What is Trauma and trauma therapy?

What is Trauma and trauma therapy?

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a word that is often used to describe a range of experiences and symptoms. It is a physiological or emotional response to something that had a deeply disturbing effect on an individual. It can be a present or past experience and often has lingering effects on the rest of our nervous system. 

We can have small trauma’s or big trauma’s throughout our life. Small trauma’s can be the loss of a loved animal or a bullying incident in school. Big trauma can be a car accident or being injured while serving our country. The individual is the one who identifies whether a trauma is big or small based on how their body is responding to it. 

Trauma can have a wide-reaching impact on one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, potentially affecting all aspects of life. Without proper therapy for trauma, trauma can continue to affect a person throughout their life.

The Impact of Trauma on the Brain

Trauma has been linked to a wide range of physical, psychological, and behavioral effects. The impact of trauma on the brain is particularly profound, as it can result in neurological disturbances that can last for extended periods of time or even become permanent. 

Traumatic events/experiences create a stress response within our bodies. This stress response has been shown to affect the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Over time and/or left untreated, changes to the brain in these areas can result. Learning, memory, and the way we process information can be altered and affected. Bessel van der Kolk describes three additional ways the brain changes when trauma has occurred. 

Symptoms of Trauma

Symptoms of trauma are vast and can look like many other disorders and illnesses. It’s important to talk to a skilled practitioner to better understand your symptoms in relation to trauma. Below is a list of trauma symptoms we often see: 

Cognitive:

  • Intrusive thoughts of the event that may occur out of the blue
  • Nightmares
  • Visual images of the event
  • Loss of memory and concentration abilities
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings

Behavioral:

  • Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories of the event
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Lack of interest in previously-enjoyable activities

Physical:

  • Easily startled
  • Tremendous fatigue and exhaustion
  • Tachycardia
  • Edginess
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic muscle patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Vague complaints of aches and pains throughout the body
  • Extreme alertness; always on the lookout for warnings of potential danger

Psychological:

  • Overwhelming fear
  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
  • Detachment from other people and emotions
  • Emotional numbing
  • Depression
  • Guilt – especially if one lived while others perished
  • Shame
  • Emotional shock
  • Disbelief
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Types of Trauma

If you do any google search on types of trauma, you will get an array of different answers. We have expanded our definitions of trauma types over the years. Here is a breakdown: 

How Trauma can show up includes: 

  • Acute Trauma which is a single incident/experience of trauma. 
  • Chronic Trauma which is repeated or prolonged exposure to a trauma incident/experience.
  • Complex (or Developmental) trauma which is both childhood trauma and the long-term effects of trauma throughout the span of time. 

Different Trauma Types can include any of the following: 

  • Natural Disasters
  • Accidents
  • Community Violence
  • Sexual Abuse and/or Assualt
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Medical Trauma/Birth Traumas
  • Physical Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Relational Traumas that can encompass things like neglect, physical or sexual abuse
  • Work or Organizational Traumas
  • Vicarious Trauma (often seen in First Responders and other helping professionals
  • Military Service Traumas
  • Religious Traumas
  • Cult Traumas
  • Racial Trauma or Insidious trauma towards Oppressed and Marginalized groups

Then you can include the impact of Big Trauma/Little Trauma’s discussed earlier. Again its how the individual defines their own experience to that particular incident including their physiological and emotional response.

Benefits of Therapy

Trauma therapy provides a ton of benefits for individuals seeking out healing from their traumatic experiences. Some benefits include: 

  • Developing a clearer understanding of themselves through psychoeducation
  • Establishing or Re-establishing a sense of safety within the world
  • Developing resources that help ground and support an individual through challenging emotional moments. 
  • Identifying coping strategies to support healthier interactions with friends, colleagues, loved ones. 
  • A decrease in symptoms. 
  • Developing healthier attachments. 
  • Developing hope and a better sense of self. 

How to Find Therapy for Healing

Trauma therapy can be found in your area by searching specifically for therapists who specialize in therapy for trauma. Therapists should not only be trauma-informed but also have more advanced training to support you in your healing journey. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, trauma is a wide-ranging and complex issue that can have serious, long-term impacts on individuals, families, and communities. It is important to understand the causes of trauma in order to be able to identify it and provide appropriate support for those affected. Trauma is something that impacts us all, whether directly or indirectly. For those who have been personally impacted by trauma, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and there is help available.

