Posts Tagged ‘trauma tool kit’


Lessons From Shannon

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          This summer I lost my friend, teacher and mentor, Shannon Kelly.  Many who knew him called him Shannon the Shaman.  But Shannon was many things.  He identified as a “Bubba”, a regular guy who grew up in the South hunting, drinking and loving the outdoors.  As a single father to three children, he was deeply committed to parenting as best he could. For me, he was one of the best therapists and supervisors I had the pleasure to work with (he was the first therapist in Portland I met who knew what reaction formation was, and he was an accomplished Ericksonian therapist).  Prior to his “coming out” as shaman, he worked 25 years as a mental health professional.

          Our first session together was bodywork, held up in the tiny little room down the hall from his kids’ bedrooms (to make ends meet he always worked in his house those first years).  Bodywork from a therapist?  Actually, he had dropped the mantle of therapist long before, but not the knowledge, as his work expanded into broader and deeper realms. He had fully embraced the knowledge of himself as shaman after calling a Northwest Native American tribe. The woman who had answered the phone had not picked up a phone in ten years. She was the medicine woman and he asked to meet with her.  Fresh from the Southwest, guided to work in the Northwest and pursue shamanism by a vision of red-tailed hawks, Shannon asked her who the best teacher for him might be.  As the story goes, she laughed and laughed and then told him to look in the mirror.

          As I was lying on the table, feeling his large hands elongate into even larger hairy bear claws (yes, he validated chuckling, bear medicine was his main access) I had a very strange sensation.

          Shannon, I’m feeling weird.  I feel all this sadness leaving my body, but somehow it doesn’t feel connected to me.

          That’s because it’s not yours.

Lesson #1:  Many of the emotions we carry around with us aren’t even ours.

           Wow.  That first session was a mind blower. I had been told before that I tend to carry other people’s “stuff” around with me, but until I could actually feel it leaving I really didn’t understand the power and detriment of it.  At that point I had been in human services for over 20 years, not to mention my own family’s “stuff” so there was a lot to let go of.  I felt immediately lighter after that and subsequent sessions, and the feelings of release persisted.  Once we feel what is not ours and let go of it, it becomes easier to stay clear and to know and work with what is really our stuff and what isn’t.

            During that first bodywork session I started feeling light and fluttery like I would just float away off the table. This was a familiar feeling, but because Shannon’s energy was so powerful, it became even more pronounced.  I had started to feel a familiar dizziness when Shannon placed large river rocks under my hands and feet.  The feelings immediately subsided and I felt a really wonderful sense of being calmly present throughout the rest of my session.  I loved the sensation of solid rock underneath me and began to breathe more deeply as I relaxed.

Lesson #2:  Get and stay grounded

            My gymnastics teacher in middle school used to call me Pixie Fairy because I ran on my toes, and no matter what she said, she just couldn’t get me to muster a proper run to the vault.  Maybe it’s a result of some of my earlier trauma, maybe it’s my celtic fairy blood, maybe it’s all the air signs in my astrological chart, but for whatever reason being grounded was always tremendously challenging for me, when I even knew what that meant!  As I have said in my book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out, being ungrounded is necessary at times for visionaries, high creative and healers, but we cannot live there.  If we are not grounded we are not in touch with our bodies, our emotions and our earthly selves. As long as we are living on Earth, we need a grounded, functioning ego.  We need to fully inhabit our body and all of our senses.  When we don’t, anxiety fills up the void.

Shannon was very insistent on this point and wasn’t afraid to use tools like big honkin’ river rocks to get me there.

            I had been taught by earlier therapists and supervisors to talk about anything and everything that came into my head.  This technique came directly from Freud, who discovered the say anything approach of free association was a “royal road” to unconsciously repressed material in the psyche that caused neurosis and mood disorders. So, of course, I wanted to excitedly process all my experiences and thoughts.  Shannon listened patiently for a while, and then in a booming mountain man voice said, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

Lesson #3:  Your thoughts aren’t as important as you think they are, and they may not even be your thoughts.

