A Community of Heart Profile: Sandra Wilson



When I think of Sandra Wilson, I think of a kaleidoscope of dynamic shapes and colors coinciding with the different facets of her life: caring friend, wife, mother, grandmother, philanthropist, psychologist, researcher, humanitarian, wilderness retreat leader, fund-raiser and champion of the underdog. There is no area of the human heart that she has not touched and the number of human hearts she has touched is countless.

I was introduced to Sandra soon after she completed her doctoral dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for her Ph.D. at The Union Institute. This was the first controlled study of EMDR with 80 traumatized adults and was later published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology as a Special Feature in December 1995 (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for psychologically traumatized individuals) with her co-authors Lee Becker and Robert Tinker. For her important work, she received "The Good Froggy" Research Award from the EMDR Institute in 1995. The 15-month follow-up with 84% participant response was published in JCCP with the same co-authors in 1997. For this research, Sandra won "The EMDR Research Excellence Award" in 1996. These two studies demonstrated the positive and long-term effects of EMDR with patients and became the launch site for the slow steady accumulation of positive research on EMDR.

I liked her immediately. She was full of life, feisty, irreverent, funny and bright. Also, she was focused and driven to do what she could to fund her research and to help demonstrate the efficacy of EMDR to the world at large and the psychotherapeutic world in particular. At the time, we called ourselves "GOBS" (it was the time of acronyms!), or "Great Old Broads of EMDR"! Sandra was busy selling bright pink and orange T-shirts that read "p<. 0001, snake oil-not" and "I am woman. I am strong. I am invincible. I am tired" (many of us can relate to that!). She was a woman on a mission.

Sandra was born in Detroit, Michigan and was the eldest of 10 children. In 1985, she received her Bachelor's of Art Degree Magna Cum Laude in Psychology and Sociology from Central Michigan University. In 1987, she completed her Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology and Child Development, also Magna Cum Laude, from the same university in Mt. Pleasant, MI. She moved to Colorado in 1988 in search of the mountains and to keep her son company while he was attending the University of Colorado!

A long the way, Sandra has had a variety of other occupations: lead vocalist in a band in the '60's, Pre-School Educator, Crisis Center Co-Director, Parent Education Program Director, General Contractor, Community College Instructor teaching house construction, Head of numerous humanitarian projects, Recreation Director for an exclusive family resort and Psychological Private Practice Clinician.

She has had her share of her own trauma and tragedy through the years; the saddest being the loss of two grandchildren in infancy, Spencer and Curtis. In true Sandra fashion of turning tragedy into good works, she and her husband, Robert Tinker founded the Spencer Curtis foundation in 1994 as a loving memorial to her grandchildren. The purpose of this non-profit corporation is to provide psychological and humanitarian programs for children, worldwide, and to conduct scientific studies of EMDR and Trauma. Sandra, Bob and Lee Becker spearhead the projects with the help of many volunteers and/or paid therapists to create a special working community for the various projects. So far, 247 therapists have participated in their studies and projects to date!

What has followed is a cascade of wonderful projects, humanitarian efforts and challenging research that has spanned the nineties and -no doubt- will flourish during the new millennium.

In 1995, Sandra was appointed Project Director a long with Joe Westerheid, Ph.D. and Karin Kleiner, LCSW for the Oklahoma City Bombing Relief Project sponsored by EMDR-HAP (marking the founding of HAP) and The Spencer Curtis Foundation. They supervised the EMDR Free Clinic that was staffed by 186 EMDR facilitators who volunteered their services to treat 250 victims of the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing. They also ran gratis trainings so that 300 therapists in the area could learn EMDR to use with trauma survivors. For her work in Oklahoma City, Sandra was awarded "The Cornelius Sabin Award" by the El Paso County Psychological Society.

In 1996, The Spencer Curtis Foundation sponsored "The EMDR with Children Research Project.” One hundred and twenty children and their parents were interviewed with approximately half completing the study. However, due to a failure of funding commitments, the Tinker's are endeavoring to find the funds to complete the analysis and write up the study for publication. Unfortunately, this is often the plight of researchers.

