A Community of Heart Profile: Frankie Klaff



At EMDR Institute trainings, Frankie Klaff likes to introduce herself as “Borderline.” The joke is that she lives on the border of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania; however, the truth is that there is no one more firmly rooted in her self and the places that she has chosen to live than Frankie.

Frankie’s story began in Durban, South Africa where her family had settled in advance of the Holocaust. She was a precocious, curious child who had the good fortune to fall into the hands of a “brilliant” teacher. Miss McGreavey taught her poetry, drama, literature and history but most of all, taught her about being a person. Frankie’s touch for the dramatic sprang from those early days where her talent for the arts was cultivated and she later earned a teaching diploma in Speech and Drama. While Miss McGreavey tended to her muse, her mother and Russian grandmother trained her to be the matriarch that she has become. Her sense of charity and compassion grew from the model of her parents who taught her, “Helping people was a mitzvah (gift).” At the age of 10, she started her political activism in the Jewish Youth Movement (Habonim) where she attended and gave lectures and seminars and at 16 fell in love with “the rugged, intense and witty head of the local youth movement,” her beloved Viv. Ultimately, they decided that as “appalled” as they were at the plight of black South Africans, their friends were being imprisoned for their stand against the regime, so they decided instead to fight for their own people and she and her Viv moved to Israel in 1966.

With a group of “fellow zealots”, they left South Africa and moved to a kibbutz to learn Hebrew. Later in Jerusalem, Frankie worked as an editor of scientific texts and studied Hebrew while her husband began his Ph.D. Their first son, Oren was born on the eve of the 1967 war in Israel and her second son, Tamir, was born several years later. At this point, in the tradition of her mother and her mother’s mother, she devoted herself to the joys of motherhood the arts of cooking and entertaining and teaching English.

In 1970, they moved to their third country of residence, the United States. It was a difficult decision to leave Israel but she went to follow her husband’s dream of completing a Ph.D. During that time, she completed her MS in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin to integrate her interest in Education and Psychology. They moved again to Urbana where Viv had a job at the University of Illinois and Frankie continued her studies and raised her boys. In 1975, with great joy, she gave birth to their daughter, Caryn. She continued to study and began work as a therapist with adolescents at a residential treatment center. By this time, her entire family of moved to Israel and she longed to return. As a result of the Yom Kippur war, Viv was unable to find work in Israel and he accepted a position at the University of Delaware in 1977. With this decision, Frankie decided it was time to give her family roots and live fully in the United States.

Frankie evolved a new professional goal and she decided that with her devotion to parenting and psychotherapy work at Illinois, she would pursue her interest in Family Therapy. Although this was a field in its infancy, Frankie’s pioneering spirit was well suited to forging ahead. She began studying at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic at the exciting time when Salvatore Minuchin, Carl Whittaker and Jim Framo were there. She later was selected for an externship. She also began her first job as a family therapist in Newark, Delaware. At the same time, she began working on her doctorate at The Fielding Institute!

Her doctorate was a family affair. Her daughter collated her papers, while her sons –the computer wizards- helped their mom with typing and calculations. Viv was the statistician and made sure everything was coordinated. Part of Frankie’s philosophy of life is that “I am willing to do anything for anybody. I can’t help but help and people help me, too.” It is a practice that seems to have worked for this family.

With her fascination with people and the plots and patterns of their lives and her training as a theater teacher, she was a natural as a therapist. The environment that allowed for that young, curious child to flourish in her early years proved to be an essential factor in understanding the children that she encountered in her life as an adult. She has maintained that ability of the child to enjoy herself thoroughly and to have fun.

Frankie learned about EMDR through Mary Framo who called her from San Diego to tell her about this interesting new therapy “that managed care will love because it shortens treatment.” She went to her first training in Philadelphia where she heard Francine Shapiro talking about Vietnam Vets and eye movement and thought “Oh my god, get me out of here!” However, Frankie, the pioneer, took over and the next day when arriving at her office decided to try it out. Later that night, she said to her family, “I do not believe what happened in my office today. My patient made more progress in one session than in the two years of work I had done with her!” Frankie was hooked!

When Frankie believes something is effective, she becomes an advocate. Despite the controversy surrounding EMDR, she gave free presentations for colleagues and the public. Frankie persevered even in the face of criticism believing the data that she was observing in her treatment room. Later, a clinician who had been critical, began to realize the impact of EMDR and started to send her difficult cases, even a family member!

In 1995, she became a facilitator for the EMDR Institute and as she says, “My life has turned upside down ever since.” Since then, she has devoted a large part of her professional life to EMDR. As Frankie puts it, “I am so incredibly grateful to Francine Shapiro for what she gave me because it enriched my life as a therapist and gave me the opportunity to teach – which I love. I have a world full of wonderful people who have enriched my life with friendship. The people that I have taught with and trained and some who have stayed in our home still e-mail me. That is my secret life late at night…connecting with the world of EMDR, keeping up with the list, offering support to people through that and shooting the breeze with friends.

Then, one day there was a turning point. A mother asked Frankie to work with her child using EMDR after she had been successfully treated. Feeling like a renegade from her usual family therapy work, Frankie took on this challenge with gusto. She found that EMDR worked with children but that adaptations needed to be made. While keeping the protocol in her head, she began to make adjustments to incorporate play and the developmental challenges of working with children and adolescents while still keeping a family perspective. One of Frankie’s missions in life is to further her work through teaching. Through the EMDR Institute, EMDR-HAP and privately, she has been invited all over the world to impart her knowledge to other therapists. Her last challenge before she is to retire is to write about her work so that she can share what she has learned.

Frankie’s words for the EMDR community are key to all of the values that she holds most dear: “I always find lucky pennies and Francine Shapiro was my lucky penny...Francine and EMDR. And, what do you do when you have a lucky penny? You share it with someone else. That is the legacy my parents gave me through their volunteer work and that is the belief that I have with EMDR. A lucky penny doubles the luck when you give it to someone else. I want to encourage people to give of themselves. If they are in their community, offer to give talks and to share. If you believe in something, you have to stand up even if you are going to have a few rotten apples thrown at you. We have to do this as a group because, then, we have more power. This is the power of the little person to make a difference. You give and you get.”

Currently, Frankie is a clinical psychologist in private practice and a member of the staff of Behavioral Health Associates and Survivors of Abuse in Recovery. She is a Clinical Supervisor at the Delaware Guidance Center and a Consultant internationally and with private case management. She is a Trainer at International Workshops on Advances in Treating Children. She is an Adjunct Faculty Member at the Union Graduate School in Yellow Springs, Ohio and a Senior Faculty member of the EMDR Institute. She is a member of the Maryland Disaster Response Team and has participated in EMDR-HAP services. She is a Disaster Response Mental Health trained volunteer at the Red Cross and served as an Executive Board Member of the Delaware Psychological Association for multiple terms.

Frankie is an avid reader, walker and admirer of nature. Her basic joys include cooking and having people over. Her devotion is to her Viv, her family, her patients and to EMDR. To Frankie, the well-lived life includes the give and take of a wife and her husband, of a parent and her children, of a therapist and her patient/s, of a citizen and her country and of a person and her planet. The dedication that Frankie has demonstrated in the EMDR world is a gift. May we continue to have Frankie, with her graciousness of spirit and delight in her work with her patients and our community, as our model.


2004, September


“A Community of Heart Profile: Frankie Klaff,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7665.

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