KM: Hi Ricky. Some of us know you through your volunteer work for ISSTD, but I am sure there is much we don’t know. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
RK: I’m a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of complex trauma and dissociation in New York. I work at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn offering bilingual (Spanish/English) attachment-focused experiential psychotherapy to survivors of trauma.
My program is called the Violence Intervention and Treatment Program (VITP). VITP is a hospital based grant funded program that offers case management and psychotherapy to survivors of interpersonal violence including but not limited to, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence, Ritual Abuse, Terrorism, Survivors of Homicide, and Human Trafficking.
Because we’re grant funded we can serve a population that’s often neglected for reasons both structural and individual. I’m the only clinician in this program which has been a struggle at times – however, the work we’ve done over the past year has resulted in new funding and we’re in the process of growing the program three-fold, which involves training more therapists. I am excited!
KM: Great news! What type of clientele do you see?
RK: Most of the clients I see are immigrants that don’t have legal status in the United States. About half of them are Spanish speaking, some are bilingual (Spanish/English), and some exclusively English speaking. I carry a caseload of about 15 clients with whom I meet weekly. Given the severity of their trauma, I see most of them for 1.5h, some for 2h, and the minority of them for 1h. I’d say that half of my cases are DID and the other half are severe complex trauma with dissociative disorders plus comorbid personality pathology, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, etc. These folks are extremely hurt; some with upwards of 10 hospitalizations, multiple diagnosis/failed therapies, dozens of suicide attempts and even histories of therapist abuse (or health professional abuse in general).
For most of my clientele, I’ve been the first therapy encounter that’s tended to their trauma and acknowledged their DID. There’s no other service in the Brooklyn area of NY that offers trauma informed care to the level we do – I say that with great pride as well as a deep sense of sadness. It’s a geographical desert of services here, and these folks would never have access to competent care otherwise – even a ten dollar co-pay is outside of their possibilities. It’s sacred work and challenging.
KM: It sounds very challenging – to be the only clinician in the program?
RK: I’m the only clinician right now, but we were recently awarded another grant from the state due to the outcome effectiveness we’ve had this last year. The new grant will allow us to expand with three new hires that I will be training/supervising. They will also be providing greater depth in case management services given the fragile nature of the population we serve (i.e. medical accompaniment, housing, securing childcare services, etc.). Because we are in a hospital, we get the privilege of responding immediately to people in the emergency department that are coming in with a recent Sexual Assault or Domestic Violence. This is also an opportunity for us to provide accompaniment after a traumatic incident as well as connect folks to services, therapy or otherwise.
KM: How rewarding for you to be involved with a program that is expanding. How did you get into working with Complex Trauma and Dissociation?
RK: I entered the world of psychotherapy after having graduated from NYU’s masters in Mental Health Counseling. The program required 600 hours of clinical work at an outside agency. Happenstance and hard work came together and offered me the privilege of working at the Crime Victims Treatment Center (formerly of Mt. Sinai West and St. Luke’s Hospitals). There, I encountered AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy). AEDP is a healing-oriented experiential psychotherapy that leverages the phenomenology associated with change to provide an accelerated experience of neuro-affective healing. At CVTC I met my first supervisor – a person who’s deeply impacted my development as a psychotherapist and as a human being. It was my supervisory experience and work at CVTC that truly “hooked” me into specializing in trauma and dissociation. CVTC was my clinical “birthplace”. I will forever cherish, admire, respect and honor CVTC for helping me begin my journey as a therapist.
After my clinical internship, and in addition to AEDP, I started my exploration into other trauma-oriented forms of psychotherapy – all of which identify neuro-affective phenomena with the purposes of deep structural change. I am and will always be a student! I also study and practice ISTDP (Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy) as well as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing).
My place of work and the population I serve provide me with the opportunity to grow on a daily basis. It is very hard work which requires constant fine tuning and ever-emerging change on the road to greater affective competence. Yes, there are dark times… that is just the nature of the work. However, there is also a powerful sense of purpose; a motivation that propels me into deeper difficulty and out into brighter light. I am fortunate enough to sit across from some of the most remarkable human beings in this world and accompany them in their healing – and they in mine. It’s the most beautiful experience I have ever had. I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life.
KM: You have truly found your calling, by the sound of it. Somehow in all this you have joined ISSTD and become one of our volunteers in co-coordinating the SEP Committee. How has your experience of ISSTD been as a SEP member? What has been most helpful for you?
RK: My fascination with trauma and dissociation brought me to ISSTD where Christine Forner, the current president, approached me to co-chair the Students and Emerging Professionals. I was, and still am, completely flattered by the offer! I accepted the charge because I believe ISSTD to be a powerful platform for change. One of my greatest frustrations in my own professional development was the lack of effective training/study opportunities for emerging clinicians. I found graduate programs, internships, curriculums, and supervisory relationships to be completely devoid of competent learning in this field. How was it possible? How come no one was teaching us about trauma and dissociation? These questions disturb me to this day, and probably will continue to for the foreseeable future.
KM: An all too common story, Ricky. And then comes ISSTD….
RK: Yes. As an organization ISSTD provides a powerful, heartfelt, and competent counterbalance to the “absence of”. At one point or another, many of us come to understand the invisible heaviness of absence. ISSTD brings presence!
Immediately upon entering this organization I had the privilege of attending the annual conference held in NYC. I was surrounded by leading experts in the field of neuroscience as it relates to healing complex trauma and dissociation… and they were all nice! All of them were willing to engage, share, and educate. Personally, I find this beautiful and way more accessible than I had anticipated. ISSTD is a fertile rendezvous for wisdom and collaboration. I’d encourage everyone to simply reach out – you’d be surprised by who may reach back. It’s a phenomenal resource and one that I’m proud to form part of. I’m excited to experience and form part of ISSTD’s growth and intrinsic kindness.
KM: That’s a pretty big rap for ISSTD. Thank you for being part of ISSTD News SEP Month Profiles.