Miliatry trauma Articles

Gardening’s Unique Potential for Healing Trauma

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

blueflowergardenThere is a good chance that you either are a gardener, you live with one or you know one. As such, you know that whether you are tending to potted geraniums on the deck, prizing the tomatoes in your yard or creating a lush horticultural expanse…there is something about gardening.


The Ohio Kidnapping Case:The Moral Injury of Witnessing Atrocity

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

oldcoupleonbenchIn the past two weeks it has been difficult to be anywhere without reading or hearing about the Ohio Kidnapping, 10 year captivity, sexual abuse, torture and beatings causing miscarriages to three young woman and one daughter, locked in a neighborhood house by one man.

Both in and outside of my office people have commented and questioned:

  • How does something like this happen?
  • I can’t watch the news anymore.
  • How could the neighbors not know?
  • Why is there such evil in the world?
  • I could never have survived. 
  • Can these women ever be the same?

Judith Herman tells us that a traumatic event is one that has the capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death, or witnessing that in another.

When the trauma is that of nature, we speak of disaster.

When the trauma is man-made, we speak of atrocities.

It is worth considering that in face of this Ohio atrocity, whether we live in that neighborhood or witness the horror in the virtual community of viewers, we cannot easily shake this inhumanity because it is not only traumatizing— it evokes moral injury.

According to psychologist Brett Litz, moral injury is the (social, psychological, spiritual, behavioral) impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent or bearing witness to acts that transgress our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.

Much like the impact of bearing witness to the horror of the Holocaust, the Genocide in Rwanda, or the modern slavery of human sex trafficking, the Ohio kidnapping transgresses our moral code.

  • We are compelled to talk about it, read about it, rage and despair in face of it because it assaults our beliefs and implicates our humanity.
  • We not only identify with the fear and terror of victims, we fear that we could resonate with the guilt and shame of perpetrators.
  • It disturbs us on many levels.
  • As humans it is beyond us to accept that one of us could do this to another.
  • Yael Danieli suggests that in face of moral horror, we suffer the “Guilt of the Just.”

How Do We Deal …


Surviving and Succeeding in Face of Uncertainty: Six Strategies

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

uncertaintyEvents like the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation, The Newtown CT School Shooting and the many traumatic events they echo, assault us with the uncertainties of life.

Leaving death and destruction in their path, such events undermine our necessary denial that life is predictable, that children can be safe and that we can be in control.

For a time, we are left wounded, shaken, vulnerable and afraid. Caught in the traumatic moment, we fill in the future unknowns with expectations of more of the same trauma so that next time we will be ready.

Eventually, despite the memory, the extreme loss, the bodily injuries and even the fear, we want our lives back, we want our children to play, and we want to smile…

We need to find a way to survive and at times even succeed with life’s uncertainties.

Here are six strategies that may begin to answer that need. Some you may already use. Some you may want to consider.

Validation of True Self

  • Often recognition of who we are and what we need in life out-trumps the fear of uncertainty. In her personal description of running the Boston Marathon, runner and blogger, Chrissy Horan describes that although finishing as the first bomb went off, she has struggled with grief and sadness for those killed and injured, with “what if” she had walked through the last water stops, with tears and with questions of safety. Notwithstanding the uncertainty, however, she like many throughout the country put her sneakers back on to run. As she says, “ It is just what I do.”
  • Not dissimilar are Long Islanders now six months after Hurricane Sandy, who report that faced with extreme weather patterns, altered and destroyed shore lines, partial renovations, houses raised and more hurricanes coming–they are afraid. Many have for the first time considered leaving. Most will wait and see. They report a “magnetic draw” to the water. As one man who feels that his family could not survive another Hurricane Sandy said, “We don’t have very long memories . . . We live on an island and this is …

Understanding Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma and Disaster

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“Is Anyone Else Angry?”

anger and traumaTrauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.

Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.

  • You are not alone if you feel angry about what has happened.
  • Essentially you are suffering. The problem is that when anger persists–it obscures everything else.
  • The ability to make meaning of it and redirect it, keeps it from holding you back and taking more from you.

Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.

Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response

It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.

The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.

  • We blow up at the relatives who keep asking if everything is starting to get easier.
  • We storm off the line that feels too long at Starbucks.
  • We find ourselves fighting over everything with our partner.
  • We are driving faster and yelling more than usual.

Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.

One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …


Tattoos After Trauma-Do They Have Healing Potential?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.

Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.

Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.

While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.

  • Across generations and wars, those in the military have used tattoos as tributes to fallen comrades.
  • In the aftermath of 9/11, civilians and firefighters throughout the world choose tattoos as an indelible reminder of the  terrorist assault, the courage of First Responders and the loss of so many.
  • Sociologists, Glen Gentry and Derek Alderman estimate that there are thousands of Katrina and New Orleans-related tattoos reflecting both horrific images of crumbling buildings and gushing floodwater, as well as signs and symbols of a beloved city.
  • In the wake of the unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy, tattoos and tattoo fundraisers have emerged. The message of one seems particularly meaningful- “ Hold Steadfast.”

Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?

A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.

Healing From the Body Out

  • Whether a traumatic event involves a car accident, escape from freezing floodwaters or the loss of a child, it is registered in our body in terms of the survival reflexes of fight, flight and freeze.
  • Encoded under these conditions, our memory of the traumatic event is not registered as narrative, but as fragments of highly charged visual images, bodily feelings, tactile sensations or sensory reactivity to reminders of the event.
  • As such, trauma experts encourage us to work from the body out in the course of recovery and healing—to attend to the sensations, senses, and images that carry the imprint of trauma.

The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …


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 …


Finding New Meaning In Life After Trauma:Three Guidelines

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

This weekend the Wounded Warrior Project came to our town. Many had the opportunity to run the 4-mile race next to veterans and their families. The t-shirt of the young man in front of me read “ New Year’s Eve 5K, Afghanistan. ” Many were wearing shirts that read, “ If you Like Freedom- Thank a Vet.”  The father of a vet wore a shirt that read, “ We’ve got them back-Now Welcome Them Home.”

As of August 12, 2012 there are 49,251 wounded service members, 320,000 suffering with Traumatic Brain Injury and 400,000 with PTSD. We have lost 6,549 of our men and women to war.

On the 11th Anniversary of 9/11, thousands remembered an unprecedented terrorist attack on this country that took the lives of close to 3,000 worldwide and plunged us into war. It was an event shared publically by the world and suffered privately by too many.

How Do We Go On In The Aftermath Of Pain And Traumatic Loss?

The answer offered by well-known author and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankel is consistent with positive psychology, definitions of posttraumatic growth and the nature of the human spirit to hope.

  • He suggests that we find new meaning in life, something that he recognizes as difficult in face of the tragic aspects of life –pain, guilt and death.
  • Frankl suggests that it is not a search for happiness, but for a reason to be happy despite suffering.

Here are three possible guidelines for finding your way to new meaning in life after trauma:

Meaning by the Hour

In his wisdom, Frankl clarified that finding a new meaning in life does not mean arriving at a single goal that will direct the rest of your life, or make sense of evil. Rather finding new meaning in life should be translated to finding a reason to go on, to having a purpose, to feeling valuable in the hour, the day, the week.

A 14-year-old adolescent girl, who lost her Dad on 9/11, has struggled for these 11 years with shyness, loss of two grandfathers, few friends and the …


Recognizing and Understanding Depression After Trauma

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

depression after traumaDisaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.

Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.

While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.

Depression Occurs after Trauma:

  • A Rand corporation study reports that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan – 300,000 in all – report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression.
  • In the first long-term study of the health impacts of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse on September 11, 2001, findings indicate that seven percent of police officers were diagnosed with depression, nine percent with PTSD and eight percent with panic disorder. Twenty eight percent of other rescue and recovery workers had symptoms of depression.
  • A survey of survivors from the Oklahoma City bombing showed that 23% had depression after the bombing.
  • Depression affects approximately 15 percent to 25 percent of cancer patients.
  • After a myocardial infarction, the incidence of major depression is from 15 percent to 20 percent, and an additional 27 percent of patients develop minor depression.

Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.

Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.


Does Hope Really Make a Difference? Scientific Findings

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Almost everyone has some experience with hope: We hope for the best. We hang on to hope. We despair when we lose hope.

It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.

Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.

Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.

“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible

“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle

“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus

“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson

Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?

There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.


The Denver Movie Shooting: A Dark Catastrophe

Friday, July 20th, 2012

movie tragedyThe definition of catastrophe is an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering. The early morning shooting and killing of 12 people and wounding of others as they eagerly began viewing the latest Batman movie; “The Dark Knight Rises,” tragically qualifies.

As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families or resonate with memories of having faced similar pain. In the face of traumatic loss we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events.

We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers, there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief.

Here are some suggestions worth knowing and owning when life has suddenly become so darkened.


Healing Together
for Couples


Archives



Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



More on
Relationships


Healing Together

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!

Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



Recent Comments
  • Megalodon: Lovely piece. Thanksgiving was rough on me the first few years but now I give thanks for the many things...
  • Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP: Thanks John- It is a very important day for healing and connecting – Best...
  • John: Thanks for reminding us about ISSLD on Saturday. I thought this was a powerful post with lots of helpful and...
  • Stephen: I suffer from nerve damage which is unbearable. Let me hold a hot torch to your foot and see how far you can...
  • sueclark: I am the wife. My husband was having an affair for a month before I left him. I knew he was having his...
Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code



Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!