          Shannon explained. We cannot solve our feelings at the level of our thoughts, and our thoughts distract us and get in the way of getting grounded and releasing.  This can result in headaches, malaise, exhaustion and anxiety.  If this pattern persists, it can lead to profound depression.

            It turns out that he was exactly right from a neuroscience perspective.  The cortex, the thinking part of the brain that is all wrinkly and sits on top, has only a few pathways that work themselves down deeper into the emotional brain, the mammalian part called the limbic brain.  The limbic brain, on the other hand, has a bazillion ways to communicate its urgent messages to the cortex.  This arrangement helps the organism to survive in the environment. For example, if you see a rattlesnake moving towards you on the path do you debate what kind it is, or just jump out of the way with your heart beating hard? I rest my case. (There may be those genetic anomalies that would debate the snake, but they may not survive to have offspring.)

            This is why we cannot talk nor affirm ourselves out of our feelings.  You can try and try to think of reasons to be happy when you are sad, but does it really work? If it works at all, it only works for a brief period of time.  Until the fundamental conflict that is affecting the limbic brain is resolved or released, there will be no peace in our thoughts. The limbic brain is hardwired to the senses and body.  Even our sense of smell, our olfactory bulb, is actually part of the limbic brain!

            Unless thoughts and words are grounded in the reality of the body and awareness through all the senses, we are just spinning out meaningless stories that can distract us from the work at hand.  Actually, I realized later, I was trained to look for overthinking as a therapist.  In psychodynamic therapy this phenomenon is called “intellectualizing” and it is classified as an ego defense that affects those who like to experience the world through thoughts and the intellect.

            But the important thing I gradually came to understand was that, just as many of the feelings in my body weren’t actually mine, neither were the thoughts.

~ to be continued

 




The Root of Violence: Solutions for a Beleaguered World

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When I was in high school and the world’s population was at about 4 billion, I saw a video about an experiment in rat overcrowding. The researchers showed very clearly that up until a certain population the rats were civil, harmonious and happy. When they became overcrowded, the rats turned on each other and a cycle of violence began. I remembered wondering where that tipping point was for humanity.

Today the world’s population stands at about 7 billion, ready to top 8 billion in the next decade. I cannot help but wonder if the world is getting too crowded to maintain civil societies. At least in the old models.

Fortunately, we are not rats. We are human beings with a plethora of ingenious human tools at our disposal, the foremost being a thinking, self-reflective brain. We can not only reshape our environment, we can also reshape our bodies, personalities and even our own brains.

Clearly, it is time to evolve.

What would it take to stop the violence?

Currently it is popular to blame religion for violence. But I don’t buy it. Historically, nationalism was blamed for wars. But we didn’t abolish nations, nor could we. Anymore than we can abolish religion. The search for God and religion seems to be hardwired into the very fabric of humanity. And that’s potentially a good thing. Innumerable hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable endeavors have been supported by large religious bodies.

Look, I’m a therapist. I’ve spent a lifetime peering into the hidden mechanisms of human consciousness. I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of violence, religious, atheist, you name it.

And the root of violence is pretty simple. The recipe is this: take a human ego, prone to intense biological impulses like sex and aggression, add a dose of rejection, violence, or trauma and withhold empathy, attachment and kindness. Don’t forget to add the testosterone, or all that violence will turn inwards. This is the basic formula; there are of course endless ways to “spice” things up. Anything that disinhibits a human helps: drugs, a charismatic leader, any kind of reward real or imagined, spiritual or material. You get the picture.

When the world becomes an overall less kinder place to be, when governments exist to punish and control rather than support, when adults are too busy trying to survive than to connect, when children are subjected to all manner of abuse growing up, when basic needs are withheld (food, shelter, education), then we can be sure the rise of violence is around the corner.
My little piece of contribution centers around psychological trauma. Like the tipping point for rat populations, I believe that there is a tipping point for the number of citizens with untreated abuse and trauma issues that starts to unravel societies and the fabric of civilization gets weak, gauzy and prone to tears.

That is why I wrote The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. But one book is not enough to stem the tide.

If we want to turn this around we need the biggest investment in our humanity the world has ever seen.

