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Innovative therapy offered in the North Country


Terrianne Yanulavich, LMHC, Ph.D., demonstrates the lightbar used for therapy in conjunction with Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy.

EMDR can help those living with traumatic memory

In commemoration of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, Citizen Advocates is highlighting the trailblazing work of its clinicians in the field of Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy.

Commonly referred to as EMDR, it is a type of therapy that uses visual, auditory or tactile stimulation in a left-to-right rhythm across the two sides of the body.  EMDR helps patients identify feelings, thoughts or images that are associated with a traumatic memory; desensitize those ideas; and then reprocess how the ideas relate to the memory. 

The stimuli can be tailored to each patient’s preferences, whether that is watching lights pulse back and forth on a lightbar, listening to alternating tones in a pair of earbuds or simply tapping on one’s own shoulders.  Patients are also instructed to breathe calmly and visualize a safe place before going into a descriptive event.  These relaxation skills help reduce re-traumatization.

“I always start by asking a patient: ‘What keeps you from living the life you want to live?’” said Terrianne Yanulavich, LMHC, Ph.D., Citizen Advocates’ Clinician Team Lead, Supervisor.  “The answer to that question boils down to the event, the trigger, the trauma.  ‘I can’t go in that store, I’m terrified of men, I’m terrified of dogs,’ whatever it may be.  That’s what I look to desensitize.  EMDR takes away the awful feeling associated with trauma, not the memory itself.”

EMDR is the only type of therapy that replicates Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, allowing the brain to process information more efficiently.  It can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, addiction and more.  One of its primary benefits is how quickly it can work.

“I’ve seen patients go from hitting the ground when they hear a car backfire to being able to sit and enjoy a fireworks display in just a few sessions,” Ms. Yanulavich said.

EMDR was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s after noting the therapeutic effects on herself while watching birds flitting back and forth during a walk in the woods.  Ms. Yanulavich received her training under Ms. Shapiro and has been certified to practice EMDR since 2003.

When she joined Citizen Advocates a decade later, Ms. Yanulavich was the only EMDR-certified clinician on staff and the only one in the region.  With the enthusiastic support of Citizen Advocates’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joshua Frank, Ms. Yanulavich pursued her pioneering work, establishing EMDR therapy groups to treat higher numbers of patients and encouraging fellow clinicians to become certified.

Citizen Advocates now has five additional EMDR-trained clinicians providing this vital service to the North Country: Tim Durney, LMSW; Anna Epshteyn, LMSW; Stephanie Gadway, LMHC; Christine Smith, LMHC; and Josef Smith, LMSW, a U.S. Army veteran who was drawn to EMDR because of his compassion for those who suffer from PTSD.

“As we focus on mental health this May, our goal is to educate North Country residents about the innovative services we provide,” said Emily Gokey, Citizen Advocates’ Associate Director of Health Operations-Outpatient Clinics.  “EMDR is just one type of therapy we offer, but its effectiveness can be life-changing for the clients we serve.”

“When you see someone who is traumatized feel better in such a short period of time and you understand that you’re the one who helped them, that’s the motivator to push forward,” Ms. Yanulavich added.

To learn more or contact us about EMDR services, click here.