Relieving Trauma from Hurricane Katrina

UPdate Magazine Issue 8, Spring 2008


by Ecoee Rooney, R.N., S.A.N.E.

New Orleans, LA

Coming home to New Orleans was not easy, but no one thought it would be. What we had thought would be a long weekend visiting friends during a perfunctory evacuation to North Louisiana, we slowly realized, was the beginning of a long, and scary road home. Nothing could have prepared me for the turns and twists, disappointments in who didn’t help and amazement at who did, and the level of commitment of so many life-long friends and family members who came forward with money, supplies, and all we needed to survive those first months after leaving all we knew as our lives behind.

No amount of sensationalized media coverage could have prepared me for what I saw as we drove into the city for the first time, even though the Mayor still banned entrance to our part of the city. The vastness of the devastation began to truly sink in as we quietly drove down the interstate past a gray, abandoned landscape. Occasionally, houses that appeared to have been blown apart by some violent force, their guts dangling out, damaged, sat waiting to be discovered by their owners.

I’m not sure if I even breathed as we drove into our neighborhood. Neither of us spoke as tears streamed down my face. This was truly ugly; ugly beyond what I had even imagined. The desolation was shocking, the gray, cracked patina on everything, and the inescapable black or brown line clearly marking the levels to which the water had risen. Flooded cars and abandoned boats were scattered about the caked mud and debris. The orange lifejackets swinging in the breeze from my next door neighbor’s front railing sent a shudder through me as I imagined the terror of the rising waters.

Days later, after settling in at a friend’s house uptown, I started the work of moving in to my new office in a building across from my flood-ravaged workplace. Where to start? There was so much to do. I reviewed my pre-Katrina “to do list” for any relevance to life now. Strange how so many projects lost meaning after a disaster of this magnitude. OK, here was something. I noticed I had wanted to request a free video from Dr. Nora Baladerian, a clinical forensic psychologist from Los Angeles, regarding forensic interviewing of people with disabilities. I had seen her speak at several conferences, so I sent her an email, asking her about the video and when it would be ready.

Promptly, she emailed back, telling me the video was not yet out, but asking about how people were making out in New Orleans. Too overwhelmed to give more than a “we’re plugging along” type of response, I quickly sent off a cursory reply. Soon, I was surprised by her open-ended response, “How are you REALLY?”

I hesitated, but then decided to give this stranger across the continent an honest reply.  I sat and typed for 15 minutes, describing to her my sadness at the loss of our hospital, our community, our lives, so many people who were left jobless, homeless, grieving. It was very cathartic to spill my guts to someone who was not going through the exact same situation and who was so far away.

What came next really surprised me. She emailed back an offer to come with a team of volunteers that she would put a call out for to bring a trauma relief therapy to our organization. At that time, my organization was still operating out of military tents in part of a large convention hall, but I asked our administrators and they approved her bringing a group to share this therapy with our staff.

Nora and I corresponded back and forth, with increasing familiarity through each email as we worked out housing and other such details. We moved back into the upstairs of our house that last week of December, and the 12 volunteers arrived the first week of January, staying upstairs on cots, blowup mattresses and couches while we took residence with my senior citizen mother-in-law in her F.E.M.A. trailer for the week.

As they arrived, all with incredibly impressive credentials in psychology, some authors, some counselors, arrived by plane (and Nora, who arrived by car the following day from Atlanta due to air travel problems), their commitment and love was like a breath of fresh air in the stale, dankness of post-Katrina New Orleans.

All strangers to each other, several of our friends and these volunteer therapists visited together in our home that first night, enjoying red beans and rice, crawfish pasta, and conversation. After a while, one therapist asked me, “Would you like to try the therapy?” “Sure,” I answered.

She motioned me to sit in front of her and bring to mind something troubling or distressful, and then rate my level of distress about this issue on a scale of 0 to 10. Quick to tears in those days, I immediately thought of one sad situation that always brought me to tears. “OK, I’ve got it,” I said, a bit embarrassed for the tears in front of all these strangers and friends. “Now,” the therapist said, “I’d like you to tap here,” and began to lead me through a series of tapping on different places on my face and hands and chest.

I became awash in skepticism and concern for my credibility at work, feeling foolish as I followed her strange directions yet, gradually, I began to notice a much stronger sensation than the skepticism. I was overcome by a tremendous sense of relaxation and peace. It was very physical, as my neck loosened, and a smile welled up from inside and appeared on my lips. The tears were gone, and the sad feelings I had before were replaced with a tremendous sense of peace. As all of the therapists around the room smiled and nodded, in knowing recognition of my response, I sat stunned, smiling and shaking my head. “Amazing. Oh my god. This is amazing! Why doesn’t everyone know about this?”

I was so hopeful bringing the therapists to the hospital to work with the traumatized staff. Little by little, staff members joined the Thought Field Therapy sessions and out of close to 100 people seen and treated only 1 person responded that they felt no response from the therapy – all but one. Our CEO came, our administrators, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, clerical workers, human resource workers, family members of staff, all came and had very positive reactions.

I began to doubt my reaction to this therapy, questioning it, wondering what the trick was. However, no matter how hard I tried to conjure up the same sadness I had about the distressful issue I had worked on, I could not, and have not been able to since!

Nora and the therapists all explained that Thought Field Therapy® (TFT), a treatment discovered by Roger Callahan has been used world-wide to treat traumatized populations – genocide survivors in Rwanda, people after the bombings in the London underground, after the shootings at Columbine, and in Kosovo. The treatment is based in Eastern medicine and energy meridians, and the linking of the traumatic thought to an energy field, that can be modified and smoothed over through this treatment.

Nora has been back six times, has organized 2 other teams, supported two TFT trainings by Dr. Caroline Sakai of Hawaii and Suzanne Connolly of Arizona, so that people in the region would be able to use and share this therapy (70 + people were trained), and 2 other times she has come independently, visiting many different organizations around the city and state to share this trauma relief treatment. No one is paying her to do this. She is absolutely driven to continue bringing help.

There is no way she will ever know the relief, healing and peace she has brought to so many people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Many people in my organization, and around the region continue to use TFT to help with stress, anxiety, grief and trauma. I never knew help would come through our email exchanges. I thought I was asking for her video – I got so much more – help for myself, my family and my community, and a life-long friend.

How can one ever adequately thank someone for a kindness like this? Thank you, Nora, for taking the time out of your life to commit yourself to us. We didn’t know we needed you – thank you for coming to our rescue.

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