This month our volunteer spotlight is with Board Member and Treasurer, D. Michael Coy, MA, LICSW:
What is your educational and professional background, and where in the world do you live?
I live in Bremerton, Washington, USA.
My queer identity, my mother’s death at age 44 (twenty years ago this year), my five-year stint as the office manager of a small, civil rights law firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and my volunteer work/activism during those years, are probably the factors that most influenced my educational and career path.
In high school, I lived for music—vocal performance, specifically. And, on the other hand, I did some computer programming on the side. … I was accepted into the engineering programs at two different universities to study computer science, but then…my heart had other ideas. No one was aware that my best friend and I were a couple during our senior year in high school—this was 1992 in a small, lower-to-middle class mix of farms and industry, and you just didn’t come out back then without paying a price for it. So, we hid. But I couldn’t leave him, so I attended our local community college. The relationship crashed and burned during my second year in college, which led me to ‘come out’ to my immediate family and close friends. It was really painful, but what big transformation isn’t?
Eventually, I decided I’d throw caution to the wind and further pursue music and applied to a liberal arts college in Chicago—a sixty-minute drive north of where I grew up, but worlds apart. I spent three years at Columbia College Chicago, completing my studies…in music composition.
As is often the case, I think, with music graduates, I had no concrete plan for pursuing music professionally. I eventually landed the position at the law firm, and the lawyers there were just amazing. They changed my life. My horizons expanded in so many ways. I started volunteering at a nationwide LGBTQ+ helpline … I worked on the helpline from 1999 to 2003. I was also doing a slew of other queer activism at that time. It’s a bit of a blur!
After my mother died in late-2000, I began to realize I wanted more than to sit at a desk supporting other people’s justice-focused work. … I eventually gravitated toward social work. … I fell in love with clinical work. I was naturally drawn to psychoanalytic/psychodynamic theory, and self-psychology, and I’m grateful for that, particularly considering the work I do now.
Since I graduated in 2006, I’ve had the opportunity to serve homeless and resource-deprived adults; persons with HIV/AIDS; abused and neglected adolescent wards of the state; children, adolescents, transitional-aged youth, adults, and older adults in an inpatient psychiatric setting; adults residing in a psychiatric nursing facility; LGBTQ+ identifying persons with substance use challenges in queer-focused community mental health; and then a variety of people in a private practice setting, which is where I am now. I obtained my Certification in EMDR therapy in 2014 and soon after became a member of EMDRIA’s Standards and Training Committee, on which I served until 2017. I studied with EMDR and dissociative disorders pioneer Sandra Paulsen from mid-2014 to late-2016. I met EMDRIA and ISSTD member Jennifer Madere in 2015 at the EMDRIA Annual Conference in Denver, where she presented a 90-minute workshop on the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation (MID).
I achieved EMDRIA Approved Consultant status in 2015, under Dr. Paulsen’s aegis. I felt very honored to be asked by Dr. Ulrich Lanius and Dr. Paulsen to co-present a post-conference session with them at the 2016 ISSTD Annual Conference in San Francisco. Attending that conference led to becoming more actively involved with ISSTD, and also was the beginning of my collaboration with Jennifer Madere in approaching Dr. Paul Dell, the developer of the MID, for permission to write a full manual for the MID and update the MID Analysis. That was the genesis of everything that’s come since in the further development of the MID Analysis and the fleshing out of the Mini-Manual into the 100-plus page Interpretive Manual.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know!
My first name is Dennis.
How did you first learn about dissociation?
I’m pretty certain that both of my parents were dissociative in different ways. My mother didn’t remember much of her childhood, and what she did remember wasn’t good. My father had a temper that could melt steel. I very distinctly recall reading my mother’s hardcover copy of ‘When Rabbit Howls’ when I was a sophomore in college. I have no idea why I was reading that. Also, my experience as a queer person in the context in which I grew up has led me to appreciate all the more both the necessity of separating from oneself, for the sake of emotional and/or physical survival, and the profound harm that can come from being forced by circumstance to do that. I’m sure it is no accident at all that I gravitated toward the study and treatment of complex trauma and dissociation.
How did you discover the ISSTD?
In early 2012, I felt compelled to get hold of a copy of the MID and the MID Analysis to evaluate a client who seemed to be struggling with something of a dissociative nature, and I discovered I could get them immediately by joining ISSTD. And so I joined.