Our healthcare system is broke.
Out educational system is broke.
Our national aggression is disproportionately funded.
PTSD is a national (and global) epidemic.
Our TV and media is a wasteland of violence, sex and empty, puerile stories aimed at the basest nature of humans.
Adults can’t find meaningful work or time to connect.
Children can’t get their emotional needs met so they are turning to early sex, drugs, computers and violent videogames.

Like the global climate crisis we are in, we are in a crisis of our own humanity.

We need to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be human? Are we living lifestyles that are in alignment with our values and ideals, or have we given up?

The answers are simple. Accomplishing them requires insight, wisdom and the will of the people.

1) Convert from a permanent wartime economy to a peace economy. Stop trying to control the world and get back to taking care of American citizens.
2) Reinstate the important status of mothers in the world by funding them to stay home with their children as needed. Working mothers is a redundant, and obnoxious term. We need to recognize that all mothers are, by definition, working.
3) Stop projecting our own internal demons onto other groups: immigrants, “terrorists”, “dirty hippies”, whatever. And affirm the dignity of all human beings, the vast majority of whom merely seek to be happy.
4) Reign in the vast greed industries and interests in Washington.
5) Recognize that only people are people. Corporations are sociopathic entities.
6) Fund a single payer healthcare system and come into the 21st century.
7) Throw out the educational dictates of the last 20 years and create sound educational ideas that really engage students and teachers in learning in the new millennium.
8) Turn off your TV. Or at least have enforced rules about usage .
9) Heal your traumas. Help yourself.
10) Recognize that your children, friends and neighbors may be struggling quietly and desperately in need of help. Help them.
11) Spend more time with your kids. Quality is not enough. Quantity is also required for healthy kids. Don’t let computers and TV parent.
12) Create community events for connection. Host a potluck once/month. Get involved. Talk to your neighbors. Get over your fear of the ‘other’.
13) MEDITATE. Rats can’t meditate, we can. If we all just calmed down and healed our own brains, it would be enough.

OK, then. We do have choices. It’s either us or no one. We can cower in fear waiting for the next attack, the next screw gone loose, or we can start changing our communities here and now.

I vote for now. I’ll go meditate on it, and then I will act.




Defending Dr. Drew

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My husband is an interventional cardiologist. Most of the people he sees are in manageable stages of cardiac disease. Some of his patients are quite sick and come in with advanced stages of illness. A few are dead and dying when they reach his cath lab. Miraculously, he can bring a few back to life, or ease their suffering greatly with stents and medications, saving them the trauma of open heart surgery.

Nobody is surprised when some of these people die. Sad. But not surprised. And certainly not outraged.

I’m a mental health professional, as is Dr. Drew Pinsky. In the media Dr. Drew has been blamed for the recent death of country singer Mindy McCready, who appeared on his show Rehab a few seasons ago. Like my husband, we both see people in various stages of illness. We’ve held people’s lives in our hands in our offices as surely as my husband has in his cath lab.

Dr. Drew, on his show Rehab, treats the sickest of the sick. He admits people to his hospital who have a terrible prognosis, many of whom have been told they are going to die if they don’t get treatment. They are in the end stages of addiction, a disease just as surely fatal as heart disease.

Yet, for some reason, when these patients die, the good doctor is blamed. Why? He is treating those who need intensive intervention and treatment in a psychiatric facility, just as my husband treats people in his hospital. These patients can get well with interventions for a period of time and then fail, just as cardiac patients can.

I can only chalk this reaction up to the ignorance and wishful thinking of the American people. Here is what I, as a lifelong mental health practitioner, would like the general public to know:

1) Addiction is a deadly disease, no less of a threat than cancer, heart disease, or a terrible accident.

2) It takes a highly skilled practitioner, one with hundreds if not thousands of hours of training, practice and supervision to help these people get better, and, yet, like other physicians, we still may lose our patients.

3) When we do lose our patients, we feel terrible. We work so much more intimately with our patients than, say, my husband does with his. We know their secrets, their character. We have laughed with them and possibly cried with them. It is impossible to be a good therapist without attaching to our clients and they to us.

