3 Ways to Tell if Someone is Stuck

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC04226When trauma happens, there’s a fissure between then and now. I’ve had the sense that I’m a different person before and after and I’ve heard this echoed from others. Most people who experience a trauma event don’t develop PTSD, but for most everyone recovery can still take some time while we sort ourselves out.

But sometimes people get stuck. Stuck in what happened, stuck in their symptoms, even stuck in being a victim.

Where’s the line between recovery and wallowing?

How do you know if you’re simply taking the time you need or dwelling? Even more difficult, how can you tell with a loved one? Here are three signs that someone is stuck

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When Words Fail in Therapy

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

Client’s rendition of qualities she wishes she that she had. The angel represents how unattainable she felt they are.

If you think of art, music, movement and playing as methods of communicating and you want to see more of that in your therapy, see if you can get your therapist to work with you. If you’re assigned homework in CBT, see if there is a way you can do it by painting or writing a song or acting something out. Therapists should be able to meet their clients where they are, and help you find your truest self, BE your truest self. If you can better communicate through color or movement or rhythm, seize that! Here’s how it works:

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Treatment of Dissociative Disorders with Bethany Brand

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH
This week, we get to hear from Bethany Brand, Ph.D., internationally recognized expert in trauma and dissociative disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder. Catch up with Part I: Complex Trauma and Dissociation and Part II: Dissociative Identity Disorder, Explained. Today we learn about the largest and only international treatment outcome study on DID, and what answers it yields…

S: How did the TOP DD study come about?
B: The Treatment of Patients with Dissociative Disorders (TOP DD) study started in 2007. The first study was a naturalistic observational study that lasted 30 months. This means that we recruited almost 300 therapist-patient pairs from 19 countries, and then simply followed them as they did “therapy as usual.” It went for 30 months in order to get more treatment data. Because treatment is so long for people with dissociative disorders, it’s very difficult to do randomized control trials, where you assign half to treatment and half to control groups that get no treatment. These clients, by definition, are often very self-destructive and suicidal so it’s not ethical to deprive them of treatment. Since we do know that DID treatment is helpful, it would be unethical to withhold it.
But we also wanted to know how therapists who treat DID are doing. We didn’t ask them to change their treatment at all, and we just observed the outcome of their work through the assessment measures. We had both patients and therapists completing assessments 4 times over the 2 and a half years.

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Dissociative Identity Disorder, Explained: An Interview With Bethany Brand

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

minds-bethany-brand 2013This week, we get to hear from Bethany Brand, Ph.D., internationally recognized expert in trauma and dissociative disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder. Part I is here…

S: Why the controversy and stigma with Dissociative Identity Disorder?
B: When I was at my internship at George Washington University we had a patient who said she had DID—it was MPD back then—and I was very skeptical. I have to admit I doubted the reality of DID. I got an impromptu consultation from Judy Armstrong at Shepard Pratt about the patient’s psychological testing results who worked with the Trauma Disorders Unit. She said that the patient showed a number of features common in the test results of DID patients. That was one of the early influences that made me more open minded about the disorder. Many clinicians become more open minded when they learn about dissociation and how to assess for it, then meet a client who has severe dissociation. It doesn’t look the stereotyped way Hollywood portrays it.

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What is Complex Trauma and Dissociation? Interview Series with Bethany Brand

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH
minds-bethany-brand 2013This week, we get to hear from Bethany Brand, Ph.D., internationally recognized expert in trauma and dissociative disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder. Full bio below.

S: How did your interest in dissociative disorders start?
B: I found out in high school that a friend of mine was being sexually abused by her dad, as were her two sisters. He was an official in their church and it was startling to me.  It looked like she was all together.  So as a high schooler, I started learning a little bit about trauma and  over the next few years, her sisters began to have a lot of trouble, and they’ve had a lot of psychiatric troubles for decades now.

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What is Vicarious Trauma?

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC01366 - Version 2Here’s a quiz about what types of exposures lead to secondary trauma (assume they meet the other symptom criteria). See if you can identify which people had the type of experiences that lead to secondary trauma.

A. Homicide detective has been working murder scenes for several years. Lately, images from several cases keep popping up as he goes about his daily routine.

B.  A man who observed his father beating his mother repeatedly now struggles to connect with women he’s dating, and has poor emotional regulation.

C. Sexual assault hotline counselor has been having nightmares and is suspicious of men she encounters.

D. You felt anxious for weeks after the 9/11 attacks

E. A man supports his girlfriend after she’s been assaulted, including hearing her tell her story a few times. Now he experiences bouts of rage at small inconveniences.

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4 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC02967Gratitude is an important ingredient in happiness and resilience. Studies show that people who are more grateful are also happier. We also know that with a little bit of practice, it’s pretty easy to lift your overall sense of gratitude.    Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology recommends the following to help cultivate the feeling of being grateful: for our lives, for our relationships, for what we’ve overcome.  Even if you’re in the midst of the overcoming, these habits can help give some perspective to what you currently have going for you. And I think that when we’re in a low spot and feeling least like taking stock of our disposition, it can be particularly important to do just that.  Seligman’s four tips:

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Why I Use Placebo Effects in Therapy

By Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

DSC02541So it’s totally not ethical for my doctor to give me a sugar pill and tell me it will make me feel happier, more energetic and confident. But the evidence shows that if she did, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll feel happier, more energetic and confident.

In order to compare new treatments to no treatments without participants knowing, researchers started using placebos in clinical trials. Now they were able to measure something that doctors have known for centuries: people receiving fake treatment often get better. There are many reasons for this: depending on the condition, people can get better on their own, or they get better at coping. But sometimes, they seem to get better as a result of the sham treatment.

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Recent Comments
  • Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH: I think you’re right–it does seem like a way to say “it’s for the...
  • annonmous: Yes things are learned by trauma survivors that may not have to be learned by the general population, but...
  • Lucille: Thank you so much for highlighting quality, compassionate research on treating complex trauma. Even though...
  • Tess: Thankyou Dr Brand. I have been dealing with trauma related dissociation for years and lately it has worsened....
  • Shel: Hey SG, I feel that a pro/con series would re-ignite a lot of the confusion and bewilderment… Having a...
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