Life Happens & Leaves you feeling Battered, Broken & Bruised…
Many people are impacted by traumatic events in their lives. Studies show that people who have experienced one or more traumatic events in their lives will have more anxiety and depression than people who haven’t. Trauma can cause you to feel insecure, have difficulties in your relationships, mood swings, panic attacks, and much more. Some people experience a sense of detachment or numbing, nightmares, disrupted sleep and intrusive memories. Traumatic events can impact you for many years, even decades. Often, we find that people don’t even realize that the problems they are struggling with are caused by a core traumatic event or group of events. Childhood abuse, emotional neglect, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and incest cause lasting problems in one’s life as this makes up your foundation in life. We can help resolve the stress caused by trauma. That is our specialty!
All of us are affected by a traumatic event at one point or another in our lives. Some people seem to be more deeply impacted by negative events in their lives than others. We work with the effects of all types of trauma. We are specialists in trauma treatment and offer a multitude of treatment options that will ensure you receive the best comprehensive approach to resolve the after effects of surviving traumatic incidents.
Psychological trauma impacts, alters and colors all aspects of your life. There are several excellent forms of treatment for psychological trauma that will help you. You’ll be able to form better relationships, live a more fulfilled life without fear, let go of addictions, panic attacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety and many of the physical symptoms in your body. Whether you have survived a single traumatic incident such as a car accident, been a victim of a violent crime, witnessed a crime, or have been a survivor of multiple traumas, such as child abuse, there are therapies that will help tremendously. The forms of treatment that I utilize are designed specifically for trauma survivors.
For some of you, you have been to therapy many times, for others this is your first exploration. We are different than the majority of therapists you will find. We use many techniques to treat trauma, because it requires the use of a variety of techniques. That is what will make therapy more successful for you. We are trauma experts. It makes a difference. Call us. We can help!
Facts About Trauma
There are many things in life that can be traumatizing. We experience emotional trauma when we survive an incident or a pattern of events that threaten our physical and/or emotional sense of safety and security. Some examples of traumatic events may include child abuse, natural disasters or catastrophes, violent and life-threatening crime, witnessing a violent event or homicide, the suicide or homicide of a loved one,, car accidents, domestic violence, experiencing serious injuries, the aftermath of surgery, the loss of a major relationship, rape, assault, war, illnesses and disease, gang violence, etc. Traumatic incidents can effect our personal relationships, our ability to cope with the routine demands of work and school, as well as our health and mental wellbeing. In some cases, such as in times of war or natural disaster, the loss of housing, employment, or other major life circumstances can have devastating consequences for our entire existence. Even the loss of a major relationship can cause such profound life changes that the trauma of the loss can completely overwhelm us. Trauma has serious implications for all aspects of our lives. For example, it isn’t uncommon for our most important relationships to breakdown following a major traumatic life event; many people experience dropping grades in school, employment problems and may have a major physical problem arise during a highly stressful time. It is during these times that therapy may be helpful in aiding you through the emotional ups and downs that trauma can cause. Therapy may help preserve your important relationships, provide you with an outlet so that you are able to function at work or school, and help keep you grounding when so many different things can pull your attention away from maintaining your life.
Some traumas are single incidents that overwhelm our ability to cope temporarily; other traumas are chronic, the traumatic incidents reoccur over and over, such as in the case of long term child abuse or war. Single incident traumas may include a car accident, a natural disaster, rape, assault, or witnessing a violent crime, or the loss of a loved one. It is most common following single events that you will experience major emotional distress and then be able to return to your normal daily routine with time. Some people find that following a single traumatic event, they continue to have emotional distress and their daily function is disrupted for long periods of time. Typically, the more life-threatening an event is, the more traumatizing it will be. This is a general rule. For example, a person who witnesses a car accident is likely to be less traumatized than the person who is involved in the car accident, however, witnessing a major car accident involving a loved one is going to be more traumatic than witnessing a car accident involving a stranger. The car accident involved your loved one threatens your emotional safety and well-being. It hits closer to home and thus will be more traumatic for you.
