A Community of Heart Profile: Steven M. Silver



In a world filled with conflict, confused thinking and cacophony, Steven M. Silver is the person that you want covering your back. Whether it is on a flight mission in Vietnam, dealing with his fellow veterans who have PTSD or tilting with the academic community in favor of the efficacy of EMDR, Steve is your man.

Born into a military family, Steve’s first point of entry was Key West, Florida. His father was a pilot in the Navy and by the time that he completed High School, he had lived more time outside of the United States than in. He grew up on Guam, Naples, Italy, Cuba, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Texas, Washington and Ohio; at no time did he live more than 3 years in any of these places and attended 8 elementary schools, 2 Junior High Schools and 2 different Senior High Schools! Even though this could have been a disastrous experience, Steve’s mother kept her family of 4 sons and 2 daughters intact because of her organization skills and dedication. Through these experiences, Steve grew to appreciate the diversity of human beings and the allegiance of those who served in the military for their love of country and dedication to a mission. In Steve’s world, people looked out for each other and when his dad was away on a mission, others in his squadron looked out for them. He also was able to witness the families who were not as fortunate as his own and how disorienting this type of movement could be for a family that was not well grounded. By living in places that were not democracies, Steve grew to value his own country’s way of life.

Steve has always had a passion for the study of History, especially focusing on the great themes of life such as the consequences of violence and the meaning of courage. He went, first, to John Carroll in Cleveland and then completed college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he received his B.S. in History and Government. During that time – despite the fact that he had been classified as 4F because of his eyes - Steve decided that joining the Marines and leading people would assist him in his maturation process and would “give payback to the USA.” Initially, he believed that he would like to join the Peace Corps. However, in thoughtful Steve fashion, he decided that being a Marine officer would be more of a challenge. It was.

He entered a summer program for the Marines and attended boot camp at Quantico for two 6-week periods. When he completed college in 1967, he was commissioned immediately as a second lieutenant. At the time that he had entered the program in January of 1965, there were only a few advisors in Vietnam and little war. His plan was to stay three years and then become a History teacher. He – like his father - went into Aviation. He trained with the Navy as a ”back seater” in Phantom aircraft. At Pensacola, he went through preflight training and fundamentals of flight and, then, Air Navigation. He was part of a Marine F4 Squadron – a fighter squadron - in Vietnam where he flew 316 combat missions. When his tour was done, he came back to a squadron stationed in California and worked as a teacher for the Marines. He completed his active duty in 1971 and then was asked back to do research for the Historical Division at the Headquarters of the Marine Corps for several months. He was in the military 4 years.

By 1972, he was back at Miami University to complete a M.A.T. in American History. During that time, he volunteered as a Crisis Intervention Counselor at Together, Inc. He taught for 2 years in Cincinnati but lost his job because of teacher cutbacks. So, discovering that he enjoyed working one on one with the kids, he went back to Miami U for an MA in Counseling, which he was granted in 1975. At that time, he became the Coordinator of Counseling services at the same place that he had volunteered.

By 1978, he had decided that he had reached the limits of what he knew and needed to learn more if he were going to remain a Counselor. He entered Temple University’s Counseling Psychology program on a University Fellowship and completed his Ph.D. in 3 years. The most exciting concept that he encountered then was family systems thinking introduced to him by Professor Harold Little. Also, he did a 2-month internship with Clorinda Margolis at Jefferson Hospital and the St. Agnes Burn Center where he learned Hypnosis. While he was finishing his dissertation, he did his Clinical Internship at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Coatesville. His dissertation was on returning Veterans and their symptoms (for those who had them); he was able to make a connection between these symptoms and the DSM-III diagnosis of PTSD. He gave his dissertation to one of the Staff Psychiatrist’s at the time and he passed it on to the Chief of Staff of the Hospital. Steve was shocked when he asked if he would like to put together a program for Veterans returning from Vietnam. Although, at the time, he did not like the VA because of a bad experience he had had as a Veteran, he decided he would try it out.

In 1981, after he was awarded his Ph.D., he began working for the VA at Coatesville as a Staff Psychologist for the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Program which he helped organize; he was made Director of the program around 1990, a post that he has continues to hold to this day. During this time, he also joined the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College as an Adjunct Faculty member and remained there until 1989. In 1982-2000, he was a Psychologist at Clorinda Margolis and Associates, P.C., a private practice group. He was also on the faculty of Temple University Medical School and taught at the graduate division of Immaculata College. For a brief period he was Visiting Professor of American Civilization at the University of Pennsylvania. Wherever Steve went, they wanted him to stay.