4) Clinicians don’t just ever treat addictions. Addictions are always a symptom of a much bigger problem, and, frankly, that problem almost always involves boatloads of psychological trauma.

5) Working with traumatic stress is incredibly taxing for patient and practitioner. Frankly, not that many people want to do it. If you don’t believe me ask yourself when the last time is that you asked someone to tell you about their history of abuse and neglect and then listened all the way to the end of their story. Never? I rest my case.

6) Mental health clinicians are the pariahs of the medical community in the same way our patients are pariahs in the public’s eye. We treat “losers” so we must be losers is how so many of us are seen (if you wish you can substitute the word “crazy” for “loser”). Most of us are undervalued, underpaid and disempowered, but we soldier on because we believe in our work and enjoy helping people end their suffering.

7) My husband never lacks for the tools to do his work. His patients have the best equipment, the best care, and only leave the hospital when they are well enough to go home. Often they go home with assistance of some kind or another. This is rarely true in mental health work. Our patients do not have long enough stays to get better, have trouble accessing clinicians who know how to treat them, and are often discharged without enough support at home.

Even with the best support money can buy, some patients, like the country singer Mindy McCready, fail. Some people do well until they are put under undo stress and then they collapse. This was the case, as far as I can tell, with Ms. McCready. She’d already had several suicide attempts until the completed suicide of her boyfriend. She snapped.

How is this Dr. Drew’s fault? Now, I know there is some controversy about publicly airing shows on mental health treatment, and the questions are valid. Yet, as a professional whose work is always done in complete opacity, I’m happy that the general public gets to see some of what I and thousands of my colleagues give to our clients on a daily basis. I can’t participate in Take Your Daughter to Work Day, but we can sit down and watch an episode of Rehab.

I am sorry that Mindy lost her battle with depression and addiction. I am sad that Dr. Drew is getting blamed for losing a patient in the end stages of a terrible disease process. I hope we can all use this event to deepen our understanding of the terrible costs and demands of mental health and addictions instead of using it as a way to take a cheap shot at a profession that works in areas that no one else will touch.




Healing Together With An Infinite Mind

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HT_logo_HPI just returned from my favorite conference of the year, the Healing Together Conference put on by Infinite Mind.  Infinite Mind is a group of people with DID, which is Dissociative Identity Disorder.  You might know it better as Multiple Personality Disorder.

Why is this my favorite conference?  Many reasons.  This group of people who suffer from DID and those who support and/or treat them are the most dedicated, open and knowledgeable group I have been involved with.  There is no lying, no minimization, no disinformation.  Pain is acknowledged but not dwelt on. Jaime Pollock, the main organizer, is known for her organizational skills, her comedic timing and her immense sensitivity to the suffering of others.  She is completely open about her own journey, but never triggering.  There is an art room and a quiet grounding room with lots of pillows and blankets with student psychology interns available to help as needed.

Remember the movie Sybil?  Well, the real Sybil, Shirley Mason painted her way through her treatment.  There was a beautiful and moving exhibit of some of her paintings during the conference.  Despite the recent book questioning her diagnosis, most people who knew her, and most specialists believe, she was, in fact, DID.  The pictures in this article are some of hers.  Some facts about them: she often painted telephone poles, sail boats (to sail away from her pain?) and yellow, she said, was the color of her mother’s screaming.

Another famous multiple, Truddi Chase, wrote the runaway best seller When Rabbit Howls.  Her daughter, Kari, gave a very moving account of what it was to be the daughter of a multiple growing up.  It was very clear that a distant, mean father was much more of a liability to a growing child than a mother with DID.  Another interesting presentation was a mother-daughter pair from England discussing the same topic.  Carol, who only “discovered” her DID later in life brought some remarkable videos of herself in other personality states (called ‘alters’ or ‘parts’).  Her daughter with much patience and humor described a mother who often could not remember what she had said five minutes ago, but she was fun to play with!  They shared a very dramatic and, at times,  journey of healing which continues today.

On a more serious note, the mental health system in England and other places is severely lacking and there is much international work to be done on educating practitioners not only about the reality of DID, but how to work effectively on integrating painful memories.