Therapy Tales (part one): The Nuts & Bolts of Therapy 

Therapy Tales (part one): The Nuts & Bolts of Therapy 

What is Therapy and What Therapy is not!

 

Therapy is 

Therapy Scene from Austin Powers

Just kidding. Therapy is “treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder”, according to the Oxford Dictionary; but it’s so much more for many people. Therapy is often a space where two or more people can feel safe sharing parts of themselves without judgment. Therapy can often provide relief simply through the relationship between the two individuals but its not without discomfort and vulnerability. 

Therapy is a place where you can talk about things that affect you from the present to the past as well as future concerns. Therapy does not look the same for all people, nor would you want it to. Later on we will discuss the different types of therapies available and why it can be helpful to find a therapy type that works for you and how you function. 

Therapy is not like having a best friend to talk to, although it’s not uncommon for the boundaries to be blurred when you work with a therapist from time to time. Because of the relationship you form, many clients often want to know more about their therapist. Therapists will often redirect the dialogue to put the focus back on the client to help with re-establishing those boundaries. 

Therapy is not a quick fix to your problems/issues/concerns. If it was then we could automate it with machines and artificial intelligence (AI). Therapy is often viewed as an onion with many layers that need to be peeled apart to support the person in understanding themselves better. 

Therapy is not one size fits all. Not every therapist will work well with every client. Later we discuss strategies to find the best fit for you. 

Therapy is not a place where you get advice. This can be confusing because therapists will make suggestions which can provide the client some direction but it’s not ‘this is what is best for you therefore here is my advice’. Most therapists provide clarifying statements using their clients verbiage in different ways to ultimately help the client make better choices. Clients may not be as aware that this is the strategy used but often the clients outcome is a direct result of the clients values, beliefs, and statements. 

Why therapy works/Why it doesn’t

Therapy has been around since the 1930’s/40’s. Therapy is an art and a science but predominantly is based off of countless research studies. The art comes from the therapist’s style, personality, and training. 

Research has shown us various techniques and interventions that are effective with many issues clients bring into the session. However the number one evidenced based component of why therapy works is the relationship between the client and therapist. This is also why therapy does not work sometimes. When it’s not the right fit between a client and therapist then therapy is not effective. 

Many things go into finding the right fit that we will talk about later. 

Expectations, Goals, and Outcomes in Therapy

As previously mentioned, there is no magic wand with therapy. It’s more like a really good recipe and part of that recipe is being clear on expectations, goals, and understanding the outcomes of therapy. 

Unclear or irrational expectations about therapy can be harmful to the process and hinder future therapy episodes. We encourage everyone to set an initial expectation that there will be consistent dialogue about the work throughout the process of therapy. Therefore talking about what’s working/not working, reviewing progress, and clarifying goals. This should be the expectation between both the therapist and the client. This transparency not only helps the relationship but also makes the goals of therapy much clearer. 

Outcomes in therapy look different for everyone. Remember that onion analogy, we will add to that with the idea that onions come in all different shapes and sizes. Therefore therapy could take eight sessions or six years. 

Tips to finding a really good therapist

Just like every doctor, teacher, babysitter may not be a good fit for you, therapists fall into that category as well. It’s hard to find a good therapist but it’s not impossible. Here are some tips we recommend when looking for a therapist. 

  • Write down the following: what are you looking for in a therapist, what qualities such as someone who is direct vs. passive listener, what has been successful for you in the past (an example could be a therapist who is more creative in their practices), what’s your non-negotiables (takes your insurance, no further than 20 minutes away, male identifying, in person, evening hours, etc)
  • Get recommendations from other friends/family members
  • See if they offer 15 minute consultations prior to being scheduled
  • It’s okay to schedule with a couple different therapists for initial sessions. Many therapists may not be a fan of this set up but we often find it beneficial to explore all options plus it helps you to not feel stuck with one person until the other therapists have openings. Make sure to inform them that this is what you’re doing so it can be part of the discussion at the end of the session. 
  • If you know you’re looking for a specific type of therapy to help with a certain issue that can help narrow down your choices (therapist who specializes in OCD or has a speciality in working with military families)
  • Get on the waitlist once you find a couple of possibilities and if appointment time flexibility is an option for you make that known. 

In the end it’s perfectly okay to ‘shop’ around for the best fit in a therapist. It will save you time and money in the long run. 

