A Closer Look at PTSD

One of the areas of work I feel particularly passionate about in my practice is facilitating recovery after a traumatic incident. Last week, I began a discussion of trauma and PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, one of my areas of specialty.

We often think of veterans when we think of PTSD. In large part, much of what we do know about trauma and PTSD is a result of the experiences of Vietnam veterans. Prior to that, while trauma responses existed, there had not been a whole lot of focus on understanding traumatic reactions. Although PTSD tends to be the issue that most often comes to mind when we consider trauma, there are a number of other responses to trauma, including things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and difficulties in relationships. We will address some of these elements but, in our multi-episode Looking at Trauma series, we will mostly focus on PTSD. Most of these other issues are embedded within the constellation of PTSD and will make more sense as we understand PTSD.

To begin with, it’s important to understand what exactly a trauma is…

If we think about the definition of a trauma, it’s generally defined by dictionaries as a deeply distressing or disturbing occurrence. Often, in medical contexts, it’s described as a disruption. Different experts and different fields describe trauma in different ways, which can be confusing and even intimidate if we are looking to do our research.

However, there are some common elements in thinking about what a trauma specifically is. From the lens of mental health or psychology, trauma, as described by the American Psychological Association, is typically an emotional and somatic response to a terrible, overwhelming, situation.

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, traumatic events are shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. While the World Health Organization describes trauma as more of an emergent/disaster based situation.

There are a number of different events that can be traumatic. Some examples of these situations that may immediately come to mind include a serious and potentially life-threatening accident, assault, natural disaster, or combat. Other types of experiences can be traumatic as well such as surviving or witnessing a crime or physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as bullying or even a big move. Sometimes, trauma responses can follow any major change or disruption in a person’s life.

Many people are exposed to traumatic events. In the time immediately following a trauma, most people will have the experiences of PTSD that we will talk about. However, over time, for many people, those experiences naturally decrease, and they are not diagnosed with PTSD. In other words, they naturally recover from the traumatic event. There are some people who do not recover and are later diagnosed with PTSD. Based on that, it is helpful to think of PTSD as a problem in recovery. Something got in the way of you having that natural process of recovery, and the work of therapy is to determine what got in the way and to change it so that you can recover from what happened. You and your therapist will be working to get you ̳unstuck.

Let’s look at this in more depth…

Because we know that PTSD experiences are nearly universal immediately following very serious traumatic stressors and that recovery takes a few months under normal circumstances, it may be best to think about diagnosable PTSD as a disruption or stalling out of a normal recovery process, rather than the development of a unique psychopathology. A therapist needs to determine what has interfered with normal recovery. In one case, it may be that someone believes that they will be overwhelmed by the amount of emotional reactivity that will emerge if he stops avoiding and numbing himself. Perhaps s/he was taught as a child that emotions are bad, that s/he should just get over it.‖ In another case, someone may have refused to talk about what happened with anyone because s/he blames herself for ―letting‖ the event happen and she is so shamed and humiliated that s/he is convinced that others will blame her, too. In a third case, a person may have seen something so horrifying that every time s/he falls asleep and dreams about it, s/he wakes up in a cold sweat. So, in order to sleep, s/he drinks heavily. Yet another person may be so convinced that s/he will be victimized again that s/he refuses to go out anymore and has greatly restricted his/her activities and relationships. In still another case, in which other people were killed, a person may have survivor guilt and obsesses over why s/he was spared when others were killed. S/he feels unworthy and experiences guilt whenever s/he laughs or finds himself enjoying something. In all these instances, thoughts or avoidance behaviors are interfering with emotional processing and reshaping our beliefs. There are as many individual examples of things that can block a smooth recovery as there are individuals with PTSD.

There are several categories of experiences that tend to follow a traumatic event. Last week, we more closely examined each of the categories.

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What Does a Typical Group Look Like?

You may have heard the buzz about my upcoming Mindfulness Matters group and might find yourself wondering what a typical group is like. I thought I would give you some details so that you can see how this might help serve you in learning to more deeply connect with what you want in your life, create more satisfying relationships, and improve your sense of self-worth and love!

I start by doing an activity for the members to get to know each other so we can keep building our skills together over the course of the 12 weeks. I then begin introducing a new skill each week and using an activity or handout to help the particpants get a clearer understanding of that skill and make it applicable to them in their daily lives.