Chronic trauma is disruptive in a different way than single incident trauma. Chronic trauma, such as ongoing child abuse, sexual abuse, being a survivor of domestic violence, or coping with a difficult divorce/break-up, may not have the same kind of symptoms that surviving a single incident trauma has. In single incident traumas, you are more likely to have symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, daydreaming about the trauma, and sudden emotional waves associated with the traumatic incident after the event. You may avoid going to the place where the trauma occurred or want to avoid thinking about the incident in an effort to “just get on with my life.” In cases of chronic trauma, a person is in a position of on-going captivity. Living in an abusive household creates an emotional climate of captivity, and in order to survive in this type of environment, we adapt to the environment and learn to minimize the impact that it has on our lives. For example, for a child who is being sexually abused by his/her parent, the child is dependent upon the parent for his/her emotional and physical survival. The child has a relationship with the abuser, the parent. The child is going to learn ways to adapt to the environment for survival. This child is less likely to have nightmares and flashbacks, although these symptoms may occur, but what is more common is that the child is going to learn to integrate aspects of the abusive situation as normal, and later take these aspects out into the world after the abuse has stopped. Whatever survival mechanisms are learned in a captivity situation, these are applied to non-captivity situations, making it difficult to adjust to post-abusive environments. Confusion, difficulty managing anger and sadness, anxiety, rage, over-reactions and misperception of your environment, body memories, impaired memories and avoidance of thinking about abuse are more common of chronic trauma survivor’s experiences. Acting out behaviors like sexual avoidance or promiscuity, fighting, drug/alcohol abuse, etc. may also be a problem. Relational problems are also very common.
Typically, we are very critical of ourselves when we are unable to function “normally.” Unfortunately, trauma is a part of every person’s life at some time, and yet some of us are overburdened with life’s difficulties, more than others. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why trouble strikes some people more than others, no matter how much people try to look for reasons for the uncontrollable. We all want to feel in control of our worlds, but sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. We like to look for the reasons why one child was abused, while another one wasn’t, or why this women was battered over this other woman. Why was this man a victim of a violent crime, yet this other guy wasn’t targeted by the assailant. The problem with these types of questions is that the question creates an assumption that the survivor is somehow responsible for being a survivor, and that the survivor could somehow prevent what had occurred. We believe it is something every survivor struggles with – the wish to have control over the uncontrollable. The problem is that the uncontrollable is just that, beyond your control. A woman who walks down the street in sweats is just as likely to be a victim of a sexual assault as a woman who is wearing a miniskirt and a halter top. Neither woman is doing something to become a victim. A person who rapes has his/her own psychological reasons for targeting one person over another. The blame lies in the assailant, not the survivor.
When you consider the impact of trauma on people, the very idea of trauma’s impact is based upon the lack of one’s control over events. This is key to what makes one feel overwhelmed, unsettled, shocked and disheartened. Not being able to control external events like natural disasters, war or another person’s actions is the very reason people experience a sense of trauma and horror when they survive traumatic events. They lack control over the circumstances.
What makes one person able to cope with tragedy and another struggle depends on many factors. Having a history of being abused throughout your early childhood and the loss or disruption of early childhood bonds may have an impact on a person’s ability to cope later in life. A person whose parent died when he was 5 may have more trouble when a traumatic event occurs than a child who had his same parents through childhood. Having a supportive network of friends and family who understand you when you are in a crisis and who come together to support one another can positively impact your ability to cope. Having a calm, naturally positive type of temperament is another factor that makes a person more resilient than others. Some people are born with temperaments that make them able to deal with life tragedy better than others, and some of us were lucky enough to have families who taught us how to cope better with trouble than others. If your family coped with problems by coming together, being supportive of one another, comforting each other and being constructive about seeking solutions to problems, you are more likely to have an easier time adjusting to stress and loss than the person who was raised by alcoholic and violent parents. The person who had more stress and trauma in childhood is more likely to have more problems when faced with a tragedy. Neither of these people are to blame for their backgrounds, and learned coping and problem-solving abilities. You are born with a certain amount of resiliency (ability to cope), you learn skills from the people who raised you from childhood on and you can learn better coping skills throughout your life that can assist you, but your response to trauma typically comes from the combination of factors. Even people whose families were good at problem-solving and being supportive of one another may have major problems coping, because the temperament that they were born with is the type that makes it harder to deal with crisis. Your ability to deal with problems, crisis and tragedy is complicated.