What are the different types of therapy and why does that matter

For some, knowing what type of therapy you need can help you narrow down your search even more and have better outcomes. 

Types of issues that may require specially trained therapists: OCD, Trauma, Hair pulling disorders, couples/marriage, school refusal, addictions, grief, suicidality or self injurious behaviors. 

Every year new treatment modalities come out that may benefit specific issues. There are certainly some older types of treatment that are effective for lots of issues like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). We won’t be able to list all of the modalities out there but here is a brief list wiht links to better understand them. 

Their Stuff/My Stuff: Creating a boundary of ownership

Their Stuff/My Stuff: Creating a boundary of ownership

Do you ever find yourself saying…’It’s their fault for ruining my day today’ or ‘If they didn’t do this I wouldn’t feel this way’? What about when someone else gets mad about something and you think “I shouldn’t have done that.” 

One of the more challenging issues that come up in therapy is learning to take ownership for your stuff and to stop taking ownership for someone else’s stuff. 

We think of this as a necessary boundary that can dramatically improve your mental health. 

Depending on how you were raised and the relationships you had over the years, there is often a blurred line between somebody else stuff and yours. Sometimes people take ownership for everything that happens between them and others. Other times people take no ownership for their behaviors. 

We could create an entire list of the reasons why some people own too much and others don’t own enough of their stuff. Everything from anxiety/control to past trauma to family dynamics can play a role. Here are some simple steps to learning to own your own stuff:

  1. Understanding your why can be important in developing this boundary of your stuff/my stuff. Why do you take on others stuff or why do you not take on others stuff? 
  2. Becoming more aware of when you take on others stuff or are unable to own your own stuff. Awareness is half the battle in this work. 
  3. Learn to communicate what’s your versus theirs. 

Here are some simple ways to differentiate between your stuff and someone else’s: 

  • Identify if you actually played a role in the event, situation, emotion, etc. If you didn’t then you cannot own (or feel responsible for it- that doesn’t mean you won’t feel empathy). If you did play a role, what was your exact part of the incident? Did that part contribute to the outcome?
  • Are you feeling overly responsible because that’s who you are, someone made you feel that way, you have some underlying guilt, or it was a triggering event that brought up your own stuff? (If its the latter- that then becomes your stuff to own but only the part that is triggering your unresolved stuff.)
  • Sometimes the part you play is your deeper stuff that you haven’t dealt with yet. It’s okay that this happens but consider going to therapy or having a strong support person to help you talk through those deeper issues. 

 

Creativity in the time of COVID

Creativity in the time of COVID

In the current state of our nation, I would guess that everyone’s focus is on their immediate necessities–food, water, health and safety, making sure we limit contact with others to slow the spread of this illness. As Maslow’s hierarchy shows, these are at the foundation of our being–those basic needs must be met before reaching higher level needs like esteem or self-actualization. Truly, how can we reach our full potential if we are deprived of food and water, or a safe place to reside?

Another theorist enters my thoughts as this pandemic continues, that of Viktor Frankl, founder of “logotherapy,” formed from an existential perspective.

He believed that the human desire to find meaning in life can help us endure hardship–that the meaning we discover, create, or assign to the events in our lives gives us the motivation to persevere.

So it would seem that, contrary to Maslow, the deeper, more self-fulfilling aspects of life are almost as life-sustaining as physiological needs.

Recently, I have found my mind venturing away from the mundane into the creative realm (at least sometimes!). And have noticed an upsurge in creative activities shared over social media–sidewalk art, neighborhood safaris, how to craft at home with simple materials…Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

As many of us are confined to our homes and the immediate surrounding areas–some with children used to a schedule we are not accustomed to providing, some unaccustomed to spending this much time holed up in one place–creative thinking and action are much needed respites. And not simply for the purpose of creating variety while quarantined, but for many, much deeper, more meaningful reasons.

Creativity allows us to transcend what is ordinary and make something meaningful, often relatable to the masses.

A music therapist with whom I attended grad school with has been creating musical parodies of familiar songs, themed around social distancing and quarantine. In addition to spreading much needed laughter through their hilarity, these songs are so relatable. He has translated his own experience of frustration and cabin fever into something we all know–the feelings, the circumstances, even the tune! And in this way, his creative product opposes the isolation of social distancing–it unites us.

