A Community of Heart Profile: Roger Solomon
In this time of increasing world-wide disasters -both natural and man-made- and in the wake of September 11 th , I have joined many of my colleagues in thinking about how lucky we are to be able to offer some relief from the grief, loss and trauma that currently fills the worlds of our friends, colleagues and patients. When I think about critical incidents and the area of trauma and grief with EMDR, I think of my friend, teacher and colleague, Roger Solomon.
Roger has had a long history of service and interest in his community. Coming of age in the community-oriented world of Berkeley University, Roger volunteered his services and then received course credit for his work at the Berkeley Free Clinic in the early ‘70’s. He was fascinated by the varied student, drug and protest cultures, including the flower children, such a symbol of those times. The Berkeley Free Clinic was an independent entity, funded by donations and grants from merchants in the community as well as the university. From this experience, Roger began to transform his knowledge and wisdom into practical applications for the people and communities of which he is and was a valued member. He graduated from Berkeley University with a BA in Psychology and was Phi Beta Kappa in 1972.
Armed with a BA from Berkeley and a community outlook, Roger moved on to the University of Chicago where he worked towards an MA in the Social Service Administration. This program enriched his clinical outlook and taught him to be even more practical and again emphasized the importance of a community orientation.
From the West to the Midwest and down into the Deep South, Roger continued his quest for knowledge. He went to Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama because they had a strong, APA-approved, Clinical Psychology Community Program. One of his professors introduced Roger to Police Psychology because this mentor had established a relationship with the police and assigned him to work in this area. Although Roger had not anticipated moving into this field of psychology, with his interest in people and in the community, he was a natural. During his last year, he had an Assistantship with the Police Department. He was involved with psychological selection and crisis intervention and dealt with psychotic and suicidal situations and court assessments. He wrote his dissertation on “Social psychological determinants of police behavior”, and found that there is a police subculture and that peer influence is a significant determinant of peer behavior in the police environment. In 1977, he interned at Chicago Reed Mental Health Center. He found the work interesting and much preferred “working on the streets” to sitting in a mental health center; this initial practicum was to have a profound influence on his career. He received his Ph.D. in February 1979 and, for the next 15-years, he was a full-time Police Psychologist.
Roger did Postdoctoral work at the Arizona Department of Public Safety for the State Police in Phoenix, AZ and then moved on to a full-time job at the Colorado State Police Department where he remained as a Police Psychologist for the next 9 years.
It was in Colorado that he discovered his interest in trauma. In 1979, a FBI agent approached him to talk to him in his role as a Police Psychologist. The agent had had a curious observation: he noted that police who were involved in line-of-duty-shootings left law enforcement within the next two years. The FBI agent was interested in what psychologists had to say about this; however, at that time, there was little information on trauma and law enforcement and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was not yet an official diagnosis. So, Roger and his friend, Jim Horn, joined forces and did their own research by talking to hundreds of officers following these incidents and then setting up support programs. They found that whereas the men were not interested in talking to “head shrinkers,” they were interested in talking to each other so they initiated peer support trainings. Jim and Roger were the only ones providing this service for police and they became known for their work. At the time, the Police Department did not recognize that any other incidents were traumatizing. Later, they found that other critical incidents were traumatizing such as pursuits resulting in fatalities, multiple fatalities accidents, horrible child abuse and being in a fight for one’s life. Also, they found that an officer did not have to be involved with the trauma directly to experience traumatic effects. If they witnessed the horrible or critical incident, they could be traumatized as well. Although these are commonly understood principles today, mental health workers fought hard for them back then. Roger’s friend Jim eventually became the head of the FBI’s Critical Incident Program.
By 1984, Roger met Jeffrey Mitchell, founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). Jeff is known for his significant contribution of shifting the focus from individual to a group crisis intervention that included everyone at the scene. This practical approach was very effective with emergency services and has now expanded to include private industry, military, schools and work place violence.
Roger and Jeff became fast friends and Roger began to incorporate Jeff’s methods into the work he did in group-crisis intervention for the Emergency Service Personnel. They taught together at different World Congresses and Conferences on trauma. Also, they worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Roger became a faculty member of the ICISF and has taught their courses for many years. For 2002, Roger and Jeff have submitted a ½ day workshop for EMDRIA’s annual conference in San Diego. In this day and age, we should all attend!
In 1988, Roger moved to Washington State where he was a Department Psychologist in the Washington State Patrol for the next six years. There he conducted psychological screening of law enforcement applicants and for selection of SWAT team, bomb squad and hostage negotiators; provided psychological services (individual, marital and family psychotherapy) to department personnel and their dependents; organized, coordinated and supervised prevention programs; conducted training at in-services and at the academy levels on psychological issues; and provided organization and program consultation to all bureaus in the department, conducted research and provided operational assistance.
Part of Roger’s job over the years has included Roger is Railroad Consultation. He began in 1989 when he consulted with Union Pacific Railroad’s critical incident peer support program. Until 1993, he provided training and services to over 1000 railroad personnel in traumatic incidents. Since 1995, he has been consulting with Via Rail Canada. He also provides services to Alaska Railroad.
Roger has been consulting with numerous municipal, county, state and federal agencies on critical incident programs and he has provided psychological services after traumatic events. He is well known for his workshops and seminars nationally and internationally and has taught law enforcement and mental health professionals in Australia, Canada, Kuwait, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The topics he teaches include critical incident trauma, and other topics related to police stress and police psychology. In the private sector, he has provided critical incident debriefing for teams involved with major incidents such as airline crashes, major crimes and disasters. He is an expert witness in civil suits and criminal trials in cases involving law enforcement use of deadly force.