Steve was a natural to hold a position at the VA. Having grown up in the military and a veteran himself, members of the military were family and he had a deep appreciation for them, what they believed in and how they led their lives. What distressed him were all of those symptoms that many of his fellow veterans had to deal with on a daily basis.

Life at the VA was challenging. Steve had to attend not only to clinical problems but issues of managed care, limited budgets, and management of Veterans from all wars in which this country has fought. He is proud of the members of his staff and how competitive it is for staff to work in the program. This life’s work of Steve’s deeply matters to him because he has seen the contribution that he and his staff have made to his fellow veterans and the tangible effects their interventions have made on their lives. On his watch, he and his staff did not just help people get better, he and his staff saved many lives.

Of the many different teams and committees Steve has been on at the VA, the one closest to his heart has been the American Indian Working Group. The VA wanted a liaison between the medical team and the traditional healers of the Native American Veterans. As a member of this group, Steve visited reservations and talked to the traditional healers and the Native American Veterans. He was impressed with what he learned and decided to find ways to translate his new knowledge into mainstream culture. He was most touched by the ways that they responded to him as an outsider once they realized he was not there “to rip anyone off.” They tried to make him feel like he was a part of what was going on.

Steve studied how the Native American Communities responded as a community to someone who has been to war. They asked questions such as what is the community level and societal response that is needed and what important lessons were to be learned from trauma survivors as they came back to their society. Reentry and adjustment were huge obstacles, and, if something traumatic occurred, it was even more difficult. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Steve teach, ask him to tell one of his Native American stories. At trainings, facilitators –although they have heard his ending story of “The Woman Who Saved Her Brother”- many times, will line the back of the room to hear it again.

Over the years, Steve has been an Editor or Referee for a number of professional journals such as the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vet Center Voice and the Journal of Traumatic Stress. In his position as Editorial Board Member at the Journal of Traumatic Stress, he read an article by an unknown clinician named Francine Shapiro. He called Chuck Figley –the editor of the journal- and said, “Either the reviewers missed something or you are a victim of a hoax!” A fellow VA Psychologist from Chicago (Howard Lipke) -whom Steve respected- put together this woman’s methodology from the paper and got good results.

When the first EMDR training was offered on the campus of the Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, Steve went. He brought what he learned back to the VA and said, “It worked with a rapidity and depth of resolution of anything that I had ever used and I had used all that had been accepted for PTSD.” When something intrigues Steve, he dives in. Soon he was asked if he wanted to be a Facilitator for the EMDR Institute. Since he always acted with the credo that “the best way to learn is to teach”, he accepted. He went on to be a Trainer at the Institute. At the time of this article, between the EMDR Institute, EMDR-HAP and the VA, Steve has completed over 140 EMDR trainings. It has forced him to master EMDR and through the variety of training experiences, he feels that he understands thoroughly what is going on.

Steve has been crucial to the development of the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program as the Programs Chairperson and the Coordinator of the Training Programs for EMDR-HAP. Through the work that he accomplished in the Balkans and other places prior to the birth of EMDR-HAP and with all of the accumulated wisdom he has gleaned over the diverse experiences of his life, Steve had a keen vision of the possibilities of EMDR-HAP. His belief is that it is through the support of EMDR-HAP and agencies like it, that everyone can do something to help and “knock down” the sense of helplessness that people have as they watch events unfold around them. When he assisted in putting EMDR-HAP together, he thought it was the next logical step for the EMDR community and a way to get this method into the world where otherwise it could not be afforded. He has worked in Zagreb, Croatia; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Oklahoma City; Williamsport, PA (TWA800); Dhaka, Bangladesh; New York City and Washington D.C. (Sept 11). Also he has coordinated and organized similar trainings for Rwanda, Londonderry and Belfast, Northern Ireland; Kiev, Ukraine; Budapest, Hungary; UNICEF sponsored project for Bangladesh. He has assisted in organizing training projects for Fargo, SD (floods), and clinicians working in the inner cities of New York, Oakland, and others.

