When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

*The names and characters in this article represent a composite of people I have know personally and professionally. No real person is represented in this article, which is intended for educational purposes.*

When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

Michael can't understand it. He just doesn't get what is going on with his wife of over 25 years, Amy. Michael is concerned about her and wondering when she is going to "get over" the childhood physical and sexual abuse she went through years ago.  He really just wants her to be okay. And honestly, he's sick of her trauma symptoms affecting her, him and their children. He's not sure how much longer he can take it. 

Why can't she just get over it?

To be fair, Michael doesn't realize that Amy's mood and behavior are related to her childhood trauma. He just knows that despite years of therapy with various therapists, she sometimes becomes deeply depressed and can't seem to get off the couch for days. Other times the smallest thing will seem to trigger her becoming highly anxious, which can turn into controlling behavior towards himself and the kids. She will sometimes go shopping, overspending with abandon even though they have agreed to stop running up credit card debt - then she hides it from him and acts like she is afraid he will hurt her when he receives the credit card bill. Although he does get really frustrated when this happens, it bothers him that she feels afraid of him at times, because he feels he would never harm her, and he never has gotten physical with her in more than 25 years. He also suspects she may be binging and purging, but they don't talk about it. He's afraid to bring it up and he suspects she would deny it if he asked.. Although she takes medication, her mood swings are still pretty unpredictable and he's never really sure whether he is going to come home from work and find the smiling, got-it-together wife he married; or the disorganized, scattered, overwhelmed and controlling woman she sometimes becomes; or the sad, crying woman he barely recognizes who just wants to sleep as much as possible. He doesn't know how to help her.

"She's Changed."

All Michael knows is that Amy has changed.  He knew when they got married that she had a "difficult" childhood. He also saw how resilient Amy was then. Despite being abused throughout her childhood she had finished college and started a great career before they married. Although she spoke openly about having experienced that abuse, it didn't seem to have a negative impact on her then. Other than acknowledging that it happened, she didn't really talk about it. And he didn't really want to talk about it - then or now - because just the thought of what she went through, particularly the sexual abuse, horrifies him.  He's not sure if the physical abuse was really all that bad, or why it affects her so much. He wonders if she is really trying in therapy, or whether she somehow is doing all this just for attention.

Michael isn't sure how to deal with the emotions that come up for him when Amy is not okay. It reminds him of how he felt responsible for taking care of his mother after his dad died when he was 10. He would often come home from school and his mom would be sitting in the dark on the sofa in her bathrobe. He found himself needing to be adult-like to take care of her, and he was kind of on his own to take care of himself and his younger brother too. He was so relieved to get away from that unhappy childhood, to go to college and start his career, but sometimes he wonders if he married someone he will always have to take care of too. The burden of handling Amy's emotional needs feels very heavy and familiar to Michael. He feels sad, hopeless and discouraged.

Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

She feels disconnected.

Amy, too, was overjoyed to leave her abusive family behind to marry Michael. She thought things would be so much better once she got away from her controlling, abusive father and her passive mother who was mostly focused on pretending everything was perfect. And things were so much better! She loved her career, she and Michael got along great, and she was very happy to raise her three beautiful children. However, when her third child, little Megan, turned 5 years old Amy started having flashbacks to the abuse that her father inflicted on her as a little girl. A part of her had always felt that she was somehow responsible for the sexual abuse and deserving of the beatings. But seeing her sweet, innocent little Megan, a bright, inquisitive kindergartner, she pictured herself as a little girl and wondered whether it was really true that an innocent child could ever be deserving of being harmed the way her father had harmed her. These thoughts were so sad and overwhelming she tried to push them away. Sometimes she was successful, but other times, particularly in the Spring, she was overwhelmed with fear and worry that something bad would happen to Megan or her two sons. She is bothered by nightmares, trouble sleeping and physical symptoms like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a feeling that someone is watching her which makes her skin crawl. Sometimes she suddenly vomits, just out of the blue, and she never knows when a panic attack is coming. Much of the time she feels like she is going through the motions of life. She feels disconnected from her neighbors and the other moms in her community. She describes herself as "on the outside looking in" to her life. She doesn't work outside the home now, and she's not sure if she ever will again. Most of the time she feels like she is barely holding it together. She wishes Michael were more empathetic and supportive of what she's going through but he doesn't seem to understand why she can't just "put the past behind her." She feels alone and disconnected from him, and wonders what happened to the happy newlyweds they once were. She is sad and worried about the way she feels, but she doesn't know what to do about it.

The Truth Is, They Are Both Struggling

This dynamic is all too common and I hear stories from both sides of the relationship described above in my office every day. Many of my clients are women like Amy who feel deeply ashamed that they are still affected by the abuse from their childhood years. And others are men like Michael who wonder if they can handle the emotional burden of their partner's PTSD. Regardless of gender, both Amy and Michael could be any one of us. They both feel alone and don't know how to reach the other partner.

Whether you can relate to Amy's feelings or Michael's, it's helpful to understand a few things. 

Three Things to Remember:

1. You are not alone. Whether you are the person who experienced childhood trauma or the person who loves them, what you are feeling is common. Many people are affected by childhood trauma. It is so much more common than most of us realize. Click here to learn more about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) and the prevalence of childhood trauma. 

2.  Trauma survivors aren't trying to be difficult. They are actually just trying to feel normal. In the scenario I described above, both Amy and Michael are affected by childhood trauma, though neither of them understands the effects in depth. Amy could be described as the "identified patient" - she's the one who is seen as having a problem and needing help. And she does need help. She is suffering so much. Amy's trauma is that she was physically and sexually abused by an adult (her father) whom she trusted to take care of her and keep her safe. Her mother was unable to protect her and pretended nothing was wrong. So both of her primary caregivers, whom she depended on for safety and protection, let her down. She is affected by a loss of attachment as well as the effects of the abuse.

But Amy's not the only one in this example who needs help. Michael, too, experienced childhood trauma. His father died when he was only ten, and in her grief his mother was unable to attend to Michael's emotional needs. Instead, in order to be safe, Michael had to take care of his mom's emotional needs, and his own needs were ignored. He also had a younger brother to look out for. So Michael experienced a loss of attachment when neither of his parents was available to take care of his emotional needs, as well as the trauma of his dad's sudden death.  It's no wonder that Amy and Michael were drawn to each other, because they both had unresolved pain they were trying to escape when they met. However, Michael's role as a caregiver in his family may have helped him feel comfortable marrying someone who he perceived as having gone through something terrible (without realizing how he himself was affected by his own trauma). Both Amy and Michael were young when they met, and they were both doing the best they could. They both wanted to be okay, and they were trying to be okay together. For a while they were, but the effects of trauma always pop up just when you least expect them. Neither Amy nor Michael is able to be a support for the other, because they are both affected by their own childhood trauma. They can both benefit from counseling with a skilled trauma therapist.

3. Trauma therapy can help. The reason Amy has been in and out of therapy for 10 years without experiencing relief from her trauma symptoms is that she hasn't had the right kind of therapy. 9 times out of 10, my clients with extensive trauma histories will tell me that their previous therapists never explained trauma to them or told them that their symptoms could be related to trauma. Why? The therapists probably didn't know. Trauma is still a newer field of study, although its effects have been documented for years.  Understanding that your symptoms are caused by trauma helps take an overwhelming set of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated and offers hope and clarity. You begin to recognize that you developed these coping methods (like dissociation, comfort eating, compulsive shopping, depression, anxiety) because of the effects of trauma, and not because there is something wrong with you. 

Can You Relate?

You may be wondering if you are an Amy or a Michael. I can't answer that for you, but here are some symptoms which may indicate that you are affected by childhood trauma. 

If you have had some kind of disturbing experience in childhood that has always bothered you, for example:

  • Loss of a primary caregiver
  • Any unwanted sexual experience
  • Any sexual experience you were too young to understand
  • Witnessing violence, whether it happened to you, your caregiver or another family member
  • Feeling that no one understood you, no one cared about you, or that you were abandoned, unwanted, or unloved
  • Being bullied
  • Receiving physical punishment, including spanking, beating, whipping, or being physically abused or harmed by an adult when you were a child
  • Having a parent or primary caregiver who abused alcohol or drugs
     

These are just a few examples of situations that could be traumatic in childhood. Read this article for more, and consider taking the ACES quiz as well. 

So if you have some kind of childhood experience you think might have been traumatic AND you have some of these symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares, sleep paralysis
  • Feeling numb, detached, zoning out, trouble concentrating, easily distracted, losing time
  • Memory issues - feeling forgetful, being disorganized
  • Feeling a nagging sense that there is just something wrong with you, something that makes you different from everyone else
  • Feeling like you are on the outside looking in
  • Trouble feeling close with other people, trust issues, feeling suspicious of other people's motives, thoughts like "no one can be trusted" and a feeling that it's you against the world
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, need to maintain control at all times, rigidity, need for order
  • Feeling mistrustful of your partner, feeling judgmental and critical of others and yourself
  • Body image issues, physical symptoms like chronic pain, stomach issues, migraines, 
  • Sexual problems - lack of interest in sex, shame related to sex
  • Constantly on high alert, watchful, vigilant, can't relax - you hate it when someone comes up behind you and touches your shoulder or stands too close to you

You might be affected by childhood trauma. No article can substitute for talking with a qualified therapist. If you are wondering if you are affected by childhood trauma, talk to a therapist. You can usually speak to them by phone before scheduling an appointment to make sure they feel qualified to help with the issue that affects you. 