Creativity has such power: It connects us with our own sense of life, of vitality. It connects us with others. It connects us with ourselves. It provides us with a way to make sense of it all.

We put into image, dance, song, poetry–metaphor–all that we do not understand, for that precise reason…to understand it. To find much-needed meaning. And this meaning, as Frankl proposes, gives us the strength to go on–to persevere–to move through the challenges because of the meaning we give them.

Your creativity need not be the next masterpiece, to be displayed in a museum of modern art, performed by a famous symphony, or change the world. That is what theorists call “Big C” creativity.

“Little c” creativity, on the other hand, is a simpler act of combining existing concepts or things in a new and innovative way. It engages our sense of play, of divergent thinking, spontaneity, and improvisation, among many other parts of self; in fact, it is one act that engages our whole self. When we engage in a creative process, we are fully present, fully invested in our endeavor, and therefore bring our full selves into our work–and in doing so, our need for expression is fulfilled and we are able to communicate our thoughts, feelings, desires, personalities, and we often discover meaning along the way, as artistic mediums have a way of revealing something about us of which we were previously unaware.

And this is the life-giving cycle of creativity: there is output and input, expression and discovery; we are not the same person we were when we started because we have created something new and learned something new.

So…acknowledge your feelings of frustration, anxiety, loneliness from the quarantine…and then utilize the restriction and your feelings as inspiration for something creative:

  • a new craft to make from cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls (we know everyone will have plenty of those!)
  • a new activity that transforms your living space into a new environment
  • or a poetic piece about what this pandemic has revealed to you…The personal meaning you create from this unprecedented situation will change you, grow you, give you the determination to persevere and come out of this stronger.

Want more information, check us out here.

Resources for managing your anxiety during crisis

Resources for managing your anxiety during crisis

We are in unprecedented times and it has been nice finding resources that cost little to nothing. Many of the ones listed below are only active during the time of COVID. We will update the list weekly until our current crisis is over.

Feel free to try one or all. Let us know of ones you have found as well.

Check us out here for more information.

All thoughts are not created equal

All thoughts are not created equal

Have you ever heard a friend joke that they have OCD because they like things organized or clean all the time? Most humans like routine and order at some level, so it is an easy disorder to relate to. Therefore, being somewhat OCD on some level is oddly common. In addition to being neat and organized, another common symptom of OCD is having unwanted intrusive thoughts. This is simply a thought or images that you find distressing.

If you have had an intrusive thought, you may feel like you were not “normal.” These thoughts could seem very odd and alarming. It could be that you know that you have no intent to act on them, but they are disturbing nonetheless. In fact, the content of the thoughts can be flat-out weird and come with no warning at all.

Furthermore, the media often makes light of OCD and it’s symptoms, which can cause it to be misunderstood. The prevalence of true Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is about 2%-3% of the population which is approximately 1 in 50 people (http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts). Do you wonder sometimes if you are one of these people?

The unwanted imagines, or pictures in your head can be frightening and you may wonder if you are the only one having them. 

The things that come to your mind would not be something you intend to do, but they are distressing nonetheless. Examples of unwanted thoughts could be the following:

  • You are sitting in a quiet place and you have the thought that it would be crazy if you got up and started screaming
  • You are on the balcony of a hotel and you wonder if you will jump off the balcony
  • Thinking that everyone is looking at you and laughing or talking about you
  • Images of violence or sexually assaulting someone. You know that you could never actually hurt someone, so these are particularly disturbing images
  • Thoughts you may accidentally hit someone with your car at night while driving

As you can imagine these can be very disturbing images. According to Medical Daily (2014) a study shows that 94 percent of people experience intrusive unwanted thoughts in their daily lives. Therefore, you can take comfort in the fact that these cognition’s are very ordinary occurrences! If you are still wondering if you have OCD look at this informational link. Remember, OCD can range from mild to serious in how it affects your life.

Intrusive thoughts can be linked to Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Unwanted thoughts can start to produce extra anxiety in your body because you are ashamed or fear the reason that you are have the strange cognition’s. Do you really want to act on them? Will you truly accidentally hurt someone? You may even feel the need to try to stop these thoughts by doing things that you think will reduce your worry.

Intrusive thoughts can raise your anxiety to uncomfortable levels. This is where compulsions can start to happen. When someone wants to control their anxiety, they will perform rituals that they think will help them get rid of these thoughts. Additionally, ritual habits can be the reason that people get caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions because they are trying to deal with unwelcome cognition’s that cause great anguish.

