COHOES, N.Y. (NEWS10) — First responders are constantly responding to horrific scenes and rarely talk about it in public. Local firefighter Will Charbonneau is no stranger to tough experiences and shared them with NEWS10 ABC’s Christina Arangio.
Charbonneau is a Fire Captain and an EMT, serving for 29 years in Cohoes. He also responded to Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He says it was then that it all hit him.
“I couldn’t control it anymore, and every call became emotional.”Will Charbonneau
Many First Responders do not seek help if they are facing emotional distress, chalking it up to the challenges of the job.
Charbonneau started by writing in his journal and using sketches to help him cope with the emotional distress of responding to horrific scenes. Eventually, a fellow firefighter revealed his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and lead Charbonneau to Amanda Keller with Capital Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Through EAP, which provides wellness services, Charbonneau accessed the only First Responder program of it’s kind in the Capital Region, Eye Movement De-sensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR).
EDMR pulls those traumatic memories from a more primitive part of the brain and refiles them into the frontal lobe, a more rational, calmer part of the brain.
Here’s how it works: Bilateral stimulation of the brain unlocks its information processing system. The client either tracks the therapist’s fingers side-to-side with their eyes, or in Charbonneau’s case, by holding tappers that are manipulated to vibrate back-and-forth as the trauma is recalled.
Charbonneau was skeptical at first, but soon found the therapy working, helping him process the deaths of 10 children and 9/11.
“I just feel so much better like a new lease on life.”
Charbonneau learned better coping mechanisms and retired a few months later. Now, he bravely shares the First Responder story most won’t tell publicly, hoping to break the stigma.
“If it helps one person if one person goes and gets the opportunity I have, I feel like a different person.”
Charbonneau’s psychotherapist admits his recovery was much faster than most. As he encourages others to seek treatment, he’s also a fire safety officer for University Heights Association serving local colleges.
You can watch the full interviews with Charbonneau, his psychotherapist Kathleen Hart, and Amanda Keller from the Capital Employee Assistance Program (EAP) below.
Will Charbonneau, Cohoes firefighter and EMT
Amanda Keller, Capital Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Amanda Keller on wellness services through Capital EAP, including a local first responder program.
Kathleen Hart, Psychotherapist
Psychotherapist Kathleen Hart, LCSW-R discusses EMDR therapy and treating individuals with PTSD.