Here are some resources for finding a qualified trauma therapist:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

And here are some suggestions for further reading and learning:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

In the Realm Of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

ACES Primer (video)

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. Whether you are directly affected by childhood trauma or it is a problem for someone you love, therapy can help. You don't have to keep suffering.  The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

I hope this article was helpful to you. If it was, please share and/or leave a comment below! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Sources:

ACES Primer video found here: http://www.acesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/resource-list-aces-videos

ACES Quiz found here: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

Four Reasons People Hate Mother's Day.

Mother's Day Can Be Tough! 

This is an updated version of a blog post I published last year on Mother's Day. I added links to a few podcast recordings from Therapy Chat and an updated guided meditation link.

Click here to listen to this blog post on my podcast!

As another Mother's Day approaches, you may be feeling a little less than enthusiastic about the big day. No need to feel guilty if it doesn't feel joyful to you. You're not alone! Most of my clients and a good number of my friends share that they have mixed feelings about Mother's Day too. This post is for all of you out there who hate the second Sunday in May for whatever reason. And there can be lots of reasons! 

Write here...

Write here...

There are so many reasons why people find negative emotions coming up near Mother's Day. Here are some that I hear frequently, along with a few suggestions for dealing with these feelings. Feel free to share any ideas I missed in the comments below. 

4 reasons why people say they hate Mother's Day:

"I hate Mother's Day because my mom's not here. Mother's Day reminds me how much I miss her and makes me wish I could tell her one more time how much I love her."

Maybe you were close with your mom and she passed away. Or maybe you weren't as close as you wanted to be, and her death left a lot of unresolved feelings about the relationship. You might feel the loss even more acutely on Mother's Day, even if her death was a long time ago. Maybe you were adopted and you want to connect with your birth mother. The marketing of Mother's Day means you see and hear commercials which tug at your heartstrings. Be gentle with yourself, knowing that you are sad about her loss. Allow yourself to feel your feelings on this tough day. Ask yourself what you can do in remembrance or to honor her. Think about what would make you feel nurtured, and do that, whether it's lying on the sofa wrapped in a cozy blanket watching Steel Magnolias, or going roller skating with your best friend, or cuddling with a puppy at the local animal shelter. Maybe your most special friends or family are not nearby. Can you call, video chat or text them? I'm sure you know what makes you feel loved and taken care of. Do that!  

Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

"Mother's Day is hard for me because I have always wanted to be a mom and I'm dealing with infertility."

Infertility can feel very isolating, especially if your friends and family members are getting pregnant and having babies, and you have miscarried or had trouble conceiving. Even if you have made the decision not to have children, or you have delivered a baby or adopted after experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, Mother's Day can stir up a lot of mixed feelings. Many people say they feel no one understands what they're going through. It might be helpful to spend this day doing something that feels comforting to you. Don't worry about what other people are posting on social media today. Honor your own experience in a way that feels right to you. Are you part of a support group, in person or online? If not, would you like to find one? The National Infertility Association has a list of helplines and support groups as well as a number of other resources on its website. Through The Heart has ideas for coping on its website. 

"I feel sad seeing everyone's Facebook posts saying they love their moms so much, and my mom was never there for me emotionally when I was a child. We still don't have a good relationship. I am mad at her for not taking better care of me."

I specialize in working with people who have experienced some kind of abuse or neglect in childhood. Therefore, many of my clients find Mother's Day triggers their trauma symptoms. Our culture places such importance of the mother role! Many people who are disappointed in their relationships with their moms also feel guilty about having those feelings. It is okay to feel however you feel about your mom. You do not have to pretend your relationship with her is different from how it truly is just because of Mother's Day. Here's a podcast episode I did on being estranged from important loved ones you may find helpful.

This is a good time to do what makes you feel special. If you have a partner, letting that person know this is a tough day for you and asking for extra support can be helpful. You can nurture yourself, even if you were not nurtured as a child. If you need extra support with this, therapy can be helpful. Here's a podcast episode on how childhood emotional neglect can make us feel as if we have a "fatal flaw" making us unlovable.

"I am a single mother and no one supports me on Mother's Day or any other time of the year." 

Mother's Day might feel just like any other day if you have little kids and no partner to make sure that you are celebrated on this day. I'll add it might be just like any other day, with an extra dose of resentment about feeling overworked and unappreciated. Once again, I recommend you try to do what you can to take care of you. Your kids will understand everything you do for them when they're older, but for now, they don't get it. Reaching out to a friend who is also a single mom could be helpful. Maybe it would feel nice for you and your kids to get together with a mom friend and her kids. While the kids play you can provide one another with moral support.  Or maybe you can take your kids to the park, so they can play while you get a bit of respite. Do you have any family or friends who would be willing to watch the kids so you can do something that makes you feel special on Sunday?  

A couple more things that might help:

I have two more recommendations that might make the day easier if you struggle on Mother's Day. First, it might be wise to avoid social media that day and the day after. Just like on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is a notorious day to catch a bad case of comparison-itis when you see what your friends on social media are posting. There will be "perfect" family photos, flowers, and many photos of the fabulous brunches that someone's wonderful spouse or kids treated them to on Mother's Day. I'm not taking anything away from your friends and the wonderful Mother's Day experience they want to share on social media, but if you know this is going to be tough for you, it might help to just not look that Sunday and Monday.

My second recommendation is to try this meditation if you need a little Loving-Kindness (Metta) in your life.

To begin, sit comfortably on a chair or meditation cushion, with your feet on the floor or legs crossed. Sit up tall and breathe deeply for three inhales and three exhales. Bring your awareness to your heart and try to recall loving feelings from someone who made you feel nurtured. Slowly repeat these words:

Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I be kind to myself.

May I be free of suffering. 

Notice what feelings arise. You may feel the loving kindness spread over your body. You may also notice that sadness or anger are felt. Do not try to push these feelings away, but just notice them. If you can allow yourself to feel them you might find that they pass. Continue taking deep breaths in and out, and just notice how you feel. There is no right or wrong way to feel. This simple practice can be done for a minute or two, or for longer if you wish. It is up to you. 

I hope the meditation I have described above will offer some comfort, even if you hate Mother's Day. If you'd like more guided meditations, Here is a link to two free meditations on my website. 

If you have a reason for hating Mother's Day that I didn't mention, please comment below! I'd also love to hear of any other ideas you may know of that are helpful in getting through Mother's Day if it's a hard day for you. And please remember that you are not alone.

With loving kindness,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

If you liked this post, please feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to read my latest e-mail newsletter. Click here if you'd like to receive my newsletter in your e-mail. And if you are interested in working with me in therapy or attending one of my workshops, groups or intensives, click here to contact me or give me a call at (443) 510-1048. I'd love to hear from you! 

Mom and baby cat Mother's Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

National Infertility Association (2015). Support groups list. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.resolve.org/support/support-group/support-groups-list.html

Through the Heart (2015). Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from http://throughtheheart.org/

 

The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma

The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma - A Public Health Issue Which Is Preventable

On Episode 19 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talked about a subject which is extremely important to me. It is an issue I talk about every day in my psychotherapy practice, as I specialize in helping people who have experienced childhood trauma. Many of us have experienced traumatic events in childhood and think "that was a long time ago, I should be over it by now," or "it happened before I was old enough to remember so it can't be affecting me so many years later." But whether or not we consciously remember traumatic events, they can still affect us. 

 

 

Click here to listen to this discussion in podcast form on Therapy Chat (formerly known as the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast)!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

And these effects are not only emotional - although the truth is that childhood trauma can have long-lasting emotional effects, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, you read that correctly - PTSD, which we usually associate with veterans who have experienced combat, can be caused by experiencing childhood trauma too. 

In additional to the emotional effects of childhood trauma, a large study has found a connection between childhood trauma and physical ailments as well. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (also known as ACES), which was conducted beginning in 1987, found that people who had experienced childhood trauma had higher rates of suicide, mental health problems, addiction, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, lung disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses contributing to shortened lifespan than people who had not experienced childhood trauma.

The study also illuminated the fact that childhood trauma is much more common than most people realize. Sixty-four percent of adults have at least one traumatic event in their childhood history, according to the study. 

I'm passionate about intervening as early as possible to help people who have experienced traumatic events in childhood, which is why I decided early on to work with children as well as adults. It is never too late to work on healing childhood trauma, but the earlier the better. 

If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in healing trauma click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

To listen to Therapy Chat, where I discuss trauma as well as mindfulness, psychotherapy, worthiness, perfectionism, self compassion and many related subjects, click here! Please consider subscribing on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or Google Play if you like it!