Steve’s impressive number of presented papers, referred journal articles, book chapters and book (“Light in the Heart of Darkness: EMDR and the Treatment of War and Terrorism Survivors,” with Dr. Susan Rogers), for the most part, focus on his fascination with all aspects of PTSD, however, they also include work on Native American Healing, Apache and Navajo warfare, the Veteran as therapist, EMDR, program effectiveness, existential elements of rage, historical analyses, rape, and the philosophy of war. Steve noted in his resume that, “Since 1972, he has provided over 500 workshops, seminars, and training programs for professional and community groups, including Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and units of the U.S. Army and Navy. The subjects include crisis intervention, critical incident responses, sex role differences, hypnosis, research, family therapy, psychological testing, posttraumatic stress disorder, differential diagnosis, and EMDR, among others.”

Steve’s work over the 21 years that he has been a licensed Psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania is an enormous contribution to the field. He has received 24 honors and distinctions from Temple University, to the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans Administration, the Florida State University Psychosocial Stress Research Program and Psychosocial Stress Clinical Laboratory’s “Active Ingredient” Project, the EMDR Institute, EMDRIA and EMDR- HAP.

He is an accomplished writer and poet and is in the midst of writing the seventh of a series of science fiction novels. His love of writing rivals his love of teaching and these two areas of his life are where he finds deep fulfillment. Based on his knowledge of history, he has set his novels in the future where his characters are a group of mercenaries hired to help liberate a world and what becomes of them as a result of their involvement. All of the events that Steve has lived through and the issues with which he has struggled provide the foundation for his novels. Although he organized the conflicts out of human history, his work is based in reality. He is fascinated by how people have reacted in the past and what it means for the future.

As a result of his interest in history and the study of behavior, Steve was asked to help develop a model for human behavior in high stress combat situations. He built his model from history to help people understand how people will react in certain situations. He served as a technological advisor to a computer company that was the first to introduce psychological reactions into their games. Then, some of this work was taken by the Air Force to train people how to build models of what to expect when people are flying aircraft.

When I asked Steve what he would like to say to the EMDR community, he responded with the following:

“I think that a lot of folks don’t realize this is a war that can still be lost. We are still trying to get EMDR accepted. And the opponents to EMDR are still working very hard to sell the idea that EMDR is ineffective and not worth paying any attention to. If you “Google” EMDR and visit all the websites, you will find that people have their own web-sites where they do an analysis of EMDR based on something they read or someone said in 1992 or 1994. There are relatively few people who are thoroughly up to date on where the research is. This ignorance of the research is what the “naysayers” make use of when they do their little sound bytes and that is what people remember, the sound bytes. There is much to be done and research to be done that would help the effort in the long run.

The other thing I have seen, and, you get this with every time that something new is introduced. I have seen a lot of splintering and drift. It is like everybody needs to make EMDR theirs and the way to do it is to change it. I have no objection to innovation, but, if people are trying to use EMDR differently than the protocol, if they have something new to change or take away, they have an obligation to do some research. I see money being made off of workshops of variations on EMDR with zero research. We do have the research to show the closer you follow the protocol the greater the effects. The danger is not just that some therapists will become ineffective or less effective than if they had followed the protocol, the real danger is that some one will come up with a weird variation and it will work poorly or hurt someone and the “naysayers” will grab it and use it against the EMDR community as a whole. We have already seen that happen in the CISM field where the debriefing protocol has been attacked as ineffective based on research that was done on debriefings performed on people for whom critical incident stress debriefing was never intended. The same kind of vulnerability exists for EMDR now.

So I still see some difficulties ahead for EMDR despite its current level of acceptance. Because people are trying to get that rolled back, it is very possible that they will be able to succeed unless we are able to produce good research. In these days of managed care, we are being required to prove more and more that what we do works.”

Even though Steve moved a great deal while he was growing up, as an adult, he has chosen to put down roots with his wife, Jeannie, and their 2 dogs, in Coatesville, PA. He is an amateur astronomer and an avid Harley Davidson aficionado.

When I think of Steve, I am always impressed with his knowledge and teaching skill as a psychologist and deeply touched by his spiritual being that illuminates his stories and writing. So, when you go into those dark places in your lives or with your patients into their lives, remember to keep Steve as an inspiration and know that when it comes to EMDR he keeps our backs covered. Thank you, Steve.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Steven M. Silver,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7687.

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