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Parkland helps victims of abuse heal through counseling, innovative therapies


Grand Prairie, Texas. October 11, 2017

“Things were so, so hard. I didn’t want to be alive anymore.” A victim of domestic abuse for more than 10 years, Lindsay (full name withheld for safety reasons) struggled with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. Memories of abusive treatment by a family member had left the 23-year-old with sleepless nights, paranoia and panic attacks.

Fortunately, a concerned relative brought Lindsay to the Victim Intervention Program (VIP)/Rape Crisis Center at Parkland Health & Hospital System. More than 4,000 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and violent crime receive services including advocacy, counseling and education at the center every year. Counselors provide emotional support, safety planning, and referrals to legal and other services survivors need to recover and heal.

“I had been to a point where I wanted to die, but it’s been a complete turnaround for me since coming to the center,” Lindsay said. Working with a crisis counselor at the center, Lindsay gradually developed tools and techniques for coping with her experiences, helping her move forward and create a better future.

In 2014, nearly 24,000 cases of family violence and sexual assault cases were reported in Dallas County, but experts say many victims do not report the abuse to authorities. “Domestic violence is a healthcare problem of epidemic proportions throughout the U.S.,” said Melissa Reilly, LCSW, Director of the VIP/Rape Crisis Center. “During October, designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are stressing the need for education and outreach to shine a light on the growing problem.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in America every day. The rate of intimate partner violence among adolescents and adults continues to climb. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 percent of women and nearly 10 percent of men in the United States have experienced intimate partner violence. Parkland’s VIP/Rape Crisis Center provides free counseling and help finding emergency shelter, legal assistance and other services for victims ranging from age 4 and up.

“There is a tremendous need for assistance and counseling for victims throughout Dallas County,” said Reilly. “That’s why we are grateful for a grant from the United Way that enabled us to expand access for people living in parts of southern and northeast Dallas County where counseling services were not available previously. We added two trauma-focused counselors and have made counseling appointments available at four Parkland Women’s Health Centers on a rotating basis, including the Southeast Dallas, Garland, Hatcher Station and Oak West centers.”

The United Way grant, along with funding from the Parkland Foundation’s Employee Campaign also helped the VIP/Rape Crisis Center expand evidence-based treatments for victims of trauma, including cognitive processing therapy, individual and group trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR therapy is used to help trauma survivors by activating both sides of the brain through bilateral visual or tactile stimulation while revisiting traumatic incidents with the assistance of a licensed professional counselor.

The results achieved with EMDR therapy are significant, according to Lyndsay Sather, LCSW, a counselor at the center.

“Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is one of the leading therapeutic interventions proven to be effective in helping trauma survivors heal. EMDR uses bilateral movements to fire up a person's memory processing network. This process helps rewire the brain; it takes stuck pieces of a traumatic experience, such as a belief ‘It's my fault,’ and helps create a new and positive connection, such as ‘I did the best I could.’ While painful memories cannot be erased, the goal of EMDR is to help survivors be able to recall the traumatic event and feel minimal emotional pain. The overall process truly helps survivors heal from the past, cope with the present, and feel empowered for the future,” Sather said.

For patients, the EMDR technology helps limit the time they feel trapped with overwhelming emotions or traumatic memories. Their brains are able to return to adaptive information processing and they can manage difficult experiences that may come up without the trauma being retriggered.

“Our patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from treatment,” explained Sather. “Relationships throughout their lives improve. The healing continues outside of the center.”

In 2016, Parkland’s VIP/Rape Crisis Center provided 3,379 counseling hours and served 333 new clients.

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