Sources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from:http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

Update: As of March 4, 2016, the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast has a new name: Therapy Chat! It's still found in the same locations online - my website, as well as iTunes, Stitcher and (soon) Google Play.  So when you listen to the podcast episode attached to this article, don't be confused! 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

There have been a lot of horrible things in the news lately. There was another mass shooting just yesterday. Terrible things are always happening: violence, hatred, fear, oppression...they all seem to go together, don't they? Is this inevitable?

These are scary times.

Scary things are going on. We're more aware than ever before of our shared humanity. Has it gotten worse or was it always like this? Globalization is bringing our world together. Our young people are growing up learning that people all over the world share the same feelings. We all want to be safe and free. 

I remember when I was a child of about 9 reading a short news article in our local paper. It said that a large number of people - maybe 1000, or 10,000 or even 100,000 - had died when a landslide happened in East Asia. I wondered at this story, feeling sad and scared. I was reassured by an adult who told me that it was nature's way of correcting the overpopulation in that country. Those humans who died were individuals with their own stories, their own hopes and dreams, just like me. Their lives mattered. But in that time, we were so detached from a reality of life different from our own here in the U.S. that it could seem as if people in faraway places we never saw were not actually humans like ourselves. Those people who lost their lives were not "others." That concept creates an artificial distance between us. Distancing ourselves from others' pain can help us feel safer, but it also creates disconnection.

Those people who died that day, and everyone who has died before and since, regardless of geographic location, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, hair color, eye color, language or any other characteristic wanted safety, belonging, connection and control over their own lives just like you and I. 

Now, thanks to global 24-hour news and the internet, we can see the devastation and pain when an earthquake or tsunami destroys a town, or when flooding or tornadoes hit and people lose shelter and suffer injury or death. We see the humanity of those who are affected. We witness their pain and loss, and we can feel empathy for them and gratitude that we were not directly impacted. But it can feel like too much.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

It's too painful. Watching and reading news of terrorist attacks around the world is so painful. We may want and need to turn away because the pain is too much for us to bear. We begin to fear that we may be at risk of experiencing this same pain and loss. What if terrorists attack here? How will we be safe? How can we keep our loved ones safe?

Please know, if you have trauma, such stories can trigger trauma symptoms which can sneak up on you. Not sure if you might have trauma? Read this post.

I talk about this often with my clients.  Suddenly you have a general sense of unease which becomes a feeling of being unsafe. Next thing you know you've switched into autopilot, survival mode. When you're in this mode you're usually not consciously aware of it. So check in with yourself: Am I absentmindedly checking Facebook? Obsessively checking e-mail? Wanting to micromanage my kids or my spouse? Suddenly forgetting about self care? Feeling stuck, immobilized? Click here for a short body scan mindfulness exercise to help you get centered and grounded in your body. 

I'm scared! What can I do?

So why do these bad things happen? The world's problems are so complex. Are the natural disasters caused by climate change? Well, if so, what can be done about that? Some are saying our planet isn't going to survive unless something changes. It's a terrifying thought! What can be done to protect the Earth for our children's children? It can feel hopeless. I see the feeling of powerlessness to effect change as the result of our overwhelming anxiety and fear. In other words, although it may feel like a hopeless situation and you may feel powerless to make a difference, that is not reality. You can take action if you want to change the way the world is.  As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"  That's one of my very favorite quotes. 

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

Using the example of climate change, if you feel worried about it, ask yourself what one small change you can make that will have a ripple effect. Can you teach your children not to litter? Can you make a change in what you consume? Can you donate old clothing instead of throwing it out? Post a Facebook status that raises awareness of the problem? Make a donation to an organization that is working to address the problem? Volunteer to pick up litter on a road in your town one Saturday? 

Many of us are feeling fear and a sense of helplessness from the violence we see and hear about. Most recently the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris this month have created fear that we won't be able to stay safe. With so much anger, hatred, violence and talk of vengeance, are these problems ever going to get better? And will we be safe? 

Image copyright Laura   Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

I'll quote Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Our discussion about terrorism and violence in general tends to be overly simplistic. We break it down into "good guys" and "bad guys." There are no good guys and bad guys! There is just us! We can do good things and we can do bad things. 

We look at people who do bad things with disgust and wonder how they can be so cruel. Are they just bad people? Maybe they were born bad. How can they hurt others and seemingly not care? How can they be so heartless? It would seem that people who commit acts of terrorism actually take pleasure in hurting others, torturing them and seeing them suffer. This is incomprehensible to most of us.

Yet some voices call loudly for vengeance, saying the only way to solve the problem of terrorism, to keep us - the good guys - safe, is to blow 'em up! Nuke 'em off the face of the earth! Or capture them and torture them until they admit who their leaders are so we can kill them! Harsh, yes, but they deserve it for what they've done to the good guys! Bad guys deserve what they get! We hear a lot of bloodthirsty cries for justice - swift and deadly. I'll be clear that these are not my views. I feel that anyone who hurts someone else should be held accountable with a justice process that is fairly and evenly administered. However, violence begets violence. If we react with vengeance instead of understanding the cause of the behavior and addressing that, we do not resolve the problem. 

Often people who use violence and vengeance to express their pain use their interpretation of religious directives to justify hateful and destructive behavior toward various groups based on ethnicity or culture. We, the good guys, know this is wrong. But Xenophobia (defined as fear of what is strange or different) tends to be our knee-jerk reaction. How is that any different from the attitudes driving terrorists? 

Then what's the answer? Or is it hopeless?

The opposite of this hatred and fear is empathy and compassion. What if we believe that the people who commit acts of terrorism and violence are human beings like ourselves who feel justified in their actions? What if they think their behavior is justified because of their own desire for vengeance related to some hurt and pain they feel? What if we could look at the conditions that create whole groups of people who fear and hate other groups of people and address the underlying causes? I know that sounds complicated but it really isn't as hard as it seems. 

Sociologists and other human behavior researchers have been studying the causes and solutions to these issues for years. What if we looked at the causes of violence, oppression, racism, misogyny and actually addressed the underlying reasons for those attitudes and behaviors? What if we looked at each other as fellow humans, regardless of what makes us different from one another? Could we live more peacefully, feeling safer and having more freedom and ease if we were able to consider that everyone else is doing their best in a given moment? I'm no better than you and you're no better than me. What if we are all equally worthy of love, acceptance and approval? Because, whether or not we believe it, it's actually true. As humans, no one is better, and no one is less than another. How might things be if we lived this way?

Wanting everything to be okay

As for feeling that we need to have some reassurance that we will stay safe and that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love, we don't get that. There is none. Bad things will happen. We will hurt. And we will get through them and we can be okay. 

I used to believe that a good life is one in which I would always be happy, or at least content, and nothing bad would happen to me. I still want to believe that I can get through life feeling safe from pain and most importantly, that I won't lose the people I love. I don't know if any of you have felt this way. I know I'm not alone in the feeling. But I don't feel this way because it's how life is, or how it's supposed to be.

I feel this particularly deeply because of the fact that in my early years I did experience loss of people who were most important to me. It took a long time for me to process how these losses affected me. So the worry about losing the most important people in my life comes from that early experience. Now that I know that and now that I've processed the pain of that loss, I can live in the reality that nothing is certain. No matter what I do, there is really no way to insulate myself from the possibility that I might lose the people I love. 

In some small ways, my children growing up can be an experience of loss. It's a process of losing the close connection we've had their entire lives. It is tempting to try to hold on to them in a way that prevents them from becoming independent adults, to serve my own desire to feel connected and loved. But that's actually not healthy for them or for me. Being conscious of that feeling of wanting to keep them close to fulfill my own needs keeps me in check, and I set boundaries on my role in their lives to create a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries (defined as what's okay and what's not okay with me) isn't just a one time thing. As we all grow, the boundaries are re-drawn. The relationship isn't static, so the boundaries must change too. 

So how do we live with the reality that we can't possibly prevent every bad thing from happening, no matter what we do? How do we go through life and be okay, even when something bad can happen that might take us by surprise? Well, one way to do it is to live your life worrying about every possible risk and taking steps to avoid it. I wouldn't recommend this strategy since it could eventually make you feel afraid to leave the house with no one wanting to be around you because you worry so much you make everyone else nervous. 

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Another option is to pretend everything is fine even though inside you're dreading the moment when everything falls apart. This strategy often leads to feeling disconnected from yourself because you get so good at ignoring that constant worry that you don't really know how you feel anymore. People who do this will sometimes say, "I don't know who I am anymore. What do I like? I have no idea." Those of us who do this frequently find ourselves taking temporary comfort in numbing out through watching TV, becoming absorbed in social media, binge watching DVDs, compulsively eating, shopping, using sex, gambling or substance abuse to escape. But does it make you feel safe? Not really. There will be loss. You will suffer at points. It's the human experience.

