Archive for November, 2012

Finding The Healing Potential In Holidays: Unexpected Ways

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

If you were a bit thrown to learn that Thanksgiving was on for this Thursday and that the Holidays were closing in fast – you were not alone.

Given the unprecedented destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the continued sacrifices of our military, the escalation of international strife, the threatened fiscal cliff and the personal storms most people face, it has been difficult enough to negotiate daily life- much less, think about the holidays.

Do We Really Need The Holidays Now?

Yes. We need the holidays because if we can look past the details and avoid getting trapped in expectations, holidays hold great healing potential. In ways we hardly expect, they provide many of the ingredients recognized as essential to the stages of healing and recovery after traumatic events.

Physical and Psychological Safety

We know that in the aftermath of trauma and disaster, people are most comforted and stabilized by familiar networks of support. The Holidays provide this.

  • In the case of survivors of Hurricane Sandy, we know that families embraced each other and gathered together earlier than expected and may stay together longer than planned. For them, as well as for other familiar networks be they a military unit, a medical staff, evacuees at a shelter or a few students far from home, a Thanksgiving dinner has the potential to stop the clock, take them off task and offer physical and emotional sustenance.
  • No matter how many hours they have worked, cried or served together, to stop and gather with the mutual goal of celebrating and giving thanks reduces the isolation and alienation inherent in the challenges they face. The shared experience adds to their cohesion and the sense of being held together. When the festivity ends – the benefits and memories do not.
  • Food plays a major role in holidays. As such it is as emotionally healing as it is physically gratifying. Emotionally charged events, be they wonderful or traumatic, are remembered and encoded in the senses – the body remembers. As such, food is evocative of powerful memories. While it may seem small, the long awaited fragrance …

Finding The Way Home From War: A Promise and a Process

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

The war in Iraq has officially ended and the president promises to bring the troops home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. For all of our military and all of their families, finding the way home from war is a treasured event and a complex process.

For families, homecoming involves readjustment  in terms of time, space, roles, and expectations. For couples, homecoming means finding a way to integrate all that has happened to each partner and the relationship they share. Whether one or both have been to war, on many levels both partners have to “come home” together. For couples that means coming to know themselves and their partners in old and new ways.

How Does that Happen?

Couples do this in their own way, in their own time, knowing that they are not alone. They often find that even more complicated than the hours waiting to be rescued, the hours of driving in the dessert, the flight from Bagdad, and the applause and embrace of those waiting, is the journey home they will take in the many months that follow.

Considerations:

Listed below are some considerations gleaned from others who have traveled this path as well as from those who have worked with and guided them home.

The Excitement and Fear of Homecoming

  • It comes as a surprise to realize that for as much as everyone is counting the moments to be re-connected with his or her partner, many are also very anxious about homecoming – “Will he still love me?” “Will I still love him?” “Will she expect me to be the same?” “How much will she have changed?”
  • You are not alone if you are both excited and nervous. If you can, savor those first Kodak moments of connection. You will build upon them as you get to know each other again.
  • If those first moments just don’t unfold as dreamed, give yourself time and trust your coping skills and support networks.

Emotional Time Warp

In some ways homecomings throw you into an emotional time warp.  One day you are military serving with dust, death, comrades and combat and then -You are …


Reducing Disaster’s Impact: A Simple Guide to Psychological First Aid

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Nationally and internationally, the most endorsed response in the early aftermath of a disaster is Psychological First Aide.  Used by those responding to disasters, it is a set of guidelines that you can learn to use for yourself and others.

Just as knowing certain aspects of Medical First Aid can help you minimize injury and reduce future medical complications, knowing and using certain aspects of Psychological First Aid can help you reduce the emotional impact of a disaster and its consequences.

Here are Five Steps for Using Psychological First Aid

 I. Establish Physical Safety

  • Given the body-mind connection, it is necessary to secure physical and medical safety as a first step to psychological safety.
  • In securing what is needed to maintain physical safety (food, shelter, water, heat) it is often helpful to access options and then make a temporary or working plan that can be updated. This often mobilizes people to safety, as they know they are not making permanent decisions.  

 Families have moved in together in arrangements they never would have dreamed possible-as a way of keeping each other safe.

II. Establish Psychological Safety

  • Accept and normalize your feelings.Recognize that feelings of disbelief, fear, terror, helplessness, and anger are very common to the situation you have faced. For most people they may persist as difficulty sleeping, intrusive thoughts and memories, or a sense of numbing for a week or two and then dissipate.
  • In those cases where someone displays a sense of disorientation, unremitting panic or inability to cope, emergency medical care is warranted.
  • You have often heard the expression “ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” – Well, Not So Fast.
  • Consider that while people differ, for most of us, it takes a while to adapt to a crisis situation. Even as people are busy surviving and helping others survive, survivors are often feeling a mix of relief, pain and uncertainty. It makes sense.
  • Recognize that in disasters – SMALL THINGS ARE BIG in making us feel less helpless.
  • Look for those things you can control. Set up achievable goals- be it playing a game with the children; finding …

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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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