Then, I open it up to the members to:

1) provide feedback on the skill being taught that week

2) give an example of how they had successfully used a skill previously learned during the week

3) talk about a time during the week when they were unable to implement a skill and get feedback from myself and/or other group members on how they could have handled themselves/their emotions differently

4) receive feedback from the group on any other pressing issue that came up during the week and is causing distress so we can troubleshoot together and come up with ways to help them cope

Want even more information? Check out the details here!

P.S. Groups are an amazing way to lean how to express oursevles and understand that we are not alone. The Mindfulness Matters Group will run on Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 6:30pm beginning on July 11th and running through September 26th.

If this group looks like a good fit for you, contact me for more details. 

Ready to talk more about how the Mindfulness Matters group can bring you greater focus, deeper confidence, and finally quiet that inner critic? Get access HERE!

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The Vicious Cycle of Trauma and PTSD

As a Good Therapy Topic Expert, it is important to me to share information about the impact PTSD. In particular, with June the month of PTSD awareness, it is crucial to help provide accurate information about the struggles with this challenging experience.

Posttraumatic stress is characterized by intrusion, arousal, avoidance, and cognitive shifts—a cyclical experience that impedes the natural recovery process. You can read more about these experiences in my Good Therapy article here.

What did you learn in reading this? I’d love to hear your reactions and realizations – hit reply and let me know!

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

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A Closer Look at Reiki, Part 2

Last week, we looked a bit more thoroughly at understanding Reiki on the heels of my recent interview regarding how Reiki can impact our healing from compassion fatigue. Today, I wanted to further explore some questions about the impact of Reiki on our mental health.

Let’s begin with looking a bit at navigating overwhelming, stressful, and traumatic situations. An experience of trauma really takes a toll on us, particularly when there might be a greater sense of powerlessness and horror. In addition to the ways that Reiki can help to contribute to a greater sense of relief from the sadness and pain in secondary trauma and the stress and anxiety that accompany it, Reiki can help us stay more resilient when we are met with difficult situations and to also bounce back from them more readily and quickly. Another way that Reiki can help is that it can help us remain focused and think clearly which can help to navigate a difficult situation with more ease and set into motion factors that can bring on a better outcome. That on its own helps to cultivate a sense of empowerment and control which can really aid in combatting trauma.

We can also explore the ways that Reiki impacts depression. According to a study published in Alternate Therapies in Health and Medicine, patients who received regular Reiki treatments showed a significant reduction in the symptoms of psychological distress and depression. This symptom reduction continued for one year after the treatment regimen was complete.

The way that this works is that Reiki helps restore a person’s overall sense of balance, both in the mind and the body. This may help to improve the person’s mood and help him or her to overcome feelings of guilt and/or sadness that typically accompany depression.

We mentioned a few minutes ago that Reiki helped to slow down a person’s sympathetic autonomic system. This is the system that is activated when we experience anxiety and stress. It’s the primary mechanism in the fight or flight response. While the fight or flight response is valuable for us in the instant of a major stressor, over time, it begins to weaken us emotionally and physically. This then makes us more vulnerable to the negative impact of stress and anxiety. With this mechanism slowed down, our physiological responses to stress and anxiety begin to subside as well and provide us relief. In the Reiki mindset, there is a mind-body component to any kind of ailment whether it is physical or emotional and, in this case, there is an element of both present. Reiki works to restore the balance and harmony in both the emotional and physical body which can help us get back on track. Sessions provide a relaxing, soothing healing environment that ensures comfort and peace during the healing process. It’s this relaxed, peaceful state that helps to contribute to our emotional, physical, and mental well being.

Often, insomnia and fatigue come about as a result of something else going on – for some it’s stress, others anxiety, and we also often see it with depression and PTSD for example. In most cases, fatigue and insomnia tend to have an underpinning that indicates some kind of disharmony. Because Reiki works to restore balance by clearing away energetic or electrical blockages that get in the way of this harmony, it works to address the root cause of insomnia and fatigue.

I hope the last two weeks have given you a greater understanding of how Reiki can contribute to enhancing your life. You may still have questions or just be curious what it can offer you – just hit reply and let me know what you’re wondering!

