trauma therapy

Is this Therapist a Well-Trained Professional or Unqualified Hack?

I once met an art therapist who was providing individual therapy for PTSD and had just learned what a flashback was—from the client she was treating. Yet therapist can also mean licensed clinician with years of training and supervision. Meanwhile a good friend of mine just became a coach after years of rigorous coursework and consultation—and this on top of the fact that she’s a licensed professional counselor. (Denver peeps check her out). But there are other life coaches with only a few hours of training. Obviously, "therapist" and "coach" can mean a lot of different things. Here’s your guide to sorting out the highly trained professionals from the unqualified hacks (or to prevent you from accidentally paying money to a hack-creating organization when you’re trying to become a qualified professional!).

Certificates, Accreditations and Licenses, oh my! What does this stuff mean?

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Are You Re-Enacting These Trauma Patterns in Therapy?

Patterns that reenact past traumatic relationships can be introduced into therapy by either the client or the therapist.   When a client is playing out previous experiences, it can be therapeutic for therapist to skillfully manage the introduction of one of these dynamics. Conversely it can be traumatic for an unskilled therapist to confirm the client's previous experiences of unhealthy interaction.

When a client introduces one of these dynamics, a skilled therapist will pass through the content (why can’t you call my landlord) and explore the process of the issue (what does it mean when I say “no”. Other people in your life said “no” and sometimes that was life-threatening, like when you were being abused and asked for help).

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4 Great Books About Trauma That You Didn’t Know Were About Trauma

I’ve been reading a lot of really good books lately that are teaching me things about trauma and I can’t resist the urge to pass along some of their wisdom. These books are not overtly about personal trauma experiences, but they teach about how systems respond, how people can be resilient and above all, recover and just may teach you something about your own experience.

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Lessons from the Sea

Ever watched the tide roll in, á la Smokey Robinson? Every year seems to bring new ways to be entertained and it’s often difficult to be content watching more repetitive phenomenon, like a crackling fire or a sleeping baby. Yet both of these can be transfixing, and as more people practice mindfulness they discover the peace that comes with centering on a recurring act.

I think of watching high tide rise. In typical American fashion, I am searching for the apex, that point where it will go no higher. How high will that be? How will I know?

Lesson One: No Constant Rise

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Body Image Trauma

As an American woman I am conditioned to dislike my body. I am especially aware of this after having lived in Ghana for more than a year, where I am most definitely not conditioned to dislike my body. Actually, I'm affirmed almost daily. (No, catcalls and whistles from strange men are not affirming. That's not what I'm referencing.)

Back to American culture: We are taught to catalog each flaw. Endless commercials, billboards, and advertisements tell us 1) we are wanting but 2) their product will fix the problem. This message is accompanied by a relentless string of airbrushed images featuring perfect skin, hair, curves and “thigh gap,” (which is totally incongruous with size D breasts).

No body or face can meet an artificially created ideal. Not even the actual people in the photos measure up to their "after" images. Different people handle this in different ways.

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Trauma: How to Help Firefighters and Police

In the previous post we started talking with Elizabeth Barney about trauma in first responders, like police, paramedics and firefighters.  Today we continue with a discussion about trauma treatment.

Q: There is often stigma for first responders to seek treatment.  Are there studies or known strategies that help reduce stigma? 

First responders delay or avoid seeking treatment for mental health issues for a variety of reasons. There is little research on mental health and responders that is substantive. Some good resilience research exists, and I feel that it could easily apply to the first responder community. Dr. Everly has done some phenomenal work identifying factors that decrease a person’s resilience - role ambiguity, lack of job satisfaction, role overload and burnout; all of which can be seen in the first responder community. His work also highlights that increased resilience can be seen when a person has strong support including leadership at work, hobbies and a healthy lifestyle.

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First Responder Trauma

In these next two posts, we talk to Elizabeth Barney, who has almost ten years' experience with first responders and trauma, both as a first responder herself, and as a public health expert on responder resilience.  Read more about her experience below.

Q: Who are first responders?

A: Anyone who is on the front-line for emergencies.  This can include fire-fighters, police officers and ambulance staff.  Other officials respond to emergencies as well, though in a different capacity, like morgue technicians, emergency dispatch and on-scene crisis mental health teams.

Q. Are there any common myths or misconceptions about first responder mental health that you would like to correct?

A. Many stigmas and myths about general mental health apply in the first responder community as well. I think the myth that mental illness is for weak, or weak-minded people is still prevalent among first responders. First responders serve others, and it can be very hard for a responder to solicit the same help they so often provide. Some of that is bravado; it seems that some responders feel the need to show an impermeable façade – even when they aren’t on scene. I think there has been a very positive conversation in the first responder community lately about being proactive and addressing stress and repeated trauma before it becomes consuming. Programs like Psychological First Aid, CISM and Code Green are helping that dialogue.

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coping skills

A New Way To Make a Decision

Stuck in a problem? Not sure what you should do?

It’s so easy for us to get focused on a decision that we lose perspective of its place in our life. I mean, we know that decisions like getting together, breaking up, having a kid, living child-free, getting married or divorced are all HUGE, life-changing decisions. What I mean is that we get caught up in that one question and stare really, really hard at it. But there’s a reason the saying is “losing the forest for the tree.” If you’re trying to decide whether or not to cut down a tree, spending time hugging the tree itself isn’t going to tell you about the impact on the forest. Only gaining perspective on the forest will tell you whether it’s a sustainable harvest.

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