Getting grounded 

So what does help? How can we go through life trying to be okay if we can't be 100% sure that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love? For me, two things have helped. First, healing from the traumatic experiences of my life by working for much of my adult life (starting at age 29) to process my trauma from those early losses I mentioned and other painful experiences has helped me to feel much safer in the world. The second part of my healing, and I share this in hopes that it will help you too, is implementing a self care practice.

Being grounded means being in the present moment, in your body, here and now. From what I've experienced personally and witnessed in others, any regular practice which makes you feel grounded is key to being present in your body, mindfully aware. I can say unequivocally that when I feel grounded and centered in my body I feel safe and I'm not worried about anything happening to me or the people I love.  I wrote a blog post about getting grounded when trauma symptoms are triggered. It, and the graphic above, explain basic grounding techniques. Click here to read the post.

Here and now. This moment is literally all we have. We truly cannot know what's going to happen next, in any area of our lives. Having control is only an illusion. I saw a beautiful quote by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe which read, "I say to the moment: 'stay now! You are so beautiful!'" But do we really stop and appreciate the moments of happiness we experience? I've found myself in the middle of a joyful moment worrying when it's going to end rather than just being. Have you ever done that?

Finding gratitude

So how can you feel okay, knowing there is no guarantee of what will happen next? Well, let me ask you - are you safe right now? Can you be okay in this moment? Check in with yourself. What are you feeling? What are the emotions? The thoughts? What body sensations do you notice? What do you hear? How is your breathing? Can you experience gratitude for this moment that you're allowing yourself right now, just to feel how you are? Can you be okay right now, even if everything is not okay? Right now you're safe. In this moment, there is nothing you have to do or be other than just being you. 

Right now, as you are, without changing anything about yourself, you are enough. See if you can take a deep breath and just let that wash over you. You don't have to do anything else right now besides just be. This is the only moment. There is nothing to think about that happened before, and nothing to think about doing next. There is this moment, right now. Just breathe into it. And as you are doing this, just being, ask yourself if there is anything you can feel gratitude for right now. Sometimes when we feel really good it can be a feeling of gratitude for how well things are going. And if there are some things which aren't going so well, or things you're worried about, see if you can find anything that you can feel gratitude for. 

In any moment, as worried and stuck as I might feel, if I try I can always find something to experience gratitude for. When I feel critical of my body or discouraged with myself for getting out of my regular workout routine, I can experience a feeling of gratitude that it's not too late, that my body is strong and I don't have any health problems at the moment to prevent me from being able to go ahead and do something active like stretch, take my dog for a walk, do yoga or go to the gym. 

Sometimes it's simply helpful to notice that right now, in this moment, I and the people I love are all okay. No one is hurt or sick and we all love each other. That can help me stay grounded and present instead of worrying what if something bad happens?  Another practice I find helpful is listening to guided meditations. Click here for a guided meditation I recorded to help with grounding, gratitude and creating a sense of safety for yourself and the world. 

Thanks for reading my longer-than-usual post.  I hope you found it useful in these scary times. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

May is Mental Health Month!

Happy Mental Health Month! I think many of us can't relate to the words "Mental Health" as we associate them with negative images we have seen and heard on TV and in the movies. Do you have a loved one who has had a mental health problem? I do. If you don't, then that means neither you, nor anyone you care about has ever struggled with anxiety or depression, or experienced a traumatic event. Most of us have. I certainly have. 

Mental Health is a positive term, actually. Think about it - what if May was Physical Health Month? That sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, our bodies and minds are functioning at their best when we are experiencing mental and physical wellness. And there's a connection between our physical health and our mental health, because our mind, body and spirit all interact to make us the individual beings that we are.

Mental Health Month for 2015 is focused on recognizing when one needs help before the symptoms become so severe as to require intensive interaction, such as hospitalization. What does this mean to you and me? To me, it means three things.

Understand the effects of traumatic events.

I think my purpose in life is to help people who have experienced trauma and spread the word about the effects of trauma. Despite extensive research on the prevalence of childhood trauma and its effects on the physical and emotional well-being of humans throughout the lifespan, it seems that most people don't recognize the importance of addressing the effects of trauma. I feel sad about the amount of suffering so many of us endure before realizing that it doesn't have to be this way. If you've experienced a traumatic event, help is available! I've seen the positive outcomes for people who have participated in trauma-focused therapy. 

Practice Self Care

This is one of my favorite subjects, and I've begun a blog series on the topic. You can read the articles I've written thus far here. The key is to treat yourself as you would someone you love. It sounds very simple, but for many of us, it is easier said than done. In general, women in our culture are raised to take care of others, and men are raised to suppress their feelings. Our culture doesn't encourage us to take care of ourselves, but it is the only way to truly take care of anyone else. Check out what Brené Brown said about this on Oprah's Lifeclass. 

Know When To Seek Professional Help

Do you know the signs that a mental health problem is serious enough to require professional help? Many people are uncomfortable asking for help due to the stigma of mental health. This can contribute to waiting to seek help until we feel completely overwhelmed. Here's a link to a page listing symptoms of various types of mental health disorders.  There's no shame in admitting that you've reached the limits of how well you are able to manage a problem on your own. We all have these moments at times. I view therapy as a part of being well throughout the lifespan. There have been times when I have needed professional help to move through some difficult times, and I'm not ashamed to say so! Without this help I wouldn't be where I am today, in a position to help others.   If you think you might have a mental health disorder, here's a simple screening tool which can help you identify whether you'd benefit from professional assistance.   Here is a link to find help, wherever you are. 

I hope you'll join me in challenging the stigma of asking for help. It is truly a sign of strength to admit that a problem has grown past your ability to handle it alone. Please share this post to show your support for ending stigma! If you choose to share it on social media, please use the hashtag #B4Stage4. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

May is Mental Health Month! #B4Stage4


Sources:

Burke, N.B. (2015, February 17). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk 

Mental Health America (n.d.). Mental health screening tools. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental health by the numbers. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

Harpo, Inc. (n.d.). Oprah's Lifeclass: are you judging those who ask for help? Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Dr-Brene-Brown-on-Judging-Those-Who-Ask-for-Help-Video#

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (n.d.). How to get help. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/ 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (n.d.). What to look for. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/index.html

Self Care Blog Series Round Up

To make it easier for you to find the series of articles on self care I've collected them on this page. I will add to the list as new articles are posted. 

Rethinking Self Care 

Therapists Share Their Self Care Tips

Self Care Apps Recommended By Therapists 

Self Care is Essential for Health

 

Feel free to share these if you think someone you know will benefit, and post them on social media! You can also follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. I look forward to connecting with you! To talk about working together in therapy contact me at (443) 510-1048 or by clicking here to send me a message.

Rethinking Self Care

As a therapist, I talk about, think about and promote self care with all of my clients. It's on my mind much of the time as I know its importance. However, it wasn't always this way for me. That's why I am beginning this blog series on self care

I first learned about the concept of self care when I worked in a Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Norfolk, Virginia. My wonderful supervisor, Kristen, taught me that self care would help survivors soothe themselves when trauma symptoms were triggered. I would ask callers to the hotline and clients in the office who were working to address the crisis after a traumatic experience, "What helps you when you are feeling upset? When you have been through tough times before this, what did you do to feel better?" Depending on which techniques had been effective for them in the past, they could use the same ones to soothe themselves or learn new ways to cope

I was learning about self care for the first time.  You just do what you do to cope, without really thinking about it, most of the time. We all do this and I was no different. I was taught some of the common self care strategies, and I had a list to use to help me make suggestions if clients were unable to think of any on their own. However, I didn't think much about my own self care strategies - in fact, for a while I didn't have any, at least none that I was really aware of. I had to learn that in the work of helping people I, too, was vulnerable to feeling the effects of secondary traumatic stress through hearing traumatic stories on a daily basis.  

Kristen, the supervisor I mentioned, had to tell me once to take a few days off when I began to exhibit the signs of secondary traumatic stress. It was difficult for me to agree to take a few days off - I think I was afraid the world would end if I wasn't there to save it. I can laugh about that now, but it didn't feel nice at the time. I was very idealistic then, and the time off gave me a chance to take care of myself so I could come back refreshed and ready to help again.  If I had kept going the way I was, I would have begun to feel like a robot, just going through the motions without emotional connection. Not only is that an unethical way to practice, it is in total contrast to the values which guide my work with clients as well as the way I want to live my life. 

Self Care Strategies

Helping professionals may experience this at one time or another. I chose to become a helping professional (first as an advocate and crisis counselor and later as a therapist) because I care about people, and over the past 13 years I have heard many stories. I have heard and witnessed many amazing examples of strength, resiliency and transformation as well as pain and struggle, and I am honored and grateful to bear witness with my clients!  Each person has touched my heart and changed me in some way. Therapy with survivors of trauma is my passion and I want to remain healthy and well for many years to continue doing this work, which is so important to me.  Self care is also crucial if you are parenting, caregiving, or if you're someone who thinks about what makes others happy more than you think about what makes you happy. 

This post is the first in a series about self care. I'm going to go in depth to share my journey from thinking self care means getting a massage or a pedicure a couple of times per year to understanding that self care is a daily practice which is essential for health and well-being. The series will include quotes from other therapists and resources you can use to develop your own self care practice. I will try new things and share with you what I've learned. I'll also share what works for me now.

