Gladys Gonzales, the mother of Robb Elementary School massacre survivor Caitlyne Gonzales, sought mental health services for her daughter after the tragedy.
Trigger warning: This article contains themes of gun violence that some readers may find distressing
Within hours of the Robb Elementary School massacre, Gladys Gonzales felt an urgent need to seek mental health services for her daughter Caitlyne Gonzales, who had survived the tragedy. Knowing that Caitlyne could not move forward without help, Mrs. Gonzales searched for a solution. Caitlyne's best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares, had lost her life in the attack. "I came home to the realization of what had transpired, and it hit me that they had undergone a terrible, terrible thing, and so I knew right then and there that she was going to need in-depth therapy," the mother told ABC News.
Mrs. Gonzales took Caitlyne to a cognitive behavior therapist, as well as the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center, but neither provided the progress her daughter needed. Caitlyne began to withdraw, become more isolated and paranoid, and lost interest in things she used to enjoy. It was at a grief camp in San Antonio where Mrs. Gonzales met a counselor who suggested a form of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
"They belong in a war, not the classroom or the grocery story."— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) December 8, 2022
10-year-old Caitlyne Gonzales, who survived the Robb Elementary School shooting, joins us as she advocates for the ban of assault weapons on Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/rDZUdLhzBa
"I decided to be a voice for my friends who can't use their voice no more," Caitlyne said at the time. This eight-phase treatment focuses on the trauma memory while patients experience bilateral stimulation through things like eye movements, taps, or tones. This helps reduce the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories. The American Psychological Association's 2017 Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD recommends EMDR, noting that it can lead to good treatment outcomes.
A spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in an email to ABC News that EMDR is a recommended option for PTSD according to their guidelines, and that it can be an effective treatment for children. Danielle Brown, an associate professor of social work and licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist who utilizes EMDR in her private practice, explained that this approach essentially "re-files" traumatic memories, allowing the brain to make new connections with them.
My latest for @ABC out of Uvalde, Texas: a spotlight on EMDR therapy for the treatment of PTSD, & how 10-year-old Robb survivor Caitlyne Gonzales ended up utilizing this form of therapy. @GladysG57532100 #Uvalde https://t.co/7L5nZZhpPx— Stephanie Mendez (@stephwritestuff) February 1, 2023
During an interview with ABC News, Brown added that this does not erase the memory, but rather it helps in reprocessing and reintegrating them with more positive associations so that the memory does not trigger the same emotional or physiological response witnessed with PTSD. Caitlyne's mother, Gonzales, recalls a time when a cognitive behavioral therapist dismissed her concerns after only one session.
"That therapist after one session told me, 'There's nothing wrong with her,' those were her words and I was just shocked," Gonzales said.
Despite this, she knew better since Caitlyne had confided in her about her feelings, and was also experiencing night terrors, leaving her unable to be alone due to the intense fear. This, along with her current graduate studies in counseling at Sul Ross Rio Grande College, and her past work as a mental health caseworker for children with severe emotional disturbance gave her the experience to recognize that there was indeed something wrong.
In December, Caitlyne was diagnosed with PTSD. Gonzales was unfamiliar with EMDR before the suggestion from the grief camp and, after a long wait period, Caitlyne began the therapy in San Antonio in January. Gonzales decided that she would do whatever it took to ensure her daughter received the correct health services, even if that meant driving for two hours.
After the first session, Caitlyne was pleased and has experienced positive results so far. Brown, who is not treating Caitlyne, commented on how recounting the details of the trauma can be re-traumatizing and, with EMDR, you don't need to have all the words or memories. Gonzales now wants to become an EMDR therapist and hopes that her daughter's experience will help other families dealing with PTSD. The American Psychological Association still recommends CBT as an intervention for PTSD, even though it hasn't been successful for Caitlyne.