PTSD Awareness: Start by Understanding Trauma

June is PTSD Awareness Month. As promised yesterday, I am sharing this 2009 post of mine to start with the basics: understanding trauma. I resonate with the following quote:

“Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.”  — Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery


What is Trauma?

What do  therapists mean when we talk about trauma?

One definition I like states that “psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which: “The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.” (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p. 60)

The important part of this definition in my practice is the emphasis on “unique individual experience”. 

Read more… 450 more words

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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Understanding PTSDJune is PTSD Awareness Month. PTSD is often discussed in the context of veterans and the impact of war. Of course, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) does not only impact vets. PTSD, by definition, can follow any traumatic event. Understanding then must first start with trauma. This blog was created to do just that; specifically, to focus on the traumatic impact of sexual assault, domestic violence, and all forms of childhood abuse.

I am going to take some time this month to get back to basics regarding trauma and its aftermath. I am going to rerun some old posts, share some new material, and highlight resources from others also working to raise awareness of PTSD.

For example, The National Center for PTSD has considerable resources. The 2013 awareness campaign invites us to Take the Step: Raise PTSD Awareness by:

  • Learning more about PTSD
  • Challenging your beliefs
  • Exploring the options
  • Reaching out and making a difference

Tell me what you think of their site. Or tell me what questions you have about PTSD or trauma in general!

Posted in Abuse, Psychologist, PTSD, Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

You Deserve… an End to Rape Culture

Take Back the NightApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On the University of Arizona campus we intensify our constant efforts to raise awareness of not only sexual violence but of the overall rape culture that supports such violence. Rape culture refers to the manner in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence. These attitudes often take the form of victim blaming.

Just last week we held our Take Back the Night march and rally. With music, speakers, a resource fair, and an open mike survivor speak out, this was a moving and powerful event. I was so proud of all the survivors who spoke their truth and of the audience that held them with such compassion and support. It was truly an empowering and remarkable evening.

In the midst of this, we encountered a reminder of why we do what we do. A specific example of rape culture victim blaming messages was presented. Often these are more subtle and insidious. Last week it was very overt and blatant. I don’t want to repost the image of the hateful sign here; that image has already gotten too much visibility and is of course potentially triggering for trauma survivors. In addition, we know that this is just one example of the larger problem: sexual violence continues to be blamed on those who experience it.

This is in no way reality. Clothing choices do not cause rape. The appearance or behavior of the victim does not cause rape. Only by putting responsibility where it really belongs, on those who commit acts of violence and abuse, can we start to break this cycle. That means looking at the larger cultural issues that create and protect rapists/abusers.

It also means acknowledging that most men are not abusers, and in fact can become engaged, active bystanders who work towards violence prevention. Here is what some University of Arizona men have to say about sexual assault:

What can you do to be part of the solution, to work towards healing and empowerment for survivors? Come to a counter-protest next Tuesday, April 30. Help us demonstrate that love and compassion are stronger than ignorance and hate. Let’s reinforce the idea that what all of us really deserve is to be free from violence!

In response to this appalling event, The Women’s Interests Collaborative would like to propose a counter-protest. Please join us to show that UA is a community of love, inclusion, and support.

Join faculty, staff, and students to tell the world what we think “You Deserve…” at UA!

The “You Deserve” Event

Tuesday, April 30th from 11am-1pm

Alumni Plaza (in front of the Administration Building, between Modern Languages and the Student Union.)

Stop by Heritage Hill to make your positive sign, with the interns of FORCE and The Men’s Project. Then take your stand in Alumni Plaza, holding your sign and facing the mall!

You Deserve Event

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Reader Question: Treating Emotional Numbness

Reader questionSometimes readers ask questions in response to one of my posts that  become fodder for a future post. This is one such time. A reader asked

 How do you help clients come back from emotional numbness?

as part of a response to my post on Complex PTSD. I want to provide a bit of background before I move on to addressing this question in more depth. PTSD can be diagnosed following a single traumatic event that occurs at any age. Complex PTSD (also referred to as complex trauma or developmental trauma) is characterized as a response to prolonged abuse and/or neglect in the context of important relationships, with onset in childhood. The following diagnostic criteria has been proposed:

History of prolonged subjugation resulting in alterations in

  • Affect Regulation (impulsive acting out)
  • Consciousness (dissociation)
  • Self-perception (shame, helplessness)
  • Perceptions of Perpetrator (preoccupation which may take the form of fear/sadness or identifying with and defending)
  • Relations with others (isolation, search for rescuer, revictimization)
  • Systems of Meaning (hopelessness)

What do we mean when we talk about emotional numbness? It may mean different things to different people. Emotional numbness can be a symptom of either type of PTSD.   Some in the trauma field think it is worth specifying that there may be a subtype of PTSD which involves numbing more than or instead of hyperarousal. Numbness can also be how clients describe their experience of dissociation. Overall, I see emotional numbness as a coping and survival strategy.

Emotional numbness can be an immediate reaction to a traumatic event such as sexual assault or relationship violence. With time and a supportive environment, such as trauma-informed therapy, this type of numbness is often self-limiting. The therapeutic relationship, coupled with prior strength and coping skills, may enable to trauma survivor to access and express feelings about the event.

When emotional numbness is a symptom of complex trauma or dissociative disorders such as depersonalization disorder or dissociative identity disorder, the focus in therapy may be different. In these situations numbness has often been of longer duration, has been used to cope with such intense experiences, and may have prevented the development of other coping skills. Decreasing emotional numbness then also involves building skills that allow for the capacity to feel and cope with intense emotions.

Skills building may involve things like:

  • learning to identify and express emotions: those who have been numb since childhood may not even know how to tell what they feel.
  • mindfulness to increase what Dan Siegel, MD calls the “window of tolerance”,  the capacity to look at traumatic experiences without becoming overwhelmed by the associated emotion.
  • grounding techniques like deep breathing, focusing on your senses.
  • learning to self-soothe, engage in self-care.
  • relationship skills: how to connect, who to connect with.

Think of your emotional numbness as having served a purpose. Perhaps this was the best way you had to cope for a time. However, the price of this form of coping is high. Being able to experience the whole range of our emotions is part of what makes life rich and meaningful. The good news is that you can build new skills now. You can lay the foundation that will make it possible, and safe, for you to be in touch with your authentic, emotional self.

Posted in Dissociation, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Mindfulness, Psychologist, PTSD, Relationships, Self-care, Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

It Was Rape

Coming soon!

The Oasis Program at the University of Arizona is proud to partner with campus and community groups to present this film It Was Rape by Jennifer Baumgardner.

It Was Rape

I will be updating with more information about local events as we head into Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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