I invite you to join me in cultivating self care. Let's start by sharing self care strategies you have found helpful. I would love to hear about them in the comments below. 

If you don't even know where to begin - believe me, I've been there - contact me to talk about how therapy can help you believe that you deserve to put yourself first. You can reach me at (443) 510-1048 for a phone consult. 

To read more of what I share you can follow me on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter or sign up for my newsletter

Self Care Dry Well


Somatic Therapies: Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)

In the latest edition of my blog series on holistic and alternative methods to complement traditional talk therapy, I am excited to interview Cathy Canfield, MSW, LCSW, LICSW. Cathy practices in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. where she offers Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is commonly called EMDR. 

If you've been following the series, you know that a couple of weeks ago I interviewed Kara Falck, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW, who offers another somatic, or body-based therapy technique: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy - in her Baltimore area practice. You may be wondering about the differences between these interventions. I plan to cover that subject in a future blog post. 

EMDR is one of the somatic therapy interventions which has been studied quite a bit and research indicates that it is an effective treatment for trauma. This article from the EMDR International Association ("EMDRIA")  explains the phases of EMDR treatment to help potential clients understand what to expect and how the process works.  The National Center for PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), which is a program of the VA, states that EMDR is effective to help veterans and others with PTSD heal on this page from their website.  

Read on after the image for my interview with Cathy! 

Processing Trauma Using EMDR

 

Tell me about your work. What is EMDR?  

During an EMDR Therapy session, we use a standardized process to access the brain’s information processing system.   This may include the use of eye movements or other forms of bilateral  (left-right) stimulation. Through EMDR, negative memories are re-processed by the brain in order to form a new emotion associated with the memory.  It's like reorganizing the filing system in your brain to be more effective.  

What benefits does EMDR have? Are there any risks? Who is a good candidate for EMDR? Who should not participate in EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is used by specially trained psychotherapists to treat anxiety, panic, fear and depression. EMDR has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of traumatic or stressful experiences. It has more recently been used for treating depression, chronic pain and poor relationships.

Many people who come to me for therapy services are affected by trauma, anxiety and depression. How does EMDR help people with these issues?

EMDR Therapy helps people not be driven by the past and past memories in the present. It eliminates past triggers in our daily lives by processing memories cognitively, emotionally and through the body. 

What else do you want people to know about yourself and the services you offer?

My passion is to provide people routes to healing that include both verbal and non-verbal methods. That is why I love play therapy, sandtray, have an art therapist on staff and practice EMDR Therapy

Cathy Canfield, MSW, LCSW, LICSW, is a psychotherapist with a background working with individuals, children and teens, specializing in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy, Child-Centered Play Therapy, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, transitions and trauma. She believes that within all of us is the way to healing, we just have to sometimes work hard to uncover the path.  You can find Cathy online at www.counselingofalexandria.com. Visit her site if you are considering therapy or give her a call at  703.650.9195! You can also send an e-mail to cathy@counselingofalexandria.com.  

I love the fact that Cathy offers her clients at Counseling of Alexandria the opportunity to use non-verbal methods as well as talk therapy to process their feelings. Children, in particular may lack the words to describe their experiences and/or to name their feelings. As mentioned in my last post of this series, art therapy is a great option for helping us connect with and express our emotions.  I want to learn more about sandtray so look for a future blog post on that subject!  

If you'd like to read more of my blog posts and other articles I share, follow me on TwitterFacebook and Pinterest to read more of my blogs and other articles I share. You can also sign up for my e-mail newsletter to receive occasional updates on blog posts and articles of interest as well as upcoming groupsintensives and workshops. My women's group begins April 2, 2015. I will also be offering one intensive women's weekend in July this year using The Daring Way™ method, based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. I'm working on lots of fun stuff so I hope you will check back to see what's new! And drop me a line in the comments below to tell me what you think about EMDR

Sources:

EMDR International Association. (n.d.). What is the actual EMDR session like? Retrieved from:  https://emdria.site-ym.com/?120 

National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). Treatment of PTSD.  Retrieved from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp 

EMDR for Trauma




Art Therapy: A Creative Method to Express Emotion

This edition of the blog series on alternative and holistic methods to complement traditional talk therapy comes to you during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Although many of my clients (and I, too) struggle with body image and feeling body positive, I do not have specialized training in helping clients with eating disorders. 

However, my guest today, Elizabeth Hlavek, LCPAT, ATR-BCdoes have that specialized training and experience. She is a Licensed Clinical Professional Art Therapist and a Board Certified Art Therapist practicing in Annapolis. I asked Elizabeth if she would agree to be interviewed about how art therapy can help people who are struggling with eating disorders and she graciously agreed. Art therapy is a "natural fit" for eating disorders work, as this blog post from Pershing-Turner Centers explains. 

Personally, I'm fascinated with art therapy. My mother is an artist (the images in this post are her work), so art has always been a part of my life and I enjoy cultivating my creativity - though I don't focus on this as much as I would like to. I use some creative techniques in my work with clients and plan to incorporate more as time goes by. In fact, next week I will begin attending a series of three trainings in using expressive arts techniques in work with survivors of trauma, and I'm elated to be able to bring the new methods I will learn back to my work with clients!

Read on below the image for my interview with Elizabeth. I found her responses to be very interesting and I hope you will too! 

Original art by Beverly Furman, copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC 

Original art by Beverly Furman, copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC 

Tell me about your work. What is Art Therapy? How do you use it in helping people with Eating Disorders?
 

Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the Art Therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. 

Often times, individuals struggling with eating disorders are rather guarded. Art therapy can allow these individuals to express themselves creatively, in a non-verbal format. Discussing artwork in session often brings up parallels between the work and the client's internal experience, and we can talk about their struggles through the metaphor of the artwork.

I also use the process of body tracing to challenge a client's distorted body image. I first have the client draw an outline of themselves on a life sized sheet of paper taped to the wall. Then, I trace them against it to get an accurate depiction of how much space they actually take up. Comparing the two can be a very intense experience, but is a concrete way for the client to see their body objectively. They have the option to further develop the tracing, identifying feelings, experiences and memories that are attached to their body, which is a way to bridge the gap between emotion and body image

What benefits does Art Therapy have? Are there any risks? Who is a good candidate for Art Therapy? Who should not participate in Art Therapy?
 

Art therapy is practiced in a variety of clinical, educational and community settings with diverse client populations in individual, couples, family and group therapy formats. Art therapy is an effective treatment for people experiencing developmental, medical, educational and social or psychological impairment. Trauma survivors, individuals with development disabilities and anyone experiencing extreme stress or emotional distress can benefit from art therapy. Art therapy helps people resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills, manage problematic behaviors, reduce negative stress, and achieve personal insight. And it can also be a lot of fun! 

Many people who come to me for therapy services are affected by trauma, anxiety and depression. How does Art Therapy help people with these issues?

Art therapy has become a staple in the treatment of a wide array of traumas, from child abuse to combat PTSD [WARNING: TRIGGER ALERT. THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES COMBAT-RELATED TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES]. Art making can help individuals express dark emotions or memories that they may not be able to verbalize or even comprehend. Exploring intense emotion through art making can help the client process the feeling and heal. When trauma is experienced, it tends to be stored in the nonverbal part of the brain. Recent neuroscience research recognizes that the creative process involves both sides of the brain bridging cognitive and emotional functions leading to enhanced insight and behavioral changes. Art therapy also creates a feeling of well being, offers healthier coping skills and builds resiliency. I find that the process of art making helps to discharge anxiety, allowing the client to help relax and feel more calm. For depression, art therapy can allow for self expression and help to build self esteem. Making artwork, seeing your own creation, offers a sense of autonomy, which can be very empowering 

What else do you want people to know about yourself and the services you offer?

I'm passionate about my work. Art has always been a huge part of my identity, and so using it as a means of healing is very comfortable for me. I see clients both as a primary therapist and in collaboration with talk therapists. 

Most of my clients prefer a mix of art therapy and traditional psychotherapy. I specialize in eating disorders and PTSD, and am an in network provider with BCBS. I am a huge advocate for Art Therapy and helped develop the first clinical license for art therapists in Maryland. I currently sit on the MD Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists. 

Elizabeth is a Licensed Clinical Professional Art Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist in Annapolis, Maryland. She spent four years working in an eating disorders hospital program, working with individuals in inpatient, partial outpatient and intensive outpatient (IOP) levels of care. For more information, or to contact her, please visit www.hlavekarttherapy.com.

Art Therapy for Expressing Emotions 2

Thanks so much to Elizabeth! I hope you learned something new about art therapy, eating disorders, or both - I did! If you want more information about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week or Eating Disorders in general, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website. If you're in the Annapolis area and you think Elizabeth might be a good fit for you, check out her website!