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A Closer Look at Reiki, Part 1

Recently, I shared some thoughts on how Reiki can impact our healing from compassion fatigueReiki can impact our healing from compassion fatigue. I wanted to spend some time exploring some of the questions that were raised during that interview. Let’s look at some of the important points regarding Reiki healing:

Reiki therapy is a holistic, gentle energy work process that assists in physical, mental and emotional healing. It’s a simple and safe energy balancing technique that benefits everyone who receives it because when your energy is balanced and flowing, self-healing and positive transformation happens naturally. It works at the physical, emotional, and mental levels to release the energy blockages that create dis-ease. A Reiki session can help ease tension and stress and can help support the body to facilitate an environment for healing on all levels – physical, mental, and emotional.

I often describe Reiki treatment as analogous to radio or wifi waves. Our bodies are created by many things and each of those things has an electrical frequency, much like radio and wifi waves. The waves are always around us yet we need to be tuned in to the right station or network in order for the radio station or internet work. Reiki is much the same – the energy is always around but accessing it requires the specific training attunements of a practitioner.

While the Reiki energy that is crucial in Reiki session is one and the same, there are different branches or lineages of Reiki practice for treatment sessions. To put it simply, because Reiki teachings were disseminated then spread throughout the world, a variety of methods for delivery were cultivated. Much like the game of telephone, certain details and elements were modified or omitted as it was handed down. One reason for this is that teaching Reiki in different ways within different cultures made sense. Because of that, there are now about 10 different styles of mainstream Reiki, generally referred to as Western Reiki, and other smaller offshoots as well. The most common one of these is the Usui Shiki Reiki Ryoho.

With that said, there is also a lineage of Reiki that kept the original teachings intact called Jikiden Reiki. Jikiden Reiki is less commonly known and is often thought of as more true to the original style of practice for Reiki. I offer both styles in my practice as I work with a variety of clients with different preferences.

In general, this balancing technique is a wonderful addition to any health program and can be used alongside other complementary therapies and conventional medicine, including psychotherapy. It’s important to note that Reiki is not a replacement for appropriate medical care. Instead, it supports medical care by accelerating self-healing, reducing pain or discomfort, and stimulating your body’s healing process.

That said, if all we are looking for is stress reduction, relaxation, and preventative wellness, Reiki can be a beautiful self-care practice on its own.

The International Association for Reiki Practitioners, or IARP, offers a directory for practitioners and has a code of ethics that all practitioners listed in the directory must abide by. People can check the directory for local Reiki practitioners and masters in their area or, since Reiki can be provided remotely, someone they feel most comfortable with. In selecting a practitioner, it’s important to make sure that he or she has adequate credentials. Make sure that the practitioner you select is certified at Level 2 or Okuden levels or higher which means they have been trained to provide Reiki treatment sessions to the public. Another thing for people to look for is someone who is willing to answer their questions, explain the format and structure of a session, and who takes the time to speak with them about their specific goals in seeking Reiki treatment.

In our second segment exploring a more in-depth perspective on Reiki, I will more thoroughly look at the mental health benefits of Reiki.

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Need Some Sleep??

Many of us have a difficult time sleeping restfully. Some of us have a hard time falling asleep, while many of us wake up throughout the night. For others, we can fall and stay asleep fine but find ourselves having disturbing dreams or nightmares. Still, many of us just find ourselves waking up exhausted and seem to have a hard time getting the rest we need. In fact, over half of Americans have a difficult time getting the quality sleep they need.

Unfortunately, this affects more than just how tired we feel the next day. Inadequate sleep or quality of sleep can affect not only our mood, but our concentration levels, frustration and stress tolerance, and the rate at which we process the information that is being thrown at us in our world. This then creates a spiral where we have an even more difficult time winding down enough to go to sleep again.

Recently, I was interviewed as part of a Reader’s Digest article on battling insomnia – or difficulty falling and staying asleep. The article explores some tips and tools for helping you get the sleep that you may be needing.

I make a reference to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I. This six session protocal has been found to be as effective as psychopharmacology for insomnia in the short term and even more effective in the long term. It is now considered the gold standard treatment for sleeping difficulties. You can access a bit more information about it here as well.

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“Beyond the Couch” Explores the Benefits of Group Therapy!

The newest episode of the “Beyond the Couch” podcast is here!

Today, we look at the benefits of group therapy, different formats of group therapy, and how we can gain the most benefit from group therapy. You can listen to the episode here!

Don’t forget: If you missed the first few episodes, they are always available via iTunes, on my website, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and YouTube.

If you’ve found these episodes helpful in some way, please be sure to read a rating and review so that 1.) I know what helps you and 2.) so that others in the same boat can find what they need.

Enjoy these first few episodes before the next one on Thursday – we’ll be focusing on Mindfulness!