Mental health problems have only increased due to the isolation and stresses of COVID-19. But 22-year-old Zachary Jordan is lessening the burden for many. Jordan is the founder of Easy EMDR, an app that makes eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy accessible and affordable. A philosophy major at Macalester College in St. Paul, Jordan and his two younger sisters grew up near Chicago with a licensed psychologist father and social worker mother. "I had a good background to draw from," he said. He's twice been named a top innovator under age 25 by digital publication Minne Inno. He shares his personal take on EMDR, his gratitude to Mac mentors and why it's important to give back.
Q: You grew up outside of Chicago. How did you find your way to the Twin Cities?
A: I came to study at Macalester. I wanted a smaller liberal arts school that would allow me to be more independent. And I think the Twin Cities are awesome. My original major was computer science but that major was taking time away from my ability to create my own projects. So I shifted to philosophy. I plan to graduate at the end of 2021.
Q: Please explain EMDR to us.
A: It's a type of psychotherapy with roots back to the late 1980s that has shown particular success for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and other mental health challenges. In an office setting, a therapist typically uses a light bar or auditory stimulus. The client watches the light bar move back and forth from right to left, or listens to the sound in their ears, while recounting their trauma. The therapist asks them questions throughout the process. The client is able to discuss the trauma without it being incredibly triggering for them because they have a focal point of attention, which allows them to work with it.
Q: How does it work virtually?
A: Therapists can come onto our website (easy-emdr.com) and set it up exactly how their clients are most comfortable, whether that's light or sound or both. All they need is anything connected to the internet. We have therapists and clients using their cellphones, laptops, tablets. We even have people who hook it up to their TVs. That makes it a lot cheaper. Plus, we can bring this tool into rural areas where there might not be a therapist.
Q: It seems so simple. Why do you think it works?
A: This is a question stumping a lot of people. Mental health professionals have faced difficulty in finding out what the actual mechanism is. But what is pretty much universally agreed upon is that it does work.
Q: Thank you for being candid about how it worked for you. Any theories?
A: In 2015, I went through several EMDR sessions myself. I also tried more traditional treatments, including cognitive behavioral (sometimes called talk) therapy and antidepressants. The way EMDR is different is that you are focusing on something intensely while you go through the trauma. You're still going through the memory, but you don't get caught up in how toxic that memory was.
Q: How quickly might people see improvement in the way they feel?
A: It varies from person to person but guidelines suggest that, with hourlong sessions multiple times a week, a client can make a breakthrough in about six weeks.
Q: When did you first think about creating Easy EMDR?
A: I've liked programming since I was 10 or 11 years old. I started looking up the types of equipment used for EMDR and discovered that the technology being used around 2015 couldn't really be customized or used remotely. So I developed my own version and released it for free in 2016. Therapists and clients gave me a lot of feedback. In 2018, while on a study abroad program in Amsterdam, I began to create a professional version of the tool. When I returned to Macalester, I received a grant from Mac's Live It Fund and support from the MacStartups incubator program that helped me take it to a bigger platform. I also received mentorships from brilliant people helping me think about creating an ethical long-term business.
Q: To that point, giving back is a priority for you.
A: I see mine as an altruistic business. We give 10% of our profits to charities.
Q: How do you charge for your tool?
A: We offer monthly or annual subscriptions on our website, but we want to make sure that cost is not a barrier.
Q: Some people must be skeptical. How do you respond?
A: We're a data-driven company so I looked to studies when I was creating this tool. Even with EMDR online vs. in-person, you can find reputable literature. Thousands of practitioners have told us that with our tool, they are able to offer continuity of treatment during COVID-19. Most therapists using it are in the United States, but we also have therapists in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and India. EMDR is spreading across the globe right now. But most important, we get e-mails every day from people who have benefited from our tool.
Q: And you're continuing to improve it.
A: We're releasing a new update soon that will make it even more customizable for EMDR therapists, and are working to raise funds as we search for talented members of the community to build out our team.