The Many Shades of Trauma
So what constitutes psychologically traumatizing events? There are a large number of things that a person can feel traumatized by. Some of these events people often discount as traumatic despite their lasting effects. I (should be We) categorize trauma into four different general categories: Single Incident Traumas, Chronic Trauma, Developmental Trauma, Relational Trauma. The following are examples that are included in each category. Note that this is not an exhaustive list. It is just a list that can illustrate examples of each.
Single Incident Trauma
• Animal Attack
• Violent Beating
• Hate Crime
• Witnessing a Violent Crime
• Medical/Surgical Procedure
• Sexualization of a relationship by a medical or other health practitioner or therapist
• Natural Disaster
• Surviving a loved one’s suicide
• Surviving a loved one’s traumatic sudden death
• Pet loss
• Car accident
• Loss of a limb
• Being removed from one’s home as a child
• Childhood physical abuse
• Childhood sexual abuse
• Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence
• Ongoing Medical Problem
• Ongoing Impact of/Prolonged Natural Disaster
• Being raised in a gang war zone as a child
• Sibling abuse
• Childhood Abuse
• Childhood Neglect
• Failure to form positive social relationships in childhood/adolescence
• Childhood Humiliation
• Being raised by different caregivers
• Parents’ Divorce
• Personal Divorce or Break up of a Vital Long-Term Relationship
• Death of a loved one
• Childhood Neglect
• Parental Splitting of Children – favoring one child, demonizing/scape-goating another
• Betrayal by someone important in one’s life
• Affairs Abandonment
• Adoption/Foster Care
• Being raised by different caregivers
• Being raised by a mentally ill parent/person
• Having a parent in prison
• Parental Addiction
Other forms of traumatic experiences can include racism, discrimination, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, group sanctioned violence. I am sure you can think of many other examples. A traumatic event(s) is something that you were traumatized by.
Symptoms of Trauma
How do you know when the effect of a past traumatic event(s) is a problem? You develop a set of symptoms that you experience when the trauma(s) are triggered. You often won’t even be aware of what is triggering the reaction, just that you are experiencing the symptoms. Trauma symptoms are broken down into three categories: Arousal, Re-experiencing and Avoidance/Dissociation. Examples of each are below:
• Difficulty concentrating
• Exaggerated response to things that startle you
• Excess awareness (hypervigilence)
• Irritability or outbursts of anger
• Sleeping difficulties
• Survivor’s Guilt
• Night Terrors
• Panic and Anxiety Attacks
• Intensified Anxiety
• Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
• Recurrent distressing memories of the event
• Repeated dreams of the event
• Physical reactions to situations that remind you of the traumatic event
Avoidance & Dissociation
• Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
• Feelings of detachment
• Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
• Lack of interest in normal activities
• Less expression of moods
• Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
• Checking out, feeling spacey
• Multiplicity (severe childhood trauma/torture cases)
Not everyone is traumatized by traumatic events. There are many factors that go into whether or not something is traumatic for someone. Traumatization, the experience of trauma symptoms when trauma is unresolved, occurs when a person:
• Feels overwhelmed by a situation that is perceived as threatening
• Feels helpless and out of control in the traumatizing situation
• Is unable to process and assimilate the various reactions to the perceived trauma (cognitive, emotional, & physical) – Pat Ogden 2002
Complex trauma is a term that refers to trauma symptoms that are a result of prolonged traumatizing experiences. Some examples of situations that cause complex trauma include:
• Ongoing Childhood Abuse: Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Emotional Abuse & Neglect
• Prenatal/Perinatal/Infant Abuse
• Domestic Violence
• Hostile Family Environment
• Growing up in a Substance Abusing Family, Parental Substance Abuse/Addictions of Various Types
• Captivity with/without Physical or Sexual Attacks
• Ritual Abuse
• Racial, Spiritual, Cultural Trauma
Complex trauma typically causes a person to rely more heavily on either avoidant defenses or arousing defenses. People often notice arousing symptoms such as intense anxiety, panic attacks, outbursts of anger/rage, irritability. Many survivors of complex trauma will display avoidant and submissive defenses. Depression and dissociation are characteristic. Feeling emotionally detached, spacey or things feeling surreal around you, keeping distant from others in relationships or being highly emotionally guarded are common symptoms of someone with highly avoidant/numb symptoms. Submissive people are also typically survivors of chronic trauma. Obsessive compulsive behaviors (OCD), panic disorder and intense anxiety and insomnia are all linked to complex trauma.
