Chicago-area first responders turning to eye-motion therapy to combat PTSD

More first responders in the US lose their lives to suicide than in the line of duty, according to a study by the Ruderman Foundation.  

In Chicago, a little known treatment for depression and PTSD is rescuing first responders desperate to find help for themselves.  

The treatment almost looks like hypnosis, but the patient is entirely awake and able to tap into traumatic memories like never before. 

It can start to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD in as little as one treatment

"I was at the point that I was willing to try anything to get something to be different,” said Jon Vaccarello, Deerfield Firefighter.

Broadview Fire Chief Tracy Kenny and Deerfield Firefighter Jon Vaccarello have had very different life experiences but they both agree: A form of therapy called EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has dramatically changed their lives.  

Patti Dirilten is their therapist. 

"Sometimes it would be magic in the moment and sometimes it would be the next week you'd find out they were able to engage in things they've always wanted to engage in,” said Dirilten.

EMDR therapy attempts to mimic the rapid eye movement of deep sleep to stimulate the brain.

During a therapy session, the patient recalls a traumatic memory and the therapist guides them through the memory while keeping their eyes moving in a back and forth or bilateral pattern.  

"When something distressing or traumatic happens to an individual it gets stuck in the brain and it gets stuck there with thoughts and feelings and body sensations at the time of the event,” said Dr. Wendy Freitag. "We're activating the whole event that is stuck in the brain." 

No one really knows why this type of therapy works. The EMDR Foundation is located in Chicago, and they are hoping more research will crack the case. 

"It's only when they experience it that you see that lightbulb go off and they're like ‘OK, I totally understand it now,’” said Dirilten. 

"I sleep at night now,” said Vaccarello. “I hadn't slept at night in like 12 years if not longer." 

Each session is an hour, and it is covered by insurance. 

There are many MDR therapists in the Chicagoland area.