In 1989, Roger took the early EMDR training from Francine Shapiro. He thought this was “a silly- looking method” until he met the veteran that Francine talks about in her Level 1 EMDR Institute trainings and EMDR text while doing a debriefing for the Mental Health Center in Santa Cruz following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. The veteran was a volunteer counselor working to help people with their responses to the earthquake and told Roger his story about his encounter with EMDR. Although, at the time, Roger did not believe Francine, he did believe the veteran himself. He asked the counselor to show him this new method. In Roger’s words: “I brought something up that was annoying to me and he did several sets. And, after that, I did not understand how this could have annoyed me in the first place! And then, I realized something shifted and the rest is history!”
When Roger learns something that intrigues him, he practices it and integrates it. In the case of EMDR, he began to sponsor trainings in Washington State. As one of the early qualified members of the EMDR team, Roger was invited to train to become a trainer. After apprenticing with Francine from 1993- 1994, Roger went out on his own to teach EMDR Institute and Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP) Level I and II trainings.
Roger now travels all over the world teaching his many specialties. He has been amongst a number of EMDR Institute and HAP trainers who have travelled extensively to bring EMDR to clinicians in many countries where traumatic events have occurred. Roger has been to India, Israel, The Palestinian Authority, Ukraine and Rwanda around the world and to Central Massachusetts in the United States to teach agency clinicians in the HAP Inner City Program. To Roger, these were very meaningful trainings where he could see the purpose of his work. In hearing the “horror stories” from clinicians during the practica, Roger understood on a very deep level the pain and the suffering that his fellow colleagues had witnessed or experienced themselves. In celebration of his contributions to EMDR, Roger was the recipient of the 1997 Ron Martinez Award.
Roger loves to travel and has been influenced by his introduction to the many different cultures he has visited on a regular basis. He is interested in seeing the differences between cultures but believes that “People are people no matter where I am and trauma is trauma.” New foods, wonderful vistas and meeting so many new people have been some of the benefits that has kept Roger enchanted with his traveling. He also enjoys showing his discoveries to his daughters Rachel and Julia.
For the past three years, Roger has been on the Faculty of The Trauma Center in their Community Services Program led by Robert Macy. Roger is the Lead Instructor of this program that provides crisis intervention, clinical services, and education programs to the Boston School District and the community. Roger modified Jeff Mitchell’s model to make Crisis Stress Intervention Trainings more applicable to clinicians who are working in the community.
Roger ‘s expertise in Critical Incident Stress Management has resulted in a worldwide reputation and he consults with national and international companies and their employees. In Toronto, Roger is working with MEDCAN Health Services. This agency provides disability management and healthcare services to other companies. He is proud of their “soup-to-nuts” Critical Incident Trauma Program which includes the provision of treatment to personnel on trauma related disability, training in critical incident stress management, and consultation to management and nursing staff on psychological issues.
Currently, Roger is engaged in many research projects. In Canada and Germany, Roger and Arne Hofmann are gathering data on the effect of implementing “the one-two punch” (Roger’s term for the power of doing first CISD then EMDR), after bank employees have been involved in a bank robbery and meet the criteria for Acute Stress Disorder. Roger is collaborating with Theresa McGoldrick on grief research and he is writing a protocol on EMDR and grief based on the work of Theresa Rando. He is gathering research on the effects of a multi-day intervention with those police officers that have been involved with traumatic incidents, using the Impact of Events Scale pre and post treatment.
Roger is a well-published psychologist and has written on topics ranging from EMDR to issues related to law enforcement, critical incident stress debriefing, memory impairment and critical incidents and administrative guidelines for police-related issues.
During the September 11 th disaster, Roger was in Turkey. When he returned, he was called to New York City immediately to provide Critical Incident Stress Debriefings and other clinical services to a number of federal law enforcement agencies and some private companies. He reports that he has found EMDR to be very helpful in NYC with Acute Stress Disorder. Roger’s philosophy is “It is very important to supply appropriate intervention depending on the emotional state and phase of recovery of the people involved.” As an example, Roger tells of a person who is stuck in an experience of extreme fear and the belief “I am going to die.” When the images, fear, and belief are intruding significantly on the person’s ability to function, EMDR has been helpful in integrating the traumatic images and facilitating on-going functioning. It is important to provide on-going support to monitor the person’s reaction. He says, “EMDR has been a wonderful tool to help people move beyond moments of terror that are frozen in their system.”
Knowing all that Roger has done, I was concerned about how he was taking care of himself in the face of all of the trauma, grief and loss that he has seen, heard and experienced and wondered if he had something to help us as we move through these difficult times. This was his response:
“How have I learned to handle other people’s trauma? It has definitely been a learning experience over the years. It is a continual process of learning to deal with my own vulnerability as I deal with other people’s vulnerability. The best way I have found to deal with it is to be part of a team, with colleagues that I trust. We can talk, debrief, and take care of each other. In New York, I am working with other people whom I have worked with for years, and trust. Another important factor is that I see people get better. When I am working with someone who is traumatized, whether it is a police widow or a WTC survivor, my mindset is that his/her current emotional state is normal and temporary. Things will improve, and I will be part of that forward movement and resolution. This keeps my work meaningful and prevents burnout. The efficacy of EMDR has played a significant role in the development of this outlook.”
We are lucky to have this educated and committed man as part of our EMDR Community.