Here are a few important facts to know about people with DID:

 1)   DID begins at an early age, usually before 7 but is often not diagnosed until later in life.

2)   DID is always the result of severe and prolonged trauma.  There has to be immense force involved to shatter a mind.

3)   Most people with DID are law-abiding and peaceful people who suffer from extreme internal torment.

4)   Many people with DID grow up to be loving (if somewhat dysfunctional) parents.

5)   Children of parents with DID can thrive, especially with support from the community.

6)   People with DID hold jobs in all sectors of society.  They are preschool teachers, lawyers, police officers, writers, hospice workers, etc.

7)   You cannot tell if someone has DID by looking at them.

8)   With appropriate treatment people can integrate fully and heal from DID and their traumatic histories that were the cause of their problems.

9)   People with DID almost always have problems with losing time.  Often people think they are pathological liars because different alters give different information. Over time they learn how to compensate for these difficulties.

10)  DID is fairly prevalent.  It is estimated that  1 out of 100 people in the USA suffer from DID, and it is found in every country.

 I had the privilege of giving trauma informed yoga classes in the morning and presenting two workshops: one on Yogic Modalities For Healing From PTSD and one on The Effects of Abuse and Trauma on Developing Children. The audiences were engaged, and responsive.  

 If you are a therapist, a physician, someone suffering from DID or you know someone with DID I would highly recommend this yearly conference as a place to learn, to laugh and to commiserate with a group of compassionate and knowledgeable people. It is held in Orlando, Florida every year in late winter.  I feel very grateful to be involved with this amazing group.

 




Find Your ACE Score

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Last year I posted about the largest study you’ve never heard of : the Adverse Childhood Events Study.  ACE has shown by using over 17000 participants data over several years that the more adverse childhood event categories you’ve been exposed to, the higher your chance of illness, obesity, mental problems, and socioeconomic ills.  You do not have to have full blown PTSD to be exposed to these risks.   People with the highest scores died, on average, 20 years sooner than people with the lowest scores.  The good news is that getting treatment and adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors can mitigate your risk.

What is your risk?  Take the questionnaire below:

 

Finding Your ACE Score While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?

or

Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
Yes No If yes enter 1

2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?

or
Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

Yes No If yes enter 1

3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever…
Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?

or

Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
Yes No If yes enter 1

4. Did you often or very often feel that …
No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?

or

________

________

________

Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

5. Did you often or very often feel that …
You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?

or

Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

7. Was your mother or stepmother:
Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?

or
Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?

or
Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?

Yes No If yes enter 1 _______

10. Did a household member go to prison? Yes No If yes enter 1 _______

Now add up your Yes scores:  ___________

For more information go to www.acestudy.org.

 




The Relevance of Mind Control and Mass Shootings

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At least one of the recent spate of murderous shooting rampages show evidence of high level mind control of the perpetrator. The Aurora shooter, James Holmes is reported to have told another inmate that he thought he was in a video game at the time of the shooting and that he had been programmed and rehearsed to complete the shooting at the movie theater.

Crazy, you say?

Well many therapists, many of my colleagues have treated patients with credible stories of mind control perpetrated by factions within the US and other governments. These techniques were developed and honed in the Nazi death camps. Those “technologies” were then imported along with clandestine Nazi scientists into the USA through the infamous Project Paperclip program. Scientists have been perfecting these techniques for decades beginning with the famous MKUltra program and others such as Projects Monarch and Bluebird. These programs are well documented by releases under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Unfortunately under the Bush administration many previously released documents were reclassified or redacted to the point of illegibility. Nevertheless copies remain in the hands of a few.These programs were publicly discontinued several decades ago, but the research and the programming has continued clandestinely under ultra secret black ops programs.

I have heard disclosures from prominent therapists and psychiatrists, one of whom revealed in a public workshop that some of his clients could trace their programming back to “scientist and program” and that he had shared a hallway with Martin K. Orne who used to brag about his ability to make people do anything he wanted. (Orne has sat on the famous and fraudulent False Memory Foundation and is implicated in the MKUltra programs of the 1970s).

