ammunition factory that had blown up killing many people -including the people who were next to him- walked into his office. This man had every symptom of PTSD, including not being able to sleep through the night since the explosion: Udi thought, “It is now or never.” He targeted the explosion and the man reported the following week that he had slept for the first time in 3 years! Udi was hooked.
Udi completed his Basic Training and Facilitator Course then helped in establishing the EMDR Israel Association (1997). At that time, his goal was that -within 10 years- every mental health provider would know about EMDR. By 1998, Udi was invited to the Trainerʼs Training given by the EMDR Institute in Cologne, Germany. This experience was one of the most moving experiences in his life. Although it was a relatively small group, the participants came from Europe, Asia, America and Africa; 4 continents, 4 religions and many ethnicities all focusing on EMDR. Francine Shapiro was the leader and he thought, “I have found my place in this room of people.”
His interest in practicing and teaching EMDR continued to grow. Then, the Izmit, Turkey Earthquake on August 17 th occurred. Through EMDRHAP, teams from Israel, Europe and the United States went to Turkey to train and supervise our Turkish colleagues organized by Emre Konuk and his team. Udi would go 2-3 times per year and was awed by the power of HAP and the motivation of the volunteers who would travel to the other side of the world to help others. He has been a significant part of the HAP worldwide effort since that time.
When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December, 2004, Udi and his team (Aiton Birnbaum, Brurit Laub, Elan Shapiro, Barbara Wizansky and Fran Yoeli) were invited to Sri Lanka by the Community Stress Prevention Center in Kiryat Schmona (the very first place that Francine Shapiro did an EMDR training in 1989). Gary Quinn later headed training in Thailand with Fran and Aiton.
Through Udiʼs teaching in Europe, Asia and Africa, he noted that, “EMDR works everywhere and I have not met a culture or a language or a people that it seemed like that it did not do the trick. However, we need to be sensitive to the culture as there is always something different about how people perceive EMDR so that we have to adjust the manual according to the culture.” During the Cameroon training, Udi realized that when we can teach people with little therapy background from the beginning, we are able to have a deeper impact on the trainees.
In Israel itself, Udi has done much to teach and raise the awareness of EMDR. He writes in the Israeli Psychological Bulletins and is on the Faculty of the Tel Aviv University Continuing Education Program in Psychotherapy for PTSD. He lectures extensively in Psychiatry Departments of Hospitals, Mental Health Centers and Psychological Conferences. Other Israeli contributors to the literature especially in the area of acute trauma include Elan Shapiro, Brurit Laub, Judy Guedalia, Fran Yoeli, Gary Quinn and Esti Bar Sade. Esti and Barbara Wizansky are EMDR Europe Child Trainers and give numerous workshops on EMDR and Children. Fran Yoeli has been important to the success of HAP activities and has organized and volunteered for every HAP mission outside Israel and during the second Lebanese war.
EMDR-Israel members have been volunteering during crisis situations in Israel. Volunteers went to Northern Israel during the second Lebanese War in 2006 and other crises in the South. They gave their time and risked their lives as they worked with people in bomb shelters and mental health crisis centers. In 1999, this group extended their hands to their Palestinian neighbors and was part of the first EMDR training in Bethlehem. In Jerusalem, during the past several years, Udi has been running an EMDR training for Israeli and Arab therapists. This group is committed to learning EMDR and coming together to move forward Francine Shapiroʼs vision “to stop the cycle of violence.” They meet for supervision every few months and over breaks they talk together demonstrating “the very moving and strange place we live in.” Udi also was part of Mona Zaghrout and Fedooshʼ training, who have become leaders in their Palestinian EMDR community.
Since setting his first goal for EMDR Israel, Udi is proud to say that EMDR is known throughout the Israeli professional community. They have had success in the Educational Psychology community and done trainings in Centers focusing on children. His next goal is for the Israeli people to know about EMDR. This is more difficult because the psychotherapeutic community is very conservative. However, the intrepid members of EMDR Israel are rising to the occasion and are spreading the word. At this time, the organization is growing and other associations are asking for in-service trainings. Udi and some colleagues are currently opening an EMDR Center.
Udi became the delegate representing Israel on the EMDR Europe Board of Directors, and was nominated to the Executive Committee. In 2007, he became EMDR- Europeʼs President. In this role, Udi is interested in promoting research in Europe by establishing relationships with academicians and using the EMDR-Europe budget to continue supporting research. EMDR-Europe is engaging younger therapists and students. They set up awards for students and established the Francine Shapiro Research Prize. They are creating closer ties with other European-based trauma associations (ESTSS and ESTD) and encouraging joint memberships. Already, they have had several combined meetings with ESTSS with their Board and look forward to a joint conference day with ESTSS and EMDR Europe. They hope that they can form a trauma coalition across Europe to set policy and give recommendations for research, training and service. Currently, EMDR-Europe has 18 member countries with 6000 members and growing.
To the EMDR Community:
I would like to say that we are blessed to have EMDR and each other because this is an amazing community of good people.
I believe that EMDR can grow, should grow and will grow into many other fields like medicine. We have touched the tip of the iceberg on the potential impact of EMDR on health in general. I believe that the future will show that we can have an amazing impact on illnesses that are perceived as purely somatic and I think that the place of the body will grow in the future development of EMDR.
It is clear to me that the place of research is important and that EMDR clinicians around the world should commit to be part of a research team by providing data about their clients or to write one case per year and present it in some kind of professional forum – preferably a non- EMDR forum. Quoting Bessel van der Kolk, ʻAs a community we should support EMDR research financially because our professional future is based on future research regarding EMDR.ʼ
I would like to thank all the wonderful people who have supported me in becoming an EMDR professional, especially Roger Solomon, Francine Shapiro and Elan Shapiro. Also, I would like to thank my colleagues in EMDR-Israel and EMDR-Europe for being such a wonderful team.
Thank you to Udi, you are a true example of a man devoted to your family, community, country and our EMDR worldwide community.