Do I Have Trauma? Why Do the Same Things Keep Happening?

Does it feel like the same destructive things keep happening, that you date the same people, leave jobs for the same reason? We learn early how to make decisions, deal with things and even as we mature and get more sophisticated, sometimes old habits get stuck. What about when it’s a general feeling of unease? The first criteria of PTSD is some sort of experience of an event that is in some way life or personhood threatening. Sounds nice and all encompasing, doesn’t it? Something like that probably covers a lot.

Yes and no. There are a number of things that can lead to people not identifying themselves as trauma survivors.

complex trauma

How to Respond to the Week from Hell?

As a trauma therapist, I may feel some duty to respond.  As a person, I have no idea how.  Charles Blow, an acclaimed writer whose own son, a Yale student, was held at gunpoint by police after being mistaken for a burglary suspect, called this A Week from Hell.  I can think of no better name.  I have decided to get out of the way and let others in...

cross-cultural psychology

Finding the Right Therapist

Maybe you’re considering whether to see a peer therapist. And despite knowing some of the drawbacks, maybe you decide you want someone who shares some experience or characteristic with you.  Maybe it’s the rigor of your education or career.  Maybe it’s someone of your race.  Maybe it’s your history of abuse.  Others want someone of their religious orientation. These desires are valid. In some ways it would be great to have someone who has walked in our shoes, but its not as obvious an advantage as one might think.  Sometimes people who have overcome a hardship are less empathetic than others who haven’t. Also by finding a therapist who has a shared demographic or experience we may miss a therapist with whom we share something more intangible, but more powerful.

Intangible Commonalities

But sometimes there is a different kind of resonance. I remember a client.


How Can My Therapist Know What It’s Like to Be Me?

It’s not at all unusual to want a therapist who really understands our experiences, perhaps has even shared them.   Is that reasonable?  Is it realistic? Obviously there are many things we would never know about our therapist (assuming they have appropriate boundaries), but there are certainly there are some things that couldn’t be hidden if someone tried—race, age, geographic and educational history.

Peer support is support that comes from people who share our experiences, like in 12 step programs.  Professional support comes from trained professionals, like licensed therapists.  It’s much easier to trust the expertise of non-peers for non-psychiatric medical problems—most people don’t really care if their oncologist has ever had cancer, so long as he’s an excellent physician.  But it’s different when the clinician is treating us not only with clinical skills but human connection.  We crave understanding and we want to know that we’re not alone in our experiences.  And sometimes we want someone who’s sat in our chair.


How (Not to) Mourn Shootings on Social Media

What are we supposed to say when a far away tragedy occurs?  Does it matter if it was a natural disaster or an act of terror?  If the victims were random versus extra vulnerable (like children) or minorities, like the most recent Pulse shooting?

I don’t know what your social media feeds look like but responding to a tragic event in a sensitive way can be really difficult.  When someone “stands with France,” others jump on them for ignoring Syria.  When some people expressed outrage over police shootings of unarmed African Americans, they were called out for drawing attention to their own feelings. Certainly there are some really insensitive ways to react to a tragedy*. So, assuming they don’t want to offend anyone, does that mean that people who aren’t a member of the oppressed group that was targeted should not participate in mourning on social media? But then silence is sometimes perceived as being dismissive toward the victims’ community.


5 Tips for Surviving Major Life Changes

After several months away from a reliable internet connection, and sometimes electricity and therefore my blog, I am back.

As I write this first post saying “hello” again, saying, “I am so excited to be back in so many different ways,” I am also grieving.

As Semisonic sang almost 20 years ago, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  I re-begin my blog and my life in the United States only by ending and leaving many people who I loved in Ghana.

Many readers are familiar with the Holmes-Raye Life Stress Inventory.  The inventory was designed to predict the chance of a health breakdown based on the quantity and quality of stressors from the past year.  It can be surprising to see how many of the stressors are things that are generally considered positive: marriage, gaining a new family member, taking on a new mortgage, outstanding personal achievement. The fact is that even positive change is change, and it requires adjustment.

We are built for routine and sameness. Even people who crave change and chases stimulation have to adjust to new routines and new ways of doing things.

Here are five things to know about facing a major life change:


3 Reasons Why “Fake It Til You Make It” is Great Advice

Change. Loss. A Slump. Trauma. There’s a lot of ways to get thrown off balance and feel like you’ll never get up. We often think that healing will bring back our equilibrium but sometimes, in order to heal, we need to get some equilibrium first.

I know a lot of people who spend all their time acting like they’re feeling great when they’re not, and that’s a terrible way to live. I’m not talking about a permanent move toward acting like things are perfect. I’m not talking about lying to yourself or anyone else when things are really tough right now.

I’m talking about setting into motion a habit of functioning as though the world is still turning. It’s really the sort of thing people mean when they talk about putting one foot in front of the other. So here are three steps to get your started.