Any time therapists and their clients have tried to step forward with this information we have been threatened, attacked and sometimes had our licenses revoked. Therapists have also been harassed with reports of mutilated animals being left at their houses and even break-ins. There has been a profound media silence in the United States about such matters even while Canada publicized a national case of successfully suing and winning a settlement with the CIA over the mind control practices executed in that country.

Today a colleague whom I respect highly sent out a release about this article on her blog about why therapists have not been credible in the media and the attacks to which we have been regularly subjected on behalf of our clients.

I hope you will take a moment to read it, but I must warn you that if this information is new to you or if you have been a victim of these programs, you will find it highly disturbing.

If you want answers and want things to really change you must educate yourself on the unthinkable. These programs must be exposed and disbanded and the thousands of citizens subjected to them require healing apace.

You can find the article here:

Common Forms of Misinformation and Tactics of Disinformation about Psychotherapy for Trauma Originating in Ritual Abuse and Mind Control by Ellen Lacter, Ph.D.







Helping Kids Recover From Hurricane Sandy

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Children can be particularly vulnerable to distressing weather and events. Most parents have not been taught to look for signs that children are under stress, or even intense stress. This blog, by request, will give you some tips on helping your children recover from Sandy.

First know that your child is stressed. Some signs that children are stressed include:

– repetitive talk about the event 
– repetitive drawing of the event
– unusually irritable
– unusually withdrawn
– needy and clingy
– more forgetful than usual
– having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows”
– hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
– disturbed eating
– disturbed sleep

We forget what it is like to be a child. Under 14 years of age, children have some awareness that they cannot survive without adult assistance; this is especially true for very young children. Children watch their parents very carefully and take their cues from them about whether they should be upset or not. In addition children have losses in the storm that adults may trivialize or not realize the depth of the loss. For instance, a parent may not know that a stuffed animal was more like a best friend, or that a destroyed work of their art has taken away a precious sense of self. Because parents are suffering their own losses and in survival mode they may not feel like children are dealing with anything significant, but, of course, they are. 

Here are some ways to help your child heal in the aftermath:

1) Limit media exposure of the event. Adults tend to watch traumatic events obsessively but we know from 9/11 that this can create traumas in kids who may not understand that they are seeing the same event repeated rather than several different events. TV may make them think the world is ending

2) Set some “processing” time aside every day for your kids where they can express their feelings. Young children (3yrs-8yrs) might be encouraged to color, draw a picture, or engage in puppet play. 8-12 years olds might want more information about storms, or just to spend time playing games. (Experienced child therapists know that most kids need to be occupied with a game or activity in order to talk about their feelings.) Teenagers may be able to sit and talk if they are mature, and are invited to participate in a judgment free zone. Also, ball throwing and basketball hoop shooting are excellent ways to get kids to open up. During this time turn off your phone and your own agendas and create a lot of space to just listen or answer questions.

3) Try to keep a normal rhythm to the day, even if you are in a shelter. Have regular mealtimes, structured activities and a bed time.

4) Speaking of bedtime, be aware that sleep may be difficult at first. Kids may be having unpleasant dreams processing the storm. Be patient and non-judgmental about this, while helping maintain a schedule.

5) Monitor your own reactions. Calm yourself down as much as possible. Do not share horrible new stories with your kids or in earshot of them. They will be alarmed but will not tell you.

6) Understand that quiet kids may not be OK. Invite them to play with you or help you with simple chores. Reinforce any sharing with your attention and love.

7) Provide lots of hugs and affection. Take time for yourself and for them. You both need the contact!

8) If your child has a pronounced behavioral change reach out for professional help ASAP. Red Cross will have referrals for free and low-income therapy professionals.

9) Be active in reassuring your children that life will get better. Hold the optimism for them, even if you are feeling discouraged. This is kind and wise parenting.

10) Lastly, cultivate patience! Be patient with your kids and be patient with the city and be patient with yourself. Stop and breathe as needed. Practice self-care and stay aware of your own needs! Then you won’t resist the children’s needs when they are up.

