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The Trailblazers

Deborah Korn (PsyD ’89)

When Deborah Korn was a child, she learned the art of being a good listener. 

“I grew up with two parents who were so committed in their own lives to caring for others,” Korn says. “I don’t think anyone was surprised when I went into a helping profession.”

And Korn has helped plenty as a licensed clinical psychologist. For more than 30 years, she has helped nearly a thousand patients as a practitioner of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, the psychotherapy known as EMDR. She’s now helping even more with her new book, “Every Memory Deserves Respect: EMDR, the Proven Trauma Therapy with the Power to Heal” (Workman Publishing Co., 2021).  

It all started in the summer of 1991, two years after Korn graduated from the University of Denver. She returned to the Mile High City to visit her mentor, Andy Sweet, a clinical psychologist and supervisor, and an alumnus of DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Korn says she was feeling frustrated with the available trauma treatment models and was searching for a more comprehensive and efficient path to healing. That’s when Sweet told her about EMDR.

“Debbie, listen up,” she recalls him telling her. “There’s this new therapy called EMDR. It’s something quite unique. It looks and sounds kind of strange, kind of wonky, but I’m getting remarkable results with it. You have to get trained in it. And run. Don’t walk, run.”

Korn ran. Later that year, she was trained under Francine Shapiro, the originator and developer of the treatment. Shapiro had discovered it by accident during a routine walk in the park. She noticed that moving her eyes back and forth while focusing on a traumatic memory seemed to decrease her negative emotion. Intrigued by her discovery, she tested it by conducting multiple case studies and then a controlled study. 

“It’s based on the idea that psychological problems are related to a failure to adequately process traumatic memories. They’re frozen or locked in our nervous systems,” Korn says. 

EMDR begins with a client’s current distress and floats back. The real breakthrough happens, she says, once a target memory is identified and activated through a series of questions:  

Next, Korn says, a clinician introduces 30- to 60-second sets of eye movements—bilateral back and forth visual stimulation—to jump-start the brain’s stalled information processing system.

“We work to keep the processing body-focused,” Korn says. “Just notice it. It’s just a memory. In the course of processing, a client might spontaneously imagine saying or doing what they never got to do or say previously.” 

Korn has seen firsthand how EMDR has changed lives and aims to make it more accessible with her book, co-authored by Michael Baldwin, an advertising executive who has benefited from the therapy. Baldwin, a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, spent two years in treatment with one of Korn’s colleagues in Connecticut. The book’s patient-therapist collaboration is unique and offers readers two different and compelling perspectives on the recovery process. 

In his 60s, Baldwin says he hit bottom. 

“After a lifetime of therapy that did little to resolve my problems, without a job that allowed me to take some cover from my demons, and without healthy relationships that could support and challenge me, I was at an emotional crossroads, afraid I was headed toward the darkest path,” he says. 

Each chapter begins with a narrative and personal reflection from Baldwin. Korn shares case vignettes from her patients to explain the therapy approach in a user-friendly way. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 70% of American adults had experienced a traumatic event. In the three years since, with more than a million deaths and an array of economic and social disruptions, nearly all Americans have experienced trauma. Not everyone needs treatment, but Korn hopes that those who do are inspired to take the first step toward recovery. 

“Don’t wait,” she advises. “You don’t have to figure out what’s going on with you before you knock on a therapist’s door. Bring your entire hot mess to therapy. A trauma-informed therapist will help you sort out what’s needed. And you can heal.”

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