You have been involved in so many ways with ISSTD – what are some of the things you have gotten to do?
I was initially invited, by Past-president Martin Dorahy, to serve on the Communications and Marketing Committee after attending the ISSTD annual conference in 2016. I was then elected to the Board of Directors.
I think I attended a meeting of the Finance Committee soon after joining the Board as an orientation of sorts, and I ended up joining the committee. A year later, when then-Treasurer Christine Forner became President-Elect, they needed someone to complete the last two years of Christine’s three-year term as Treasurer. You can guess what happened next. I will openly declare that I love serving as Treasurer, in part because it gives me the opportunity to interface with virtually every aspect of the organization. And, I love the numbers.
No one was filling the role of Website Committee chair, and I expressed my interest in the website. I got in on the ground floor of the website overhaul, which lasted from 2017 to 2019.
Shortly after joining the Board, I introduced the idea of ISSTD developing its own, dissociation-informed EMDR basic training. Christine Forner and I developed a proposal and it was approved by the Board. We were later joined by Jennifer Madere who became co-chair. I feel very honored to have spent the past three years developing this training with such a gifted group of people. It is now being delivered by ISSTD.
Someone recently asked me when I sleep. I told them I want to be a cross between Martin Dorahy and Warwick Middleton when I grow up.
What was it like, bringing ISSTD through the pandemic and having to cancel the conference and shifting to a virtual conference experience?
Well, I only contributed a few bits to what felt like a thousand-piece puzzle. It felt extremely painful to contribute to the decision to cancel something that I love and look forward to every year. Almost immediately after the Board made the decision to cancel the conference, a small handful of us worked together to announce it to attendees who had already arrived. At the same time, another group sat down in the hotel in San Francisco and figured out how to salvage the great programming we had scheduled. We worked together to develop a written statement to send out. Some of us got on the phone and spoke with plenary speakers, others sent emails to presenters, and a smaller contingent—on the spot—figured out what a three-day virtual conference could look like. This was all happening at the same time. Headquarters staff and I collaborated on budgeting for the event, which then was reviewed by the full Finance Committee, and approved by the Board.
I was quite excited about the Virtual Congress. I have to say that, because ISSTD already offers a lot of virtual learning opportunities, we were well positioned to shift to a virtual conference on very short notice. I thought it was great, both as a presenter and as a participant—unavoidable technical glitches and all.
How have you seen ISSTD change over the years?
Well, I’m of two minds on this. Subjectively speaking, I think ISSTD seemed big and…dare I say scary…initially. Anything called the ‘International Society’ of anything sounds very grand and intimidating. It can make one feel very small and it’s easy to feel lost as a general member in any organization. As I got more involved, my perception of scale shrunk a bit. Things became more familiar, and now I’m one of the people tasked with helping make ISSTD feel like ‘home’ for others.
Objectively speaking, I would say that there are a number of changes I’ve seen with the organization. We’re bigger than when I joined, by far. We have a really robust digital presence, compared to similar size organizations. The introduction of the new website and the addition of ISSTDWorld has changed everything. No website will ever please anyone—there are too many issues of style and personal taste for that ever to be the case—but I do think it was a good evolution from the previous iteration. Since I joined, there has been a significant influx of younger clinicians, as well as practitioners who are seasoned in general, but new to recognizing and intentionally working with persons with dissociative symptoms. This was a very intentional shift over the past ten years, and I know that Christine Forner and Lisa Danylchuk, for example, were main proponents of that. Now, the floodgates seem really to have opened. That influx includes a lot more EMDR therapists … That seems terribly important, particularly since, with limited exceptions, there has been a longstanding gulf between the EMDR world and the dissociative disorders field.
Perhaps the biggest change is that, as of last December, ISSTD now manages itself. I cannot overstate how much of a difference that makes. Increased independence has led the organization to stand just a little taller, metaphorically speaking.
What do you hope for the future of ISSTD?
I hope that ISSTD continues to push the boundaries in the field of traumatology, and that the organization can further expand its scope to serve the needs not only of the clinicians and researchers who have easy access to what we offer, but also of those under-resourced professionals who are struggling in small community organizations, serving the most marginalized of communities. There’s a lot of work to be done.