WALNUT CREEK (CBS 5) – At least one in five Americans who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan return with post traumatic stress disorder. An East Bay therapist has found a way to help by offering an effective treatment not widely available to local veterans.

Marine Corps Corporal Mike Ergo helped root out insurgents house-to-house in the 2004 offensive in Fallujah. The memories haunted him when he returned home to Walnut Creek.

“I’d see these images over and over playing in a never ending loop in my head,” Ergo said. “It made it difficult to concentrate on anything else.”

Ergo sought out talk therapy and support groups to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but he found the most effective treatment for free thanks to Christina Madlener.

As a Walnut Creek licensed marriage and family therapist, Madlener has helped treat PTSD using a relatively new and powerful therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.

“This was definitely a service that we needed,” Madlener said. “It allows the brain to reprocess the traumatic experience in a way that neutralizes it.”

Madlener learned that local veterans could not get affordable EMDR treatment, even though it’s been approved by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. So in 2008, she founded the nonprofit Veterans Resource, offering EMDR treatment pro bono for veterans with PTSD.

Her patients have found a way to relive their traumatic experiences in therapy. During treatment, Madlener uses a remote control to send a metronome-like sound to headphones her patients wear while also matching vibrations to tabs under their legs. Unlike talk therapy, EMDR treatment stimulates both sides of the brain to ease stress.

Ergo said Madlener’s treatments have helped him find peace. “I still remember the things I’ve seen and been a part of, but I don’t have the heavy emotional connection to it anymore,” he said.

Another one of her patients, Marine Corporal Patrick Wright said Madlener created a safe setting that helped him calm the anger he’s built up after three deployments to Iraq.

“She’s very accommodating,” Wright said. “She understands. She realizes we’re not the typical patient.”

So far, Christina has treated 25 soldiers using EMDR.

“For those who’ve served, I feel the need to give them as many treatment options as possible,” Madlener said of helping veterans heal from the horrors of war.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)


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