Complex trauma impacts many aspects of your life. In fact, it arguably impacts all areas of your life. The effects are seen in your relationships, education, work situations, brain development, emotional development, and most importantly your self-confidence/self-esteem. It can impact your career development, ability to reach your goals and dreams, but more importantly, your ability to believe in your potential to reach your goals and dreams! Severe depression is often caused by complex trauma. Eating disorders and problems with addictions are also typically associated with complex trauma.
Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders are also a result of complex trauma. The experience of having sense of fragmentation, being overly compartmentalized, disconnecting to one’s childhood, repression of childhood memories, amnesia and even multiplicity are a result of complex trauma. Major problems in one’s personality can also be attributed to developmental complex trauma – problems that happened in childhood relationships interfered in your emotional development in your personality. Narcissism, Borderline Personality, Dependent and Avoidant, Schizoid and Paranoid Personality Disorders all have some aspect of trauma related problems.
We are specialists in treating both simple (single incident) and complex trauma related issues. While many therapists claim to know how to treat trauma, only trauma trained therapists are truly able to effectively treat trauma problems. If your therapist only relies on talk therapy, that is NOT trauma treatment. Trauma treatment MUST involve your creativity, beliefs, body, mind, spirit, energy and even nutrition. Trauma is caused by a physiological reaction that is out of your control. Treatment must include body therapies such as EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Therapy, Processing Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy along with other more traditional talk therapy approaches. Treatment of trauma must also include creative therapies and usually group therapy. It sounds like a lot but strategic use of the different treatments will make the process seamless and cohesive. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune either!
We offer a variety of trauma specific treatments. All of our therapists have extensive experience and training in the treatment of trauma survivors. We utilize some of the following trauma treatment strategies:
Traditional Talk Therapy
• Objects Relations
• Narrative Therapy
• Rational Emotive Therapy
• Reality Therapy
Non-Traditional Talk Therapy
• Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy
• Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
• Closed Process Group Therapy (groups are limited to 6-8 members and people make a commitment to attending each group for a period of time)
• Topic Classes/Psychoeducation
• Skills Training Groups
• Parent Training Classes
• Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
• Process Oriented/Synthesis Therapy
• Art Therapy
• Sandplay Therapy
• Play Therapy
• Game Therapy
• Writing/Creative Expression
• Quantum Energy
Couples Therapy for Couples with Trauma Issues
Dissociative Disorder Specific Treatment – in keeping with the ISST-D.org guidelines
We have excellent referral sources for trauma trained psychiatrists, medical doctors, gynecologists, alternative health practitioners, Acupuncturists, Addictions Specialists and Eating Disorder Specialists.
Call us! We CAN Help!
Do you feel as though you walk around in a fog, time gets lost and you have no idea what has happened, or hear voices inside of your head? Does everything around you feel like you are just watching a movie but it doesn’t feel like you are in the picture, only a part of you is even though you are there? Do you find things that you know you must have done or written, but cannot recall having done it, or it seems to be in someone else’s handwriting? Do you lose big chunks of time? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you may have a dissociative disorder. We work with all kinds of dissociative problems, from routine mild dissociative problems like feeling like you are always in a walking dream, to severe dissociative problems.
What is Dissociation? In general, dissociation is a defense mechanism that everyone uses every day. In its most common form, mild dissociation includes day dreaming, “zoning out,” or doing things on “autopilot.” For example, when you find yourself staring out the window thinking about what you are going to do after your class, driving a car and not recalling the details of how you got from one point to the next, or getting so caught up in a movie you don’t hear someone whispering behind you – these are all examples of normal dissociation. Dissociation is a form of self-hypnosis. Everyone experiences dissociation.
