January 31, 2018

Many issues continue to create stress for hurricane victims in the Keys.

File Many issues continue to create stress for hurricane victims in the Keys.

KEY LARGO — Licensed counselor Dawn Wiggins sometimes shakes her fist at the stigma often associated with seeking therapy, but now after undergoing training in a relatively new therapy technique, she will instead extend two fingers as if hailing a cab and wave them in front of a client’s eyes while probing into their troubles.

A new trauma therapy technique Wiggins offers is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. It will be a component of her “Happiness Project,” which kicks off with an open house parlor party on Friday, Feb. 2. 

The party is aimed at helping people cope with the after-effects of Hurricane Irma and to provide a soapbox for anyone wanting to air the bigger-picture issues here in the Keys community.

“People are still affected by the hurricane,” Wiggins said. “There is post-traumatic stress for those who experienced devastation. The stress on those who stayed, feeling like a burden to the county and first responders, or the stress on those who evacuated not knowing what they were coming back to. It was just the not knowing that got us all.

“The anxiety of the hurricane could have surfaced some earlier traumas,” she added.

There are a lot of lingering Irma stressors.

People are still dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance companies, and in the Lower Keys, some residents are still displaced. Meanwhile, businesses have closed, lots of community members have left town, and there is a shortage of teachers and dire need for housing.

“I think that come the next named storm, and there will be one, it’s going to stir everyone,” Wiggins said.

She’s committed to helping Irma-traumatized victims.

Earlier this month, Dawn Wiggins, along with 14 other therapists, underwent a three-day EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program training course.

Psychologist Francine Shapiro invented EMDR in the 1980s after noticing that moving her eyes from side to side reduced her own distressing memories. She then began using the technique to guide the eyes of patients back and forth by having them focus on two of her fingers.

It’s a dual stimuli approach that keeps the focus on the physical while painful memories are mined.

“EMDR is a more targeted approach with a much faster approach to resolving issues in a specialized technique. There is far more scientific data to back it with a rapid response rate,” Wiggins said.

She credits Islamorada psychotherapist Dailey Grainger with bringing this technique to the Keys, and said that until this training was provided this month, Grainger had been the only one locally to provide this therapy.

Grainger, who also is nurse practitioner, introduced EMDR training to therapists in Miami after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and believes the Keys residents would benefit from having more licensed professionals familiar this technique.

“This would be helpful to people, and that’s what I’m all about,” Grainger said. “Post-traumatic stress is a normal response to an abnormal situation. It can be expected in normal, mentally healthy individuals.”

Grainger calls it PTS not PTSD, because she doesn’t consider it a “disorder” but an almost-to-be-expected outcome of a serious trauma.

Wiggins said the psychological fallout of the hurricane continues.

“My mission is really to address underlying deeper issues in our community. This community is one that has more problems than solutions, and it’s becoming perpetual,” Wiggins said. “Hurricane Irma has brought a lot of issues to the surface and made it sexier to talk about things in a way. We are at a time when it’s more chic to say we need help. I decided that I can either complain about it or do something about it. I’m in.”

Wiggins is hoping the “Happiness Project” evolves into an ongoing community event.

The inaugural parlor party event is from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Wiggins’ office at 99353 Overseas Highway, suite 16, in the Cedar Towers. Light fare and refreshments will be provided, and all attendees will be entered into a raffle for a private yoga session, three complimentary therapy sessions and a self-care kit.

For more information, contact Wiggins at 561-221-5575 or visit dawnwigginstherapy.com.