Jonestown: What Happened?

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

Jim-Jones-bwOn November 18, 1978, 913 U.S. citizens died in the jungle of Guyana in what is usually described as mass suicide. The most simplified version of the telling, the one that most people first encounter when hearing of the event, is that over 900 people lined up quietly and quaffed cyanide laced Kool-Aid. As a trauma therapist, I was curious what sort of manipulation could lead to such a thing, and found that, as is nearly always the case, truth is a lot more complicated than legend. For one thing, it wasn’t even Kool-Aid, and that’s the least of the misinformation.

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Need Help Restoring Your Faith in Humanity?

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

IMG_0506Unkind words, rude people, inconsideration or just feeling burned out are just a few of the many, many things that can make us feel like the work is a callous, uncaring place.  But it’s not!  Not always, anyway.  Sometimes we need a reminder that there are people who are champions for others, that there is kindness, that unconditional love is real thing.  Here are five books that can do wonders to lift the spirit and provide evidence of what wonderful things people really are capable of.

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Top 5 Trauma Posts You May Have Missed

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC02722This week is After Trauma’s one year anniversary and this the 100th post!  The previous post listed the 5 most popular posts.  These are my top 5 favorite posts, many of weren’t that widely read.  So here they are and why I think you should give them a chance!

Does Your Culture Define You as Mentally Ill?

Not every culture has the same definitions of mental illness and the way a culture explains and treats people who have mental illnesses has a big impact on how well they do.  For example, in Zanzibar where schizophrenic symptoms are seen as possession or cursed, people tend to be higher functioning.  Why?  Well, if you’re doing better some days, then you must not be possessed anymore and you are accepted as being well.  Then if there is a symptom relapse, then people just think you’re possessed again.  It’s easier for individuals to be accepted as they are, whereas in the disease model, someone with schizophrenia has schizophrenia and once they’re on disability they are disabled and it’s often perceived as a static condition.  There are, of course, real cons to the possession model, but the fact that there are pros is usually news to a lot of people.  Read more in the article about culture’s impact on mental illness!

When Words Fail in Therapy

Most talk therapists just do that–talk.  But I think that any competent therapist should be prepared to meet their clients where they are and many people just aren’t that comfortable opening up with words.  Therapists should be able to use visual, kinesthetic, music, dance, rhythm, whatever it takes–and these can still be done within evidence based treatments.

Why I Use Placebo Effects in Therapy

Placebo effects are fascinating and the name is misleading–they aren’t just related to sugar pills.  Did you know that when pain medication is administered without announcing it to the patient it has a much, much smaller effect than if patients are told something like, “Here is your pain medication, you will feel much better soon.”  Even for something very real like pain medication, the mind body connection still has a huge role in how it helps us.  How does this translate to therapy?  Read on!

How to Play as an Adult

Not only is play crucial for childhood development it’s really important for adults to do too!  What do I mean by play and why exactly is it important?  Find out!

Wait, Trauma Symptoms are Adaptive?

My favorite article: Trauma symptoms are a normal reaction to an abnormal event.  I explain how each PTSD symptom is actually a good thing your brain did to protect you from a traumatic event, but now its gone amok.


This Year’s Top 5 After Trauma Posts

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC01069This week is the one year anniversary of After Trauma. When I started writing, I knew that I knew some stuff about trauma and I knew that I didn’t know a lot of things about trauma but I had no idea how much there was to learn! Sometimes it feels like I’ve still barely scratched the surface. I have learned so much from researching posts and interviewing experts that I know I would be a shadow of the clinician that I am today if it weren’t for the past year. I have been profoundly grateful for the comments and feedback that spurred additional posts. If you have other posts you would like to see, let me know in the comments!

Here are the top 5 most popular posts:

Empathy’s Relationship to PTSD

5 Things To Know About EMDR

Why Do Flashbacks Happen?

What is Complex Trauma and Dissociation: Interview with Bethany Brand

5 Dimensions of Self Care

Why Do We Like to Be Scared?

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

jackolanternGetting scared is a serious business: every year people pay millions to see scary movies that range from psychological thrillers to grotesque carnage. We also go to haunted houses, read scary books, tell scary stories, watch scary tv shows and play pranks to startle each other, all in the name of fun. But if REALLY being frightened is no joke, why do we like to be scared?

Why aren’t scary experiences traumatic?

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When You Think You’re Not Enough

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC00511Ever feel like your worth is determined by your output?  That you gotta earn your way to respect with blood, sweat and tears?  This is a message that we get a lot.  Conversation circles at parties can feel like a competition called “Who’s the most overcommitted person here?”

I usually feel like I’m not doing enough.  Even in graduate school, when I was attending two graduate programs, completing a 20-hour a week internship for the social work program, working another job to pay bills, volunteering on Sundays at a homeless shelter, going out with friends and dating, and I STILL didn’t feel like I was doing enough.  Fortunately, I learned to pull waaaaaay back and I do a lot less now.  But I still struggle with those voices that say “not enough.  you don’t do enough.  you’re not enough and you’re failing.”

So do my clients.  A lot of the work before the work in therapy is helping the client reach a place of wholeness.  Does that sound peculiar–like that would be the final step?

As Brené Brown says, healing happens from a place of wholeness.  You first have to believe you are worthy of healing, worthy of therapy, worthy of feeling decent before you can start the therapeutic work to get that way.

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Need Laughter? Tickle Your Funny Bone with These 4 Websites

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

Laughing is known to have all sorts of short term and long term benefits.  It relieves stress, improves circulation, increases your pain threshold, relieves pain, and of course, improves your mood.  Turns out, it doesn’t really matter as much what’s causing your laughter.  So on that note, if you’re need a quick pick-me-up (or an hours long diversion), check out some of these Tumblr websites:

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Why A Good Complex Trauma Therapist is Hard to Find

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC00185I recently heard from two former clients that they have not been successful in finding new therapists since I moved. They’ve tried new therapists, of course, but they have found that what “qualifies” the trauma therapists they’ve met is the fact that they’ve treated trauma. But doing something over and over again doesn’t mean I do it well, it just means that I’m an expert in how I’m doing it. I can practice hitting tennis balls everyday for years, but if I’ve been practicing hitting them wrong, then I’m no tennis master; I’m just really good at hitting tennis balls badly. No, only perfect practice makes perfect. Experience plus training plus good supervision is what can produce a good trauma therapist.

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