In other words, OCD is not necessarily what is portrayed on TV. It is not always someone checking if they locked the door, cleaning all the time, or checking if the stove is turning off. The cycle of OCD is having the obsessive thought, feeling intense anxiety, and performing a compulsive behavior that brings temporary relief. There can be many ways that the unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, or urges can start to activate compulsive behaviors, then this can become a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Are you the driver of your thoughts?       

Thoughts have less meaning if you don’t pay attention or get too involved with them, but that is easier said than done. Some thoughts are hard to ignore or keep coming up in your self-talk. If you start to notice which thoughts are hard for you to detach from that is a good start to getting the power back in your internal dialog.

Picture yourself as a bus driver who is driving around a bunch of rowdy kids.

The bus represents your mind and the kids represent your thoughts. The kids are the unpleasant or interfering thoughts that are keeping you distracted and could possibly take you off course if you pay enough attention to them.

Let’s say one of the kids asked to drive the bus so they could be in control instead of you. Imagine if you said yes to the child who did not know how to operate the bus, what would happen? If the kid took over the bus, then it would probably crash. Just like if you give too much weight to an unwanted thought, your life gets out of control.

Letting your thoughts take over or giving too much value to them could be like letting a child drive the bus – it may not end well. Your thoughts, like the loud kids on the bus, would be hard to ignore; however, if you stay in control of the bus the outcome is much better.

In other words, most of us can relate to the fact that our mind goes where we don’t want it to at times. Problems become more pressing if we feel trapped in our thoughts or act upon them in unhealthy ways. As an example, this is when our anxiety can become high and we avoid situations, or excessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behaviors.

A hostage situation

There may be times in your life where you feel totally held hostage by your own mind and this can be very distressing. You may even know your cognition’s are irrational or intrusive, but you feel powerless to fight against them. It could feel like you have no control.

Consequently, a hostage situation is when anxious thinking takes over. You have given the disturbing or negative thought more power than it should have. These negative thoughts will be driving your bus, whether you like it or not. This is the point where you can feel very out of control and overcompensate to get back into the driver’s seat.

It may feel like a tape is continually playing in your head and you can’t turn it off. Humans can have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. What is more alarming, is that of those thoughts, 80% where found to be negative (The National Science Foundation, 2005).

If you are feeling extremely overwhelmed by your self-talk, it may be time to get help. You don’t have figure out everything alone.

How to handle intrusive thoughts when they are on the attack

When unhelpful thoughts attack, first remind yourself that you are normal and that 94% of people deal with this problem on some level. If you try to over control your mind, then that is when you can get into the OCD cycle. Giving less power to the thoughts by finding them less interesting and confusing can help them fade into the background. It is just a fact that sometimes our brains create meaningless junk thoughts.

Follow these steps:

  1. Notice and label unhelpful thoughts as “intrusive.”
  2. Give yourself a pep talk that these mental images are automatic and not up to you. The cognition’s are not due to anything you did, but just a normal occurrence that happens to most everyone.
  3. It is okay to let these thoughts into your mind, they have no power to hurt you, they are just thoughts that you have no intent to act on.
  4. Try not to attach any “meaning” to the thoughts. They have no meaning, they are random, and most people experience intrusive thoughts.
  5. Expect the thoughts to come back again and remind yourself that you can handle them.

Acknowledge the thought for what it is, intrusive and unhelpful. Simply tell your mind “thank you mind for that thought but I am going to detach from it now.” In comparison, your thoughts are like the kids on the bus in the metaphor. The more attention you give them, the more they will continue to act up. It is healthy to accept that you will have these disturbances, but so will most everyone else. You are not alone!

In addition, to help with intrusive thoughts try not to resist the thoughts that come to your mind, but don’t give them power either. Do not engage with the thoughts but be okay with the fact that they may pop up from time to time. Basically, the content of some thoughts can be irrelevant and unimportant.

In conclusion, not all thoughts are created equal.

Some are nonsensical, repetitive, and negative. In other words, these thoughts are not helpful. In contrast, focus on giving weight to the thoughts that empower us and make us feel good. Building the skills to discard and filter out useless unimportant cognition’s will make you feel better in the long run.

 

Check us out on www.turningstonecounseling.com