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Worcester Psychology Expert to Help with Typhoon Haiyan Relief Effort

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A University of Worcester lecturer and internationally-renowned psychologist will travel to the Philippines this week to lend his expertise to the relief effort in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.

Dr Derek Farrell is a world leader in Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy, and will travel to Manila to help train psychiatrists and psychologists in the discipline, which is used to treat trauma victims.

The typhoon – the deadliest on record to strike the Philippines – caused almost $6 billion worth of damage and affected an estimated eleven million people when it struck in early November, triggering a huge international fundraising appeal.

EMDR – a technique first developed by American psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s – is used to alleviate the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and to treat those who have experienced severe trauma.

The process works by encouraging patients to recall distressing memories, before a therapist prompts a series of side-to-side eye movements, with evidence suggesting that these specific movements lead to traumatic memories losing their intensity. Along with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), EMDR is recommended for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Farrell, who was trained in EMDR by Francine Shapiro in the United States in the 1990s, has travelled extensively over the last two decades, lending his expertise during humanitarian disasters and helping to train United Nations peacekeepers in the discipline of EMDR.

Of the project in the Philippines, he explains: “There was initially going to be an Asia conference in Manila anyway, but it’s now taken on a completely different context. We focus heavily on Asia as it has a disproportionate amount of natural disasters.

“The level of devastation in the Philippines at the moment is so profound, so we are looking to work with in conjunction with the Philippines Psychiatric Association to train between 50 and 100 psychologists.”

Dr Farrell also works alongside the Ministry of Defence as part of their duty of care towards military personnel, and on ongoing humanitarian projects in both Pakistan and Greece – the latter having seen a huge rise in suicides linked with the country’s recent economic problems.

“The mental health system in Greece has completely disintegrated as a consequence of the economic crisis there,” Dr Farrell explains. “They have a whole host of psychologists that simply can’t afford the next phase of their training.

“I’m going over to Greece at the end of January to deliver some training. Fortunately, there are already trained EMDR professionals there, so we’re planning to train another 30 or 40 psychologists using the existing supervision networks.”

Alongside his international work, Dr Farrell has also developed an EMDR Masters course – the first of its kind in the world – which will launch at the University of Worcester later this year.

Dr Tim Jones is Head of Psychological Sciences at the University of Worcester, and believes that Dr Farrell’s work is of huge value and significance.

He says: “Derek’s work meets the University’s Strategic Priority of making a positive contribution to society. Derek is an international leader in his field, and the work he is undertaking carries both a social and moral importance.

“His work goes beyond the mental health spectrum and truly gives something back to society, which is why we feel so strongly about it.”