Know that there are so many of us pulling for all of you and your kids. Be well and be safe!







Help! My Partner Has PTSD: Seven Strategies for Coping as a Couple

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If you are partnered with someone who is struggling with PTSD or you both have PTSD, you know your life together is challenged in some very profound ways. Fights can be explosive, resulting in fireworks or endless stony silences. Misunderstandings can abound. The non-PTSD partner may start to develop secondary or vicarious trauma just being exposed to the intense PTSD in their loved one. Life can start to feel very unpredictable, like threading one’s way through a minefield. It can be easy to start walking on eggshells or conversely getting fed up and moving away from each other. Love and connection are harder to feel. PTSD challenges couples like nothing else. Waiting it out doesn’t work and neither do threats or force. What to do?

1) Educate yourself. PTSD is a whole body process that affects every aspect of the human being. It has predictable stages (see my book, The Trauma Tool Kit) and effects on the person and the partnership. You would educate yourself if your partner had a major medical illness, right? This is no different. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

2) Set some clear boundaries around behavior in the relationship. Just because someone is suffering does not give them the right to be abusive. The anger/fear response is hardwired and amped up in full-blown PTSD. Often people with PTSD dissociate when they are angry and don’t even realize what they are doing. Sit down with your partner, ahead of time, and set rules for what is tolerable and allowed in the relationship and what is not. These can change over time depending on where each of you and your life circumstance. For instance, shouting might be OK if it is just the two of you, but if you have a child in the next room, shouting can become off-limits behavior. Violence or abusive behavior is never to be tolerated under any circumstances.

3) Learn to take time-outs, or, as we call them around here, amygdala resets. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that is the crisis response center. When it goes on red alert it highjacks the brain to deal with threats, whether real or perceived. With the amygdala in the red zone, people are very close to being out of control or they are out of control. Taking 20 minutes, the average reset time, to reboot the brain for both parties, will lend itself to a more peaceful and safe outcome. Either partner should be able to call time-out at any time. Be sure to make it a time out not an end to the discussion. Always come back together to resolve the issue at hand. If it is just too explosive get into couple’s therapy. Which reminds me…

4) Get into couple’s therapy! More research is showing that couple’s treatment can be very helpful in coping with PTSD. Individual therapy is great, but couple’s issues are complex and require their own special interventions. Not all therapists like to do or can do couples’ work well. Look for someone with previous education and training or with a degree in family work, who also is knowledgeable about trauma. Even a few sessions can make a tremendous difference. If you are worried about money (and who isn’t these days) know that there are many organizations that provide these services for low and no cost. If you are a veteran or married to one, you may be even more eligible. If money is still on your mind, remind yourself of how expensive divorces are, as long as you both shall live.

5) Study triggers together. Big rages and emotional swings are almost always brought on by triggers to PTSD. A trigger can be anything at all. I worked with a couple whose partner was an Iraq war veteran. He became severely triggered one afternoon by three events happening in close succession: he saw someone in the parking lot of the restaurant with camouflage clothing; he got a freeze headache, and he got closed in when more people joined his table. The clothing and feeling of being trapped are obvious triggers, the freeze headaches not so much. But it turned out he’d had a number of them in the desert, and it had become a trigger. The more triggers you figure out together, in the calm times, the easier it becomes to avoid setting the PTSD partner off, or resolving it more quickly if you do. This is an empowering step that often brings couples closer together. In this case, the couple avoided, what would have been in the past an angry meltdown on his part. His partner then could respond with concern and compassion.

6) Make healing PTSD a joint task in your relationship. Strategize together. Discuss medical options. Open up lines of trust and communication. Often a spouse or partner is the only person to tell one’s story to with complete safety and trust. Don’t avoid the issues just because your partner wants to. Avoidance is part of the disease of PTSD. Don’t collude with it.

7) Join together in mental and physical fitness. Develop couple’s routines around calming down the mind and body on a daily basis. This could be through prayer, meditation, tai chi, yoga, or long walks. The evidence is pouring in daily about the beneficial effects of calming techniques on PTSD. You will both be better for it!







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