Also, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to read more of my blogs and other articles I share. You can also sign up for my e-mail newsletter to receive occasional updates on blog posts and articles of interest as well as upcoming groups, intensives and workshops

Thanks for reading. Did you learn anything? Please share your thoughts in the comments below

Sources:

Alexander, C. (n.d.) Behind the mask: Revealing the trauma of war. Retrieved from:  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/healing-soldiers/

Bechtel, A. (2012, February 22). Retrieved from:  http://pershingturnercenters.com/2012/02/art-therapy-a-natural-fit-for-eating-disorders/ 

Burgard, D. (n.d.). A body positive approach. Retrieved from:  http://www.bodypositive.com/whatisit.htm

National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.) About #NED Awareness Week. Retrieved from:  http://nedawareness.org/about-nedawareness 

Schwartz, D. (2014, March 21). Expressive arts therapy and eating disordersRetrieved from: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/expressive-arts-therapy-and-eating-disorders

Kids Are Resilient, Right?

Conventional wisdom holds that children are resilient, and they bounce back easily from childhood experiences by the time they reach adulthood. This is considered to be even more true if the child doesn't remember the events. A large study has de-bunked that myth. Read on! 

There's an epidemic in the United States which is causing increased risk of suicide, chronic disease – including heart and lung disease and cancer – as well as addiction, violence and divorce. It costs the U.S. healthcare system over $103 billion annually. The good news is that there is a cure, and we can prevent new cases. This short TED Talk explains:

 

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s TED Talk explains that Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, correlate highly with poor health outcomes in adulthood.  

ACEs include the following experiences during childhood:

  • ·      Abuse, whether emotional, physical or sexual – or emotional or physical neglect
  • ·      Witnessing one’s mother being abused (domestic violence)
  • ·      Losing a parent to separation or divorce, or another reason
  • ·      Having a family member who is depressed, has addiction or is incarcerated

How Was This Epidemic Discovered?

As explained in this article, when a physician conducting research on obesity noticed higher than expected numbers of dropouts in his study, he began asking questions and discovered that most of the patients reported history of childhood sexual abuse

Until then, he did not realize how common sexual abuse is. We now know that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual victimization at some point before his/her eighteenth birthday. The study also found that 64% of Americans have experienced at least one ACE, and of those people, 87% had 2 or more.

Image copyright Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

Image copyright Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

The higher the score, the worse the respondents’ health outcomes. In other words, those who had more ACEs were more likely to have cancers, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, addiction, depression, divorce, and overall their lifespans were shortened by as much as 20 years compared with people who had no ACEs.

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

This information was gained from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a longitudinal study conducted by Kaiser Permanente on a huge sample of insured patients – 17,000 mostly white, educated, middle- to upper- class, employed people – in other words, some of the most high-functioning members of society who should have the best access to healthcare. This makes me wonder how much higher the stats on the incidence of childhood adversity and poor health would be if the sample had included people who live in poverty, those who are incarcerated, and others of less means and access to healthcare.

All of This Sounds Pretty Scary, but Here’s the Good News!

For one thing, if you have experienced childhood trauma, you now know that you aren’t alone. Traumatic experiences in childhood are quite common in the United States. The most important thing is to recognize that traumatic experiences can affect us years later, even if we think we should be over it by the time we reach adulthood.  

How Do I Find Out My ACE score? 

You can take the quiz at this link. As I’ve mentioned - and you may have read in the linked articles - the higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to be affected by mental and physical health issues.  It’s scary to hear that having an ACE score of 6 or higher is correlated with lifespans as much as 20 years shorter than the average.

However, you don’t have to fall into those statistics, even if your score is high! I have worked for years helping people who have experienced childhood trauma and what I know is that having traumatic experiences is very painful, but the most damage comes from ignoring how you have been affected by these experiences – and the healing begins when you allow yourself to feel the emotions you’ve been avoiding. 

When the emotional effects of childhood trauma are not addressed, they don’t go away on their own. Often we develop methods of coping with trauma symptoms - like avoiding developing close relationships so we don’t get hurt - and numb the emotional pain with drugs, alcohol, the internet, being busy, sex, shopping, perfectionism, eating disorders, work, school, and/or gambling. 

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

 

Knowledge is power – what do you do with the information once you learn about it? You can ask yourself honestly whether you have healed from the Adverse Childhood Experiences referenced in your score. If not, what are the steps you can take to begin the healing process?  

You can heal from childhood trauma.  There's a therapist out there for you!

Psychotherapy for trauma can include, among other techniques:

  • ·      Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy techniques
  • ·      Creative methods such as art, music, yoga and dance therapy
  • ·      Mindfulness approaches
  • ·      Body-based (also known as somatic) methods including Somatic Experiencing and     Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
  • ·      Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

There are many useful methods therapists use to help you heal from trauma – I don’t mean for this to be a comprehensive list. In fact, I’d love to hear what you have tried in the comments below! 

It’s important to speak to a potential therapist about his or her training in trauma treatment. Make sure you feel comfortable that this is the right person for you, and if you don’t, it’s okay to tell the therapist that and find someone else who can help you. Trust is an important part of the therapy process, and without developing a trusting therapeutic relationship with your therapist it will be extremely difficult to work through the trauma.   

Childhood trauma is preventable! I will write about that in a future blog post. By the same token, the health outcomes the ACE Study identified are not a matter of fate. Rather, they are the body's expression of unresolved trauma, and by addressing the underlying cause you can potentially limit future illness.  I’m so glad the ACE Study has provided so much information which is now being used to help spread the word about this major public health issue affecting our children and so many adults in the United States. I hope more people will understand the effects of their own ACEs and address them as needed.

If this has made you think about finding help to work through your own childhood trauma, call me at (443) 510-1048 or visit my website

Sources:

Burke, N.B. (2015, February 17). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk

Center for Nonviolence & Social Justice. (2014). What is trauma? Retrieved from: http://www.nonviolenceandsocialjustice.org/FAQs/What-is-Trauma/41/

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (2013). Sexual assault in the U.S. Retrieved from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Sexual-Assault-in-the-US-updated-2013.pdf

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Reagan, L. (2015, February 21). Why can’t I just get over it? Retrieved from: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/laura-reagan/why-cant-i-just-get-over-it-0

Stevens, J.E. (2012, October 3). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest, most important public health study you never heard of – began in an obesity clinic. Retrieved from:  http://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/

Stevens, J.E. (2015, February 17). Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/2015/02/17/nadine-burke-harris-how-childhood-trauma-affects-health-across-a-lifetime/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And if someone you know needs to read this, please share! 

 

Somatic Therapies: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Welcome back to my blog series on integrative mental health, highlighting holistic and alternative practices which complement traditional talk therapy. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Kara Falck, LCSW-C, LICSW, a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Takoma Park, Maryland who is opening an office soon in the Baltimore area as well.  Kara uses Sensorimotor Psychotherapy in her practice and she has agreed to answer my questions.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a somatic, or body-based, method which is said to be beneficial for survivors of traumatic experiences, especially if the experiences occurred at early developmental stages. This article provides more information about the history of the model. You can read a more detailed article on the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute's website here which was originally published in the journal Trauma. I appreciate Kara sharing information about her work. Hopefully you will learn something new about this method! 

Tell me about your work. What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy? 

My approach to therapy is to help people learn to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and to connect with others in more functional ways. I use sensorimotor psychotherapy to help clients achieve their goals. Sensorimotor psychotherapy is an intervention that’s informed by cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic psychotherapies, attachment theory, and neuroscience, and that’s effective for the treatment of trauma and relational issues. It looks to the body as a primary source of information about current psychological functioning. It’s a collaborative approach that uses mindfulness to help clients regulate the bodies’ responses to the environment, which improves clients’ ability to regulate feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.

What benefits does Sensorimotor Psychotherapy offer? Who is a good candidate for Sensorimotor Psychotherapy? Who should not participate in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?

Sensorimotor psychotherapy can be helpful for clients who’ve experienced traumas ranging from violence and abuse to accidents to relationship issues. A major benefit of this treatment is that it starts where the client is and is a collaborative process in which safety is of utmost importance. Sensorimotor psychotherapy first helps clients learn to manage and calm internal sensations. Clients learn to tolerate more and more of their internal experience at their own pace. 

Sensorimotor psychotherapy can be helpful for clients who have had a wide range of life experiences and who are at varying levels of functioning. This treatment teaches mindfulness as a primary skill that’s used throughout the process. Psychoeducation about the interaction of brain and body is provided in ways that clients can understand.

Clients with an alcohol or substance use disorder or a psychotic disorder should seek treatment prior to beginning sensorimotor psychotherapy and should remain compliant with these courses of treatment.

Many people who come to me for therapy services are affected by trauma, anxiety and depression. How does Sensorimotor Psychotherapy help people with these issues?

Sensorimotor psychotherapy was originally developed for the treatment of trauma. It teaches clients about their innate survival defenses and helps clients learn to feel better.

Learning to be aware of internal experience, and then to tolerate and manage internal experience, is the first step in processing traumatic material and is the most important phase of treatment. Clients who don’t know how to calm and soothe themselves are at risk for becoming dysregulated when traumatic material comes up. Sensorimotor psychotherapy teaches clients who’ve experienced trauma how to be mindfully aware of present-moment experience and how to study this experience non-judgmentally, which has regulating effects on the nervous system.