In June 1996, "The Phantom Limb Pain Research with EMDR" began. The idea for this project came after Francine Shapiro spoke at the 1995 EMDRIA Conference about Linda Vanderlaan's work during the "HAP Bogotá Columbia Project" with a child in Columbia who had remission of phantom limb pain after an EMDR treatment. Sandra and Bob were fascinated by this result and with great curiosity began to delve into this area of research. The pilot study began with 7 patients and was funded by The Spencer Curtis Foundation and the Tinkers in the United States and Germany. At this time, 50 patients have received EMDR and report approximately a 70% reduction of pain. Part of the data include MEG scans for 3 patients pre and post their EMDR intervention. These patients are currently undergoing their post testing and the results will be presented at the Toronto EMDRIA Conference in September 2000. "The Phantom Limb Pain Research" is in a funding status at this time and work will be continued once a grant or large donation is secured.

When Sandra is involved with these research projects, she brings the heart she demonstrates in the rest of her life into whatever study she is working on. Not only does she have a fierce support for her therapists, she has a great love and delight in the kinds of process and experience reported by the patients who are part of the project. She told me one story about a patient who had lost an arm from Cancer and after she was treated with EMDR was no longer experiencing any phantom limb pain. This woman had regained her joie de vivre and went out two-stepping with her boyfriend. They were dancing and stepping with such abandon that, at one point, her partner was left holding her prosthesis while her stump was exposed. While the dancers around her had stopped in surprise, she and her partner were laughing so hard they could hardly catch their breaths. I could see Sandra's eyes twinkling with sheer delight at this woman's triumph in the face of her disability.

"The EMDR with Police Officers as a Stress Reduction and PTSD Program" for the City of Colorado Springs Police Department began in 1997. This project was under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice Program to look at effective ways to help law enforcement officers and their families recover from the stress of such intense work. The Spencer Curtis Foundation received an $85,000 grant to assess 62 officers and their partners or spouses on the main areas of police stress. A 6-month follow-up was conducted and the article has recently been submitted for publication.

In 1998, Sandra was awarded "The Ron Martinez Award" by the EMDR Institute.

During 1999, the much awaited "Through the Eyes of a Child: EMDR with Children" was published. Bob and Sandra have included the wealth of their collective experience with EMDR and working with children in the text. It is an important book to include in any library as the literature on EMDR grows.

September of last year marked the beginning of the Malteser Refugee Camp in Hemer, Germany Project. More than 100 children and adults benefited from the 6-month program. A controlled study of 40 children was begun in December using a modified version of the EMDR protocol that included the butterfly hug. The butterfly hug was the result of work that Judy Boel and Judy Albert did with children who were victims of the floods subsequent to Hurricane Paulina, in Mexico. This project was undertaken to validate the effectiveness of EMDR so that governments will accept this treatment in the face of other disasters. At the moment, there are two Albanian psychiatrists who are hoping to raise money to set up a clinic to do EMDR in Kosovo. The plan is to have HAP trained local therapists and volunteer EMDR therapists do clinical supervision over the next two years to support the trainings.

Sandra's latest venture is to integrate her love for the wilderness into her passion for psychotherapy. As she has plunged into the work of helping others face disasters, she has been intimately in contact with the fall-out of such events. She said to me, "We are putting us in situations that change us. I will never be the same. I have a different world picture.” Dealing with her own vicarious trauma and Auto- immune Disorder, and looking to her mountains for comfort, she is creating wilderness retreats to assist healers in healing themselves and to help people wounded from life and work to rejuvenate and/or resuscitate their bodies, minds and spirits.

Unless you think that Sandra is totally concentrated on her work, you need to know that she is an avid wife, a mother of five and a grandmother of eight so far. She has learned the art of making every moment count and is enjoying each one. She likes to read and enjoys all types of music. Currently she is reading Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, "Ghost of the Balkans" and "The Firm.” When she is outside, she includes gardening, hiking, walking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, fishing, white water rafting, horseback riding in her activities. As Sandra says:

"I am living my life, before it is over. I am where I want to be. Doing what I want to do With whom I want to do it. The three biggies. A nice place to be.”

How lucky we are to have Sandra Wilson in our community.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Sandra Wilson,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7692.

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