Jamie Vander Velden

The Road to Tranquility
Jamie Vander Velden

Patience and quiet dedication are the earmarks of Jamie Vander Velden’s spirit when she talks about her work. A resident of Wisconsin, Jamie travels long distances, navigating dirt roads and harsh winter weather to visit patients’ in their homes in nearby rural Minnesota. “I do car yoga,” states Vander Velden pragmatically, acknowledging the many hours she is on the road. Despite the time spent driving for work, she enjoys ice car racing, a free-wheeling, outdoor activity that capitalizes on the long cold of Wisconsin winters.

Jamie started her working life as a bartender with its classic features of hard-luck stories and familiar faces. Later, working in a mental health clinic, she witnessed the full effects of severe trauma, often the seed of alcoholism. With a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management, Jamie followed her growing interest in the psychology of severe trauma by earning a master’s degree in Social Work through UNH Online in 2016, thereby choosing a vocation that shapes her life.

One of Jamie’s techniques is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a psychotherapy that enables people to self-heal from the emotional distress of disturbing life experiences. EMDR therapy is geared to help the patient transform painful events so that they feel empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Vander Velden notes that EMDR is especially useful for veterans reluctant to talk about their combat experiences because it can be done with minimal verbal therapy.

“It is helpful to look for the “I” statement of each patient {“I feel…”} to find the trigger that makes them feel or act a certain way. Once I figure that out, I can help them.”

While Jamie enjoys working with both children and adults, she takes special pride in her successful treatment of men. She explains that, due to gender behavioral norms, men sometimes have difficulty identifying the emotion that is blocking their recovery. She takes time to build a rapport and gain their trust before making any direct attempt to start therapy. Often, the best way to achieve this is to talk about things that interest them.

“I went ice fishing with one patient. We built a trust that started a friendship and eventually I was able to begin therapy.”

Her independent personality and the long distance to the nearest college campus attracted Vander Velden to online learning and “UNH had the best reviews.” The UNH faculty was supportive and helpful, even finding her a local internship. Jamie flew to New Hampshire for her graduation ceremony, taking advantage of the trip to visit places of her east coast family heritage.

She plans to be certified by the EMDR Institute and considers becoming an independent consultant and trainer, which will give her more control over her schedule and less time on the road.

One of Jamie’s goals is to “enlighten those who judge others for extreme behavior that often follows severe trauma, such as substance use or eccentric behaviors.”

Seasoned by experience, Jamie measures progress in small successes. One of her patients was a young boy in a rural community who was deathly afraid of chickens. A week later the family had a great story to tell; the boy had carried a rooster! The memory sparks a smile that lights up her face.

“I like to find a way to bring tranquility to people who have suffered severe trauma, something to help them find balance in their lives.”

The boy with the rooster will remain an iconic image of her successes, one small step at a time but with life-changing results.