In the same way, learning to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression is the first step in challenging unproductive worry, errors in thinking, and negative core beliefs. When the body is in a state of panic or if we are numb with hopelessness, we can’t access the parts of our brain that are responsible for logic and reasoning. Clients learn to regulate the body first, so they can engage in positive, self-supportive thinking.

Anxiety

 

Similarly, when we experience the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and depression, we often attack logical thinking like an unwelcome visitor - “How can I believe I’m safe at this party if I feel fear and if my body’s telling me to run?” “How can I believe I’m a worthy person if I feel hopeless and my body is telling me to give up?” Sensorimotor psychotherapy is a body-oriented treatment that teaches clients the difference between body experience, emotions, and thoughts, and that helps clients interrupt the cycle of anxiety and depression.

And of course, the goal of sensorimotor psychotherapy is not only to help clients learn to reduce symptoms and tolerate distress, but to help clients increase their ability to experience more pleasure in their lives.

calm stillness

Kara Falck, LCSW-C, LICSW is a licensed clinical Social Worker in private practice. She works with adults, couples, and adolescents and children and their families to help people cultivate safer and more satisfying relationships with themselves and with others. She typically works with issues such as anxiety, trauma and PTSD, depression, relationship issues, body image, parenting support, and LGBT. She currently has an office in Takoma Park, Maryland, and an office in Baltimore is coming soon! She can be reached by email at karafalckmsw@gmail.com or at www.karafalckmsw.com.

I'm so grateful to Kara for sharing information about this method, which I wanted to learn more about. If you are interested in finding a Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Practitioner, click here

Please comment below if you have anything you would like to share about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. 

Sources:

Author unknown. (2003). What is sensorimotor psychotherapy? Retrieved from: http://www.pathoutofpain.com.au/hakomi/html/somatics.html

Sensorimotor psychotherapy institute. (n.d.). About sensorimotor psychotherapy institute. Retrieved from: https://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/about.html 

Sensorimotor psychotherapy institute. (n.d.). Welcome to the sensorimotor psychotherapy referral list. http://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/referral.html 

CranioSacral Therapy: A Gentle, Hands-On Therapy Accessing the Body's Wisdom

This week's post in the series on integrative therapies is a guest blog! I am so honored that Amelia Mitchell, LMT, NCBTMB, LLCC, one of the owners of Alchemy Healing Arts in West Annapolis, agreed to write about CranioSacral Therapy. I have heard about this therapy for at least 20 years, and I have even tried it, but I was still unclear on what it really is, how it works, and what it is supposed to do. Amelia clears that up in her post below.

Full disclosure: Alchemy Healing Arts is my very favorite place to get a massage! They offer so much more than just massage though, which is one of the reasons that I asked Amelia to share information about CST with you. I would recommend them to anyone - and I am not receiving any compensation for saying that. I just love Alchemy! Every month they have lectures which are free for anyone to attend on topics of wellness. You can find the schedule here. They also offer many interesting workshops. Without further ado, here is Amelia's post:

CranioSacral Therapy: A Gentle, Hands-On Therapy Accessing the Body's Wisdom

There is a rhythm in the body called the CranioSacral rhythm (CSR). It is distinct from the heart and breathing rhythms. The CSR is created by the production and reabsorption of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A CranioSacral Therapist will gently place hands on the body and palpate for this rhythm. Generally, we are looking for diminishment of the CSR. By treating these areas, we are treating the sources of problems, rather than just symptoms.

Image courtesy of Alchemy Healing Arts Center

Image courtesy of Alchemy Healing Arts Center

All living beings have what is termed an Inner Wisdom. CranioSacral Therapy (CST) works with our Inner Wisdom and facilitates a person’s optimal health, wellness, and vitality. Using 5 grams of pressure or less (the weight of a nickel), the therapist accesses areas of restriction and supports the body as it releases the restrictions. We don't "fix.” Rather the therapist, through trained gentle touch, extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and rapport with the Inner Wisdom, supports the body’s inborn ability to heal.

Who Can Benefit from CST

At Alchemy Healing Arts Center, we have a track record of success with migraines, chronic back and neck pain, TMJD, Fibromyalgia, concussion recovery, emotionally-based issues, PTSD, and Chronic Depletion in adults. Co-owner Laura Inman Mitchell, BA, LMT, CST, LLCC is also a pediatric specialist and has ten years of experience working with our little ones for nursing or latch challenges, colic, or torticollis. Older children often present with ADHD/ADD, Autism, and emotional problems such as anxiety or depression.

At any age, CST assists us in finding balance and releasing restrictions, so we can live more comfortably in our bodies, with resilience and resources. Instead of directing the body, we are listening to the body and responding to its needs.

Pediatric Craniosacral therapy

Image courtesy of Alchemy Healing Arts Center

With the exception of a couple of disorders of the CSF distribution system, anyone is a candidate for CST. Performed while lying comfortably, clothed, and on a massage table, sessions are generally an hour long. Younger children are welcome to move about on the table and in the room. Laura has an innate talent at creating connection with children. After just a session or two, they often arrive at the office happily, and move right into the treatment room and climb on the table, ready for their session.

CST and Survivors of Trauma

Trauma, whether emotional or physical, is an interesting challenge. Most all of us have a scar or two that is visible, like where the glass shards cut my shoulder years ago in a car accident. Many other scars are invisible, and remain hidden in our bodies and our psyches. CST creates a healing and accepting place for the release of such restrictions. Often a client will become aware of certain pieces of a trauma during a session and participates in the release of the energy around a physical restriction. It is important to note that a CranioSacral therapist is not a talk therapist. We work with the body and what the physical tissue is presenting with, which can include emotions. The emotional components are held within the session with deep presence. We do not enter into talk therapy with the client. Those who are working through trauma need to also be working with a properly credentialed talk therapist.

Anxiety and Depression are well supported with CST. There are significant physical restrictions in the CS system associated with these, which impact the brain. Relief brings more freedom, more movement, more clarity. A better flow of CSF means that the brain is flushed and cleaned better. Deep relaxation can bring lowered stress, better sleep, and more capacity to live a balanced life. All of these benefits significantly reduce the effects of stress and anxiety, and support talk therapy.

Who Can Practice CST

CST is practiced by many after advanced training. Such practitioners include massage therapists, physical and occupational therapists, chiropractors, nurses, doctors, and others who are licensed to physically touch. We are trained by the Upledger Institute, founded by Dr. John Upledger, the modern developer of CST. More information about CST can be found in the book, "The Therapeutic Value of Listening," by Dr. John Upledger.

More About Alchemy Healing Arts

Alchemy Healing Arts Center is a holistic center offering Therapeutic and PreNatal Massage and advanced light touch therapies, such as CranioSacral Therapy and Lymph Drainage Therapy. They are located in West Annapolis and have a staff of six therapists. Laura Inman Mitchell, LMT, CST, NCBTMB, LLCC, their lead CS therapist, is a pediatric specialist and works with people of all ages. David Paad, CNM, RN works with adults.

Prospective clients are always welcome to call 410-263-1272 and speak with co-owner Amelia for a consultation. She is experienced with all that Alchemy offers as well as community resources. She can help people discern their best next step. Alchemy Healing Arts can be found online at www.alchemyhealingartscenter.com .

I so appreciate Amelia writing her guest post about CranioSacral Therapy! Have you ever tried CST? What did you think of it? I'd love to hear about your experiences - please share in the comments below! 

Sources:

The Upledger Institute. (2011). Frequently asked questions: CranioSacral therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=61.

The Craniosacral Therapy Association. (2015). This is Craniosacral therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.craniosacral.co.uk/this-is-craniosacral-therapy


What's the Buzz on Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a hot topic lately. But what is it? According to Kripalu, as explained in this article, mindfulness means, “self observation without judgment” and is a general term referring to various types of meditation (Kripalu, 2013). Look for a future post in which I discuss mindfulness and its benefits in more detail. In the meantime, this blog post from Psychology Today, which I am using with permission of the author, Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., provides some basics of mindfulness.

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I am writing as series on integrative mental health, which is the practice of incorporating holistic and alternative methods as a complement to traditional talk therapy techniques. My first post introduced the series and described the subject of integrative mental health.

I reached out to colleagues across the U.S. and around the world to ask how they use mindfulness methods with clients. Read on for their comments! 

Mindfulness children families

Using mindfulness with children and families:

Renee Bond, LPCC Sacramento, CA   I love using mindfulness with kids and their families. We meditate together, create art, do yoga, guided imagery, and work with affirmations.

Debbi Carberry, BSW AMHSW MAASW (acc) – Brisbane, Queensland, Australia  When working with small children on mindfulness I use bubbles. First we use breathing techniques to blow the bubbles - then I get the kids to choose one bubble and watch it slowly move toward the floor - I also get them to lay down and I blow bubbles - then wait for them to get close and they very gently blow them back in the air.

