Not only Americans who survived the recent devastating superstorm Sandy have suffered emotional trauma – many of those who came recently on aliya from the US northeast and left relatives behind or who are living here temporarily, are still in the throes of the storm’s destruction.

Dr. Judith Guedalia, director of the neuropsychology unit and chief psychologist at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, noted that Sandy caused emotional damage from afar and has offered to help.

“I myself,” she said, “was evacuated from Atlantic Beach, Long Island, and experienced the challenges of no electricity and heat since that Monday [of the storm]. Fortunately, I was able to return home on El Al not long after JFK [John F. Kennedy International] Airport in New York re-opened.”

Realizing that people in Israel were also stressed by the storm, Guedalia contacted the heads of the Jerusalem EMDR Institute, Drs. Gary Quinn and Dani Kahn, and clinical psychologist Dr. Phyllis Strauss, who agreed to hold a call-in service to set up appointments to help persons who were themselves affected by Sandy and its aftermath, either because they were there or their families still are.

“I think there are a lot of people who are without water and electricity for weeks already. We have in our unit a social work student from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and she told me she was also traumatized. The farther away you are from your home, the more terrible things you imagine. Some have returned to destroyed homes,” said Guedalia.

Volunteer Israeli-licensed and certified EMDR therapists will see them. “We are making appointments for people who call the neuropsychology units at (02) 666- 6682. We already have the volunteer therapists lined up,” said Guedalia, who is also a certified EMDR therapist.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a proven psychological intervention for trauma and stress reduction. It was developed 30 years ago by Dr. Francine Shapiro to deal with trauma-related disorders caused by exposure to distressing, traumatizing and negative life events. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories, reduce their lingering influence and allow clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms. In recent years, it has been expanded to bilateral stimulation by touch, in addition to eye movements.

The American Psychiatric Association has recognized EMDR as effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the APA, EMDR may be particularly useful for people who have trouble talking about the traumatic events they have experienced. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, enabling patients to better take control of their upsetting thoughts. It has been approved by the National Insurance Institute for treatment of acute stress and trauma.

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