Getting Better Together: Peer Support & EMDR

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Throughout their careers, Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod have seen first-hand the importance of peer support to the healing process. In this last episode in a series on first responders and the brain, Dr. Amen and Dr. Bohl-Penrod share some of their personal stories of how EMDR turned other people’s lives around.

Read Full Transcript

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod. We're having this really fascinating discussion about first responders, and Nancy, you actually help organize an organization dedicated to psychological health for first responders. Can you talk about that?
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: Sure, Dr. Amen. There is a group, it's a nonprofit, and it's called The Public Safety Peer Support Association. The board is made up of Anaheim Police Department, Probation Department, there's San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, Hawthorn, Orange County Fire Authority, LA County Fire Department. There's a whole group of board members and they run this nonprofit which provides peer support training to public safety individuals throughout the entire world, and they have a conference every October or November, it depends on which month, in San Diego, and they are having their fourth annual conference coming up in November. They sold out last year. There was 660 people there, and everyone there is a peer supporter for their department.
Peer support is where we go in, the Counseling Team International, and we teach law enforcement, fire dispatch, ER nurses, what we do is we teach them to help each other. If a fellow coworker is circling the drain, what do you do for them? What do you say? How do you get them the help? How are you the conduit to extra resources? And so we teach them what to look for, how to recognize someone who's depressed, and so they help each other out every single day. It is absolutely fabulous to see how they help their brothers and sisters in their profession all the time. They all come together to this conference and get extra training. They get to learn about subjects like EMDR, your vitamins, which are fabulous by the way.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: So they get to get everybody to learn about all the extra things that maybe the clinical side of the house do, but they get to express and explain it to the person and then get them into extra help. And it has been absolutely phenomenal. is an organization that the membership is $50 a year, and you get some information from that, but you get to go to the conference, and the speakers at the conference are fabulous. We have had military speakers from Benghazi. An individual came in. We've had Kevin Gilmartin, who talks about emotional survival in law enforcement. We've had Ben Vernon, who is a firefighter that suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and he got EMDR and he talks about his journey. I mean, the list goes on and on and on, and it's just a fabulous organization, and I think that they've changed a lot of lives and saved a lot of lives.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's great. So you mentioned EMDR. How did you first get interested in it and how do you use it in your practice? It's something Tana and I talked a lot about on the podcast when I first met her. I just adored her, but also listened to the fact that she grew up in a home full of drugs, alcohol, and emotional trauma. And so one of my first gifts to her was 10 sessions of EMDR, and it's a weird gift if you're just starting to date someone, but I saw how awesome she was, and I'm like, "This'll help you." And it helped her in just such a positive, dramatic way.
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: Oh, how I got involved is actually through the FBI. I went back to the FBI Academy at Quantico to teach peer support for a week. And it was 1991, and this individual named Dr. Roger Solomon, he came in and he said, "I'm going to talk to everybody about this new technique I've learned." And Dr. Roger Solomon is a police psychologist, and so I listened to him and I said, "I haven't heard that much about it." And he said, "You've got to get the training." So I went to Francine Shapiro and had the training done by her, and then just I went back, actually, and got the training from her a second time, and I started to use it with not as much of a critical incident, traumatic event for people. I was doing it for people that were infidelity issues, or somebody who felt betrayed by a friend. And then I went to more training and then looped it back around and started using it with law enforcement and fire service and the federal agents, and I'll tell you what, it still just is amazing to me on how it works.
The great thing about it is they're being exposed more to the subject and they're more willing, and my firefighters and police officers will call and say, "Hey, I need to come in and get that eye thing done." And I always kind of laugh and say, "Okay, it's EMDR." I have them read an article, I have them watch a video, and then I talk to them about it and they absolutely are true believers when they leave. They truly are the spokespeople for it. They go out there and tell everybody, "You need to call and get that done. You keep talking about that shooting. You haven't gotten over that traffic accident, that structure fire that you worked. You need to go get EMDR." And so that's how I got involved, and I'll tell you what, I think it's one of the best things available for people that are involved in traumatic events.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, no, I agree. Actually, Francine Shapiro, who developed EMDR, which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, she and I were friends, and we did a study on police officers involved in shootings who all were off work. They all ended up going back to work after an average of eight sessions. And recently, there was an article that came out on why it works, that when you get moving your eyes left to right or right to left and you do it for 30 seconds, it quiets down the amygdala, which is the anxiety fear center deep in the brain, and it activates your frontal lobes. So the anxiety goes down, the thoughtful brain goes up, and it just begins to take away the emotional charge of what basically got stuck in the brain. And you're right. It is just so powerful. Do you have a story? Because we find people remember stories way more than just information. Do you have a story about how EMDR helped someone? Although I loved what you said. It's like, "Oh you're talking about that thing over and over again. You need EMDR to help get it out of your head."
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: I do have an awesome story. It was a firefighter, and the firefighter was involved in an off duty incident. And what happened was he was driving down the street and he hit and killed a rollerblader. And when he hit the rollerblader, the rollerblader flew into his windshield. He knew not to slam on the brakes because the person would roll off, so he had to slow down and he had to go about 200 feet with him in his windshield. So he got out, tried to do first aid, and of course the person didn't survive. So his department called me about four days later and said, "He won't leave his house. He won't go to work. He won't drive. His wife said that he's been stuck in the house. He won't get into a car."
So my first thought of course was, "Well, it's too bad you didn't have us come out earlier, but that's okay." And so they brought him into my office. I met him on a Sunday at my office, and when I got here, his captain's trying to tell me everything, and I said, "Okay." So I worked with him with EMDR. It was about three hours, three and a half hours. And when we were done, he walked out into my waiting room, and he looked at his captain and said, "Hey, give me the keys. I'm driving back." And the captain was like, "What? What did you do?" And I said, "Look, it's not me. It's the process, and it's the hard work that he just put in to the process." And he was like, "I don't believe it." And that person went on the road talking. Everywhere he went, he'd go, "Oh, EMDR, EMDR. You can't believe what happened to me in EMDR." So that's one of my stories.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh no, you're the miracle worker. When you have a story like that, people don't forget it. Well, you've been just a joy to talk with, Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod. You know, write down what you've learned from this week. What's the one thing that our Brain Warrior Community has learned from this session with Dr. Bohl-Penrod? And post it, and hashtag Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Nancy, where do you want them to go to learn more about you and your work?
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: Okay. We have a website. It's, and we have a 1-800 number, 1-800-222-9291, if anybody needs to reach out to us. But on our website, we talk about peer support. If people want to develop a peer support program, we have all the information on how you develop it, how you get it started for your department. We also have a wonderful list of clinicians that we believe work with first responders, that we can refer them to as a resource, and we also have an app, and the app is called Public Safety Peer Support/Supervisor Coach, and in the app is tons of information on how to talk to people, what to do if you are a peer supporter, or if you're not, or you're talking to someone who needs help. It walks you through, it has tons of books in there, resources. If you see a book that you like, you can hit the app and it goes straight to Amazon. You can order it. It covers tons of articles, newspaper articles, magazines, information written by all types of people that can help anybody that wants to reach out that's a first responder.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Great. Well, reach out and learn more about Nancy's work. We're so grateful to have you on The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: Thank you. I'm grateful for being on it. Thank you very much. And you know, as they said at the end of Schindler's List, and what was written inside the ring, that when they gave the gold filling and made a ring for him, they said, you know, "You save one life, you save eternity." So I've always believed that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I love that.
Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod: Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the brain Warrior's way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode, and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at, or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.Com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.