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Counselor returns home with new business

10/18/2013

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

It was a desire to help others that led Liz (Toepfer) Pilster to choose psychology as her major while attending college at Fort Hays State University.

After earning her master's degree and beginning to practice counseling in Florida, Pilster has returned to her hometown, bringing a new business with her.

"I knew I wanted to help people in some way, shape or form," Pilster said of her early ambitions. "I wasn't sure with psychology what I was going to do, but it's just worked out really well that way."

A licensed clinical professional counselor, Pilster opened her own practice -- Resilience Counseling -- in April in Hays. The business is located at 208 E. Eighth, Ste. A.

Pilster moved to Hays with her husband, Chad, who is now photo chief at The Hays Daily News. The couple has two young sons.

Pilster specializes in the treatment of children and adults who have been through traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse, assault or domestic violence.

She uses several kinds of special therapies in her counseling approach, including play therapy. Some children are more able to express themselves when they are engaged in a simultaneous activity, such as painting or playing with toys, she said.

She also has a certified therapy dog, Cheya, and has been offering canine-assisted therapy since 2007.

"What canine-assisted therapy does is it helps people feel more calm in a therapy room," she said. "With some children, it actually helps them relate to me better because they feel more calm and safe with an animal, and some kids prefer to talk to her rather than me."

Another therapy technique new to northwest Kansas is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Pilster has had special training for this technique, which involves the use of bilateral stimulation to help patients process traumatic memories.

During a deep sleep, the eyes naturally move and back and forth. Psychiatrists believe this rapid eye movement helps the brain process daily memories, Pilster said.

"The theory behind it is that the mind is geared toward mental health," Pilster said. "But then when somebody goes through a traumatic experience, it's not processed in the brain like a normal memory is. It gets stuck there; that's why people who have PTSD have flashbacks and can't seem to get past their past."

The goal of EMDR is to re-create the bilateral eye movement, which can be done using a device with two blinking lights or headphones with tones that sound back and forth. While the therapeutic approach initially focused on eye movement, it has been discovered any type of bilateral stimulation -- even walking -- can produce similar results, she said.

Patients remain fully awake and engaged throughout the treatment process, she said.

The bilateral stimulation is thought to help patients process the traumatic memories. While the approach has been proven especially beneficial for patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Pilster said she also has had success treating phobias and panic disorders.

Part of the approach also consists of identifying a core negative belief that could be contributing to mental distress. When the therapy is complete, Pilster helps the patient strengthen positive beliefs in place of the negativity.

"It helps the brain naturally move into its base level of functioning," she said of the technique. "As EMDR goes on, as they're processing the material, it's amazing because you'll see spontaneously more positive things come up to the person.

"They'll start to have positive thoughts of themselves."