You may dissociate more when you are tired or bored. Think about times when you have been in a boring meeting or a class with a teacher who talks with a monotone voice and doesn’t use ways to engage your interest. What do you do? Maybe you start to doodle, you day dream about something that is more interesting or you think about a problem that is on your mind. Dissociation gives you an ability to do more than one thing at a time. While you may be half hearing what is happening in the boring class or meeting, your mind is wandering off somewhere else.
Dissociation is a wonderful aspect of creativity and imagination. Think about the times when you were able to be the most creative. Sometimes creative folks need to enter into the “twilight zone” of dissociative states to really get their imagination going. Therapy is often best done in dissociative type states. When working with teens, we often encourage them to use a distraction while dealing with difficult issues to help them examine their feelings. It can be very helpful! In fact, the sand tray work we do encourages people to enter into a dissociated state in order to work through conflicts and difficult feelings that may not otherwise come out in therapy. As therapists, we encourage healthy dissociation.
But too much of a good thing isn’t healthy. Sometimes the ability to dissociate from your emotions is harmful to you and potentially to others. If you live in a fog most of the time, things around you feel surreal. This experience is called derealization. It’s almost like you are walking through a movie but it isn’t actually a movie – it’s your life. You don’t feel present and connected to what is going on around you. This feeling in fact can be very distressing for some people. For others, people try to induce this feeling through the use of drugs and alcohol, to avoid their feelings. See Pain Avoidance for more information about this.
Dissociation is a common symptoms of depression and anxiety. A fact that many therapists don’t understand. Many people have sought therapy out for a depressive or anxiety related disorder only to find that therapy and medication don’t do enough. The problem often is because the client’s dissociation is ignored or unrecognized by a clinician. Thus whenever the depression and anxiety is experienced, you may “check out” – leaving the very reasons you become depressed or anxious unintegrated! It is a huge problem because many clinicians have no idea how important a good understanding of dissociation is in the treatment of more common clinical problems!
Trauma survivors and abuse survivors often rely too heavily on dissociation as a defense mechanism. Dissociation is a crucial survival mechanism that protects you during a crisis and afterwards. It helps you stay on task so you can protect yourself. If you are able to function without fully experiencing the emotional impact of an event, you can accomplish tasks until it is safer to deal with your emotions. For example, lets say a man comes up to you, points a gun at you and demands your money and jewelry. If you were to feel the terror of having your life threatened, you may not be able to fight him off, run away from him or comply with his demands. In another example, if you were a child who was physically abused, dissociation may have allowed you to endure a highly traumatic experience without having to fully experience it. Abuse survivors often report that they “go away in my mind” or “stop feeling the pain.” Without the ability to dissociate, you would feel the full extent of trauma as it happens and afterwards, which could be completely devastating for you. The ability to dissociate is a critical part of people’s survival responses.
Think about the level of dissociation it takes to remain in a dangerous situation. Lets say that you are in a war. You have been captured by the enemy and put into a prison. The enemy soldiers are cruel towards you. Perhaps they don’t feed you properly, keep you in isolation for long periods of time and physically assault you. In order to survive being held captive, it is important for you to be able to enter a type of dissociative state to cope with the abuse you endure. But, there can come a point when you dissociate so much that you don’t take your opportunities to escape when you have the chance, a common phenomenon that occurs in many captive situations of all types.
Think of a more common captivity situation, like child abuse or domestic violence. Victims of abuse are in a captive state psychologically. They dissociate to cope with being abused. Dissociation during sexual abuse is a classic example. Many people who have been sexually abused as children report leaving their bodies and watching the abuse from above themselves. This is a more extreme form of dissociation than simple daydreaming. This is the mind’s ability to cope with horror at its best. Instead of having to be emotionally experiencing sexual abuse, the mind helps your soul escape. Your experience of being is not in your body, but on the ceiling somewhere witnessing abuse that is happening to you.