Jessica Fowler, LCSW – Rochester, NY  I use mindfulness with my kids. I have them practice deep breathing almost daily (we use our hands on our bellies). When they are upset or having a tantrum I work with them to use their deep breathing to calm down. It works great when we practice. 

Mercedes Samudio, LCSW – Los Angeles, CA  I do a lot of work with families, and as feelings get intense I stop the family, ask them to take a few deep breaths to release the tension, and then I restate what was said so that we can continue. It helps everyone calm down in the room and allows us not to float off away from the session.

Elly Taylor, AARC - Sydney, Australia  I tell mums who are at home with young children to take a moment, go outside, turn their face to the sun, listen to the birds/wind, feel the grass and do some slow, deep breathing.

mindfulness for anxiety

Mindfulness techniques helping with anxiety:

Susan Anderson, LCSW – Estes Park, CO  I use Mindfulness in conjunction with Animal-Assisted Therapy techniques. For example, with kids who have anxiety, I teach them mindfulness skills as they are holding my therapy bunny. I ask them to notice the softness of her fur, to notice the smallness of her front paws, the way she smells, etc. I will also ask them to notice their breathing while they do this and at some point I will ask them to match their breathing with their petting of her.

 Laura Hollywood, BSc, Dip Couns. - London, UK I use mindfulness with my clients with anxiety, to connect them to the present by breathing exercises and relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation.

Robyn D’Angelo, LMFT - Irvine, CA For me personally, I am an anxious soul, yet when I get outdoors, there's a shift. Mindfulness for me, is noticing my anxieties, allowing the presence of trees (that are deep-rooted and grounded) to help me to do the same - feel deep-rooted and grounded, in the present moment. What a treat to allow myself to be grounded in mindfulness in the presence of such massive, natural, swaying, growing yet firmly planted objects. Mindfulness is joy. 

peaceful meditation

Mindfulness with Adults

Colleen King, LMFT – Sacramento, CA Doing any sensory exercise using mindfulness can reveal a lot of emotions that are grist for the mill, as the saying goes. It activates our sensory functions by slowing ourselves down so that we notice our thoughts and feelings, and subsequent responses.

Nicole Sartini-Cprek, LPCC Louisville, KY  I provide almost all my clients with a recording of a 10 minute guided meditation to get started with at home if they are interested. I explain that being able to sit through their thoughts and feelings is challenging, but with time, meditation can create a deeper self-awareness and an ability to tolerate uncomfortableness that can help empower them.

Amy Tatsumi, MA, LPC, ATR-BC Washington, DC  I integrate mindfulness techniques and the overall paradigm into all of my sessions from having clients feel and breathe their art work or sand trays into their bodies to using Pema Chodron's work around pain and suffering. Working somatically is a game changer for the majority of my clients. 

Jamie Stacks, LPC, LADAC – Hot Springs, AR  Mindfulness in therapy is creating a sacred container in which to feel, hear and see that which is, be aware of what is and being present with it all using self-compassion and non-judgment of the experience.

Amy Sugeno, LCSW – Marble Falls, TX   One of my specialties is outdoor therapy. I will sometimes ask clients to notice what is around them and just try and be present with what they notice. Later, people often talk about how quiet it is, how the wind feels on their face, or they'll notice something interesting around them, like a flower or insect. The outdoors has a way of organically encouraging mindfulness.

Brenda Bomgardner, MA, LPC, NCC, BCC Lakewood, CO  I ask [clients] to notice where they feel that (feeling), what size is it, what shape is it, color, weight, sound. The technique is called physicalizing a feeling. It is mindfulness and exposure work wrapped up in one. Then as homework, if they are willing, I ask them to write about it. 

Bryan Nixon, MA, LPC Grand Rapids, MI  More than a technique to use, I view mindfulness as a quality of presence that I am able to offer to my clients and relationally invite them into as well. It is a slower space where deeper reflection is possible by helping clients become curious about their experience in the here and now. This, in turn, creates space for self-limiting unconscious core beliefs to rise into awareness, be examined and challenged if need be.  

 Sources:

Formica, M.J. (2011, June 14). 5 Steps for being present. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/201106/5-steps-being-present

Wilson, A. (2013, April 29). Your brain on mindfulness meditation. Retrieved from: http://kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2013/04/29/your-brain-on-mindfulness-meditation/

Using Acupuncture to Heal Yourself: My Interview With Rachel Sara Strass, MAc, MOM, LAc, Dipl OM

If you read my last post, you know that I am beginning a blog series on the subject of  integrative mental health.  Welcome to my first interview in the series! As I mentioned in the previous post, I knew little about acupuncture when one of my clients asked me if it helps with depression.

I'm on a quest to learn more and to that end, I'm fortunate to share office space with a skilled acupuncturist, Rachel Sara Strass, MAc, MOM, LAc, Dipl OM of Spirit Point Healing. Check out her website for information on her services and acupuncture in general. Rachel Sara graciously agreed to be interviewed for this series to teach me more about how she uses acupuncture. 

holistic remedies stress relief water lily.jpg

 

Reading up online, I found this article from Scientific American that discusses the results of two different studies on acupuncture showing some improvement in symptoms and recommending further study - though one of the studies refers to "electroacupuncture," using needles and electric currents - which is different from traditional acupuncture.  Here is another article from Healthline which references effects of using the mind-body connection to heal symptoms. Read on for my interview with Rachel Sara!

Tell me about your work. What is acupuncture? Are there different types? If so, what type(s) do you offer?
Acupuncture is the use of very fine pins to stimulate changes in the flow of energy (or qi - pronounced ‘chee’) in a person or animal. Acupuncture removes blockages to the flow of qi and puts the systems in balance. This puts you in touch with your own ability to heal yourself. In a nutshell, it is remembering who you are and finding your way home.

There are several different types: classical, TCM, Korean hand, to name a few. I practice classical acupuncture which is based on the Chinese classics written about three thousand years ago. As more knowledge has been discovered, it has been woven into this holistic medicine, which attends to the body, mind, and spirit. Today’s classical acupuncture is very different from 3,000 years ago, but it has not lost this nugget.

What benefits does acupuncture offer? Are there any risks? Who is a good candidate for acupuncture? Who should not receive acupuncture?
Acupuncture offers many benefits with very few risks. The benefits acupuncture offers include all sorts of markers of well-being, such as faster recovery from surgeries, illnesses, and traumas, relaxation, better sleep, relief from pain, improvement of quality of life in chronic and terminal illnesses, improvement of emotional health, mental conditions, digestive issues, as well as lower back pain, sciatic pain, knee pain, etc.

The risks of acupuncture are possible bruising from the needle or in very rare cases, puncture of organs if the needle is improperly placed or Hepatitis from a contaminated needle. This last risk would be next to impossible, since almost all acupuncturists today would never re-use needles between patients. 

Many people who come to me for therapy services are affected by anxiety and depression. Is acupuncture beneficial to people with these issues? 

Yes, absolutely. I have had a lot of success with people’s anxiety and depression. Acupuncture is very relaxing and can bring mental and emotional imbalances into balance. I also use Chinese herbs in many cases with good success rates.

What else do you want people to know about the services you offer?

My main focus is patient satisfaction. I take the time I need to make sure there is a healing relationship with every person I treat. I find it increases the efficacy of the treatment and makes my work very enriching for everyone involved.

In addition to everything else I’ve said, I have one final note. Using Chinese herbs and acupuncture together with Western medicine and pharmaceuticals is a very powerful combination. In China, they have been doing and documenting this for over fifty years. From this effort, we have learned that overall, there is a better prognosis, fewer side effects, with quicker results than either modality alone.

Rachel Sara Strass holds two Masters degrees in Acupuncture (MAc) and Oriental Medicine (MOM), which took 6 cumulative years of training including clinical components. After eight years in professional practice, she is now pursuing a Doctorate in Oriental Medicine (DOM). Her office is located at 645 B&A Blvd, Suite 107 in Severna Park, MD. She can be reached by phone at 410-570-2896, via e-mail at: rachel@spiritpointhealing.com, or via her website: http://www.spiritpointhealing.com. She works with people of all ages, from early teens to geriatric. 

While the research is slowly catching up to what has been practiced in Eastern medicine for years, there is some compelling evidence that acupuncture can be helpful on its own or in addition to talk therapy for stress, anxiety and depression. Time magazine reports on a recent study which found benefits of acupuncture, which you can read here

I hope you learned something new! What do you think about acupuncture? Have you tried it? Let's get a conversation going. Please share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments below! 

integrative mental health acupuncture stress relief water lilies

Sources:

Park, A. (2013, March 15). Needle this: Study hints at how acupuncture works to relieve stress. Retrieved from: http://healthland.time.com/2013/03/15/needle-this-study-hints-at-how-   acupuncture-works-to-relieve-stress/

Rodriguez, T & Stern, V. (2014, June 12). Can acupuncture treat depression? Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-acupuncture-treat-depression/

Watt, A. (2013, December 9). Acupuncture and depression. Retrieved from: http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/acupuncture#1