Spokane Journal of Business

Trauma Counseling Center looks to build reputation

Downtown group to test use of VR in treatment

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-—Kevin Blocker
Trauma Counseling Center founder Roger Yoder, left, with his staff that includes Terese Medina, Jessica Campbell, and Bailey Dougherty.

After a more than 20-year career serving in the U.S. Air Force, Roger Yoder had a goal of starting his own counseling service that specializes in helping victims of trauma.

He opened his practice in July 2016 under the name Executive Counseling Services, but a year later, he changed the name to Trauma Counseling Center of Spokane to underscore his practice’s focus more effectively.

“I didn’t have the necessary trauma certifications at the time we opened so we couldn’t use that name,” Yoder says.

Since completing them, however, his official title now is certified clinical trauma professional. And he’s launched headlong into an area of counseling that he says is his passion.

Trauma Counseling Center operates in an 800-square-foot office suite on the sixth floor of the U.S. Bank Building, at 422 W. Riverside downtown. 

Yoder says he and three other certified clinical trauma professionals specialize in treating trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are frequently the root causes of anxiety and depression.

Yoder has earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling and is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Minneapolis-based Walden University to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology.

Next month, the Trauma Counseling Center will begin exploring the use of virtual reality in the treatment of patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Yoder says.

Virtual reality is being used nationwide to treat soldiers and other patients who have experienced hostile or traumatic events. Phobias are often treated through exposure therapy to help patients deal with the source of their fears and anxieties, Yoder says.

Virtual reality enables a therapist to adjust the virtual experience to the patient’s pace and needs, Yoder says.

Yoder says his practice also employs cognitive behavior therapy and an approach called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often responsible for anxiety and depression.

EMDR was named as such because trauma clinicians first believed that eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotion of distressing memories. Further research revealed the decrease in negative emotions was actually a neurological response in the brain.

During EMDR therapy sessions, Yoder says, counselors talk a client through the traumatic experience he or she has encountered.

“The goal is expose them to the trauma without re-traumatizing them,” Yoder says. “It’s a process that doesn’t just happen in a session. You’ve got to gradually help the client build up to that.”

The idea behind EMDR therapy is to help a client process experiences that are causing problems, but also to help develop new experiences that are needed to reach full health, Yoder says.

Jamie Yotz, an adult outpatient program clinician at Frontier Behavioral Health in downtown Spokane, calls EMDR “the most effective and most gentle” form of trauma treatment and counseling she’s ever encountered.

“I think the best way I could put it is that it puts the trauma away as a sad memory as opposed to the memory always looming and being a threat to you,” Yotz says.

Yotz says the process is scripted in such a way where a counselor is helping a client walk through the traumatic memory.

“Often, the patient doesn’t even have to talk about it,” Yotz says.

On its website, the Austin, Texas-based EMDR International Association says, “Processing doesn’t mean talking about it. Processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be digested and stored appropriately in your brain.”

Yoder says that historically, trauma victims have been treated with medications, which he says doesn’t begin to come close to helping a client get to the root of the traumatic events they’ve experienced.

“Very few (counselors) have been trauma trained,” says Terese Medina, a certified trauma specialist for the Trauma Counseling Center who works primarily in the treatment of children. 

“Most victims are never really treated for what they’re suffering from,” she adds. 

Additionally, Yoder says his fledgling practice is working in conjunction with Greenleaf Psychology & Counseling, located at 3157 E. 17th, on the northwest corner of 17th Avenue and Ray Street.

Greenleaf, now a 30-year-old practice, is co-owned and operated by Gregory Charboneau and Dulce Bustamante. Greenleaf and its staff of 15 employees is designated as a center of excellence by the Washington State Healthcare Authority, and is FDA compliant in evidence-based neuropsychological assessment and treatment.

Greenleaf’ specialties include quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) brain mapping, neuropsychology, neurocounseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy, parenting effectiveness training, and other mental health services that are supported by research, Charboneau says.

QEEG, for example, tracks electrical activity in the brain using detectors implanted in the brain or worn on a cap. Part of the goal of that brain mapping to examine what goes wrong physically in the brain during mental illnesses and other brain diseases, Charboneau says.

“In simple terms, we’re measuring electrical data information in the brain to see how the brain is operating,” Charboneau says.

Greenleaf employs a team of seven neurologists to be able to do that, he says.

Yoder says Greenleaf has the resources and experience to “look at physical proof of trauma,” as it relates to brain function, and then can use that analysis to begin an effective path of treatment. 

As for Yoder’s Trauma Counseling Center, the clinic treats patients three days of the week, and its client base is still growing.

Yoder and his staff maintain direct and indirect connections to the military service and law enforcement sectors. He says they recognize there’s a great need for trauma counseling for those workers.

Those are employees in professions who are more likely to experience repeated traumatic events, which is called complex trauma, Yoder says.

“When I got out, I took my GI Bill and decided that this is what I want to do to help people,” Yoder says. “Our service connection is deep, so we have a strong desire to work with veterans, cops, fire fighters, and EMTs.”

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