There are varying levels of dissociation:
- Everyday Dissociation we all experience that is healthy in general
- day dreaming
- spacing out
- Traumatic Dissociation that comes from trauma and is not integrated in the psyche
- deadened emotions
- leaving one’s body
- Severe Traumatic Dissociation comes from major trauma that is not integrated in the psyche
- derealization – constant experience of dissociation
- depersonalization – not feeling the sense of “Me” or feeling your body as belonging to yourself
- forming separate identities or self-states
- fully formed identities
- partially formed identities with specific roles
- emotion states that are fragments
In its most extreme form, dissociation can actually cause a sense of fragmentation or various self-identities within one person. This happens to children who endure horrifying torture and extreme forms of abuse. Instead of leaving one’s body, an entire separate identity is created to handle the abuse the child has to endure. It isn’t uncommon for children who develop different self-states to form several personalities to take on various roles. The more personality states created, the more abuse has occurred. This form of dissociation only happens in childhood, when children are most vulnerable, and endures through adulthood unless therapy is sought out. Therapy can help people with multiple identities to either learn to manage the fractured pieces of themselves more effectively and improve their overall quality of life, or to integrate the fractures into one sense of Self.
For dissociation that interferes in your quality of life, therapy can be extremely helpful. Traumatic dissociation happens when you are overwhelmed by a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. It is self-protective. The problem is that in order to put the past to rest, the painful feelings of the past trauma have to be re-integrated into your sense of self, and a new sense of the integrated trauma needs to be internalized. Therapy is the most effective way to work through trauma. A combination of talk therapy, creative therapy, sandplay therapy and EMDR along with body movement therapy is the most effective treatment for trauma in general, unless you have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Therapy helps trauma and abuse survivors integrate traumatic material, improve your sense of well-being, help you learn to manage difficult emotions that arise when unintegrated trauma gets triggered, and helps prevent past trauma from interfering in your present life.
Therapy for Dissociative Identity is different than traditional trauma therapy. Many of us are trained in the treatment of Dissociative Disorders through the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISST-D). We follow the ISST-D guidelines for diagnosing and treating Dissociative Disorders. For someone who has either Dissociative Identity Disorder or Dissociative Disorder, NOS, we use the following steps. This is a general idea of what you can expect in treatment with one of the LATN therapists, not an exact layout of a treatment plan.
First, we help establish a sense of safety within therapy. This takes a lot of time as building a sense of trust and emotionally safety for someone who has been tortured significantly is difficult to do. We try to establish a safe enough working relationship with a client and we negotiate through the boundaries of therapy. During this time we may work on getting to know one another, establishing the ground rules for therapy and work on practical issues dealing with Dissociation. This is a time for skill building and practicing new skills, mapping the system, and taking time to get to know different alters in a system. For some people who have a lot of fragmentation or who are not used to allowing outsiders to meet their alters, this may sound strange and confusing. It is only by establishing a relationship with different alters that we can help become a member of a healing internal team. If you are too fragmented, we’ll negotiate this as you need. Don’t let this stop you from seeking help.
This period of time is a stabilization and restructuring time. An alter system may be set up in such a way that worked during a time when you were being abused. If you are out of the abusive situation, your system needs to adapt to a different way of being. This takes time and is the main focus of treatment. Then, only when you are ready do we do trauma work. Trauma work is slow and usually structured. We may decide to work on a specific memory during a session and have a couple of other sessions for regrounding. Not all material will be re-integrated. It isn’t possible, but enough of it can be worked through to help rebuild a more cohesive sense of self and life experience. The majority of therapy work is done during the first phase – working with the system, not in the trauma phase. The third phase is integration or learning to function as “one.” For most therapists, integration is the end goal of treatment, however you may or may not want this. This is a personal choice. If you do opt for integration, the final phase of therapy is adjusting to life as an integrated Self.
We work with people who have dissociative problems as a trauma specialist. We do individualized care for people with dissociative problems and work with dissociation from a client’s stated goals and needs, not from the “textbook” form of treatment. If you are ready to do this work, we are ready to work with you!
Cult, religious, ritual and SRA abuse. we work with a variety of different forms of religious and cult abuse. A lot of us have experience working with ritual abuse survivors and people who have been abused under the guise of religious beliefs, including polygamy. See our Ritual Abuse/Mind Control – Sadistic/Extreme Abuse page.