Thank You for Your Service

As a trauma therapist, a large part of my practice has been devoted to working with first responders, mostly police officers. While I have come to greatly appreciate the distinct humor of a cop (yes— there can be laughing in therapy!), I have also come to understand that for a cop, it’s often easier to make a joke than it is to deal with some of the emotions that come with the job. Since we aren’t all law enforcement officers, we often forget that cops are the first present when human beings are at their absolute worst. Reflect on that for a minute... You know those stories we watch on the news or see on Facebook about a horrific train or car accident or some other tragedy? The stories that make you feel a mix of sadness for those lost and for their families, but then a sense of appreciation for the life you still have?

It is the police that first respond in those moments. It is the police that navigate the devastation: the physical, mental, and emotional devastation. It is the police that have to witness injury and death. It is the police that have to tell family members that their loved one didn’t make it. Even for the most well intentioned cop that truly wants to help make this world a better place, it is a challenge to be immersed in the worst of humanity. Interestingly, police officers have historically faced intense stigma in seeking any kind of support or mental health treatment. So much so, that many cops simply don’t seek help, even if they know they need it. Where does this leave those that are struggling?

In June 2019, 3 members of the NYPD, all at varying points in their careers, tragically completed suicide within 10 days of each other. Police Commissioner O’Neill addressed this as a “mental-health crisis” in a tweet linking to his statement regarding the losses (below). After reading such a poignant statement, my hope is that this creates necessary change, where more police officers can, and feel as comfortable as possible to, access the help they may need.

 

 
Help Is Available June 14, 2019 To the Members of the New York City Police Department_ In less than 10 days' time, the NYPD has lost three of its own to suicide_ a respected chief, an experienced detective, and — tod.png
 

 
Bravery is not the absence of fear, but action in the face of fear.
— Mark Messier

Mental Health Awareness Month

Happy May! May is Mental Health Awareness month in the United States, initiated by Mental Health America (MHA) in 1949, making this year the 70th month observed! It is crucial to raise awareness, as 1 in 5 adult Americans, which equates to approximately 43.8 million people, experience a mental illness per year. I imagine this number to be higher, as this figure is just based off of those who sought treatment.

My hope is that with continuing awareness, through various avenues including social media, etc., people can find a sense of safety to take the step forward and say, “wow, this is something I’m struggling with, too”. For those who may not know where to begin, MHA actually provides a variety of self-help tools.

Brené Brown: The Call to Courage

If you ever take a look at the many books on my bookshelf in my office, you will see five books by an author by the name of Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW. Like many people, I discovered Brené through her TED Talk, Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability. As I write this blog, on April 28, 2019, this TED Talk has been viewed 39,783,308 times! I loved Brené’s style; she made me laugh, and she made me think, and I needed to know more about her. Especially since she is a fellow social worker!

Brené describes herself as a researcher and a storyteller. She is a research professor who has spent the past twenty years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. I quickly ordered her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. This book currently has an average of 4.5 stars, of almost 4,000 reviews on Amazon. I have subsequently read all five of Brené’s books, and my thought was this woman just gets it! This thought was solidified in watching the Netflix special, Brené Brown: A Call to Courage.

As I’ve come to expect from Brené, she made me laugh, she made me think, and I was able to connect some dots of my own. What I found most profound about this special, was each of the examples and stories she shared from the people studied in her research, held themes that I have thought myself, or heard myself, both inside and outside of my office. While I am no Brené Brown-level researcher, that connection does tell me that many, if not most of us, are struggling with the same things, such as not feeling good enough.

I have been encouraging clients, colleagues, friends, and family to watch this special. My hope is that other people will make the connection that many of us are coping with similar issues, and can experience a change in perspective. Brené says in her special, “it’s much easier to cause pain than feel pain”. If we allow ourselves to really dig in, be it in therapy or with your own self-reflection, we create the opportunity to be kinder to each other, and most importantly, to ourselves.

Grief.

IMG_1459.jpeg

As a therapist with my own personal experience with therapy, I feel it is vital to maintain therapeutic, professional boundaries. An example of these boundaries is my choice to not discuss my personal life. The only time I have spoken about personal topics, is when I felt that self-disclosure* could benefit my clients and their healing. As a trauma therapist, I see all kinds of heavy, complicated issues such as: domestic violence, on the job trauma for first responders, accident victims, and so on. In doing this work, I have noticed there is a more “quiet”, less-obvious trauma hidden under the traumas previously mentioned, and that trauma is one that I continue to process...

Grief.

In doing a quick Google search to come up with the ideal definition for grief, I saw the two perfect words to describe what grief was for me: “deep sorrow”. I lost my 39-year-old brother in an unexpected, tragic, out of order death. We anticipate grandparents and older family members to pass from old age, but to bury my 39-year-old brother? It was entirely out of order, and I was (still am) devastated. Through my own therapy, the support of the people closest to me, and the support of my best friend, Lori, who happens to be a grief therapist (did I hit the jackpot, or what?), I am still standing, and standing with firmer footing. That doesn’t mean I’ve “moved on” or I’m “over it” — it means when the waves of grief hit me, I don’t fall over every single time.

There is no limit on grief.
Grief lasts as long as love lasts.
— Megan Devine

I came across Megan Devine, a psychotherapist who focuses her work on grief, after experiencing her own heartbreaking loss. If you or someone you know is currently coping with grief, I encourage you to follow her Facebook and Instagram for insight and support. I wish I would have had some of Megan’s resources when I first lost my brother. Megan even mentions the power in saying your person’s name. So much of what Megan says validates the experience of grief, as well as to let the those struggling with grief simply talk, however long that takes. Check out Megan’s book here!

After coming across Megan, I came across another woman brave enough to share her story, Nora McInerny. An important thing to note about death, is that the “grief-adjacent” (thanks, Nora, for the great term!) or those people in your support circle, keep living their lives, while the grief-stricken have had a bomb go off in our lives and we can’t imagine how we will begin to survey the damage. It’s no secret that death and grief can be very uncomfortable to discuss. This is not because the people that care about us are insensitive; most people aren’t equipped to handle grief, because we don’t talk about it! More often than not, the question of when you will “move on” is so the “grief-adjacent” can begin to act normal (see: before the death) again. I think a massive disconnect in how we understand and process grief is the lack of understanding that this is our new normal (see: after the death). Be sure to check out Nora’s TED Talk!

TED Talk spoiler alert: people can be grieving, content, witty, funny, etc. at the same time!

Grief is this multitasking emotion...you can and will be sad and happy; you’ll be grieving, and be able to love in the same year or week, the same breath...absolutely, they’re going to move forward.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve moved on.
— Nora McInerny

I was talking about the idea of grief with one of my best friends, when she made a really interesting point. One of those interesting points where you say “huh!” out loud…

IMG_1457.jpeg

The words that struck me: “so people didn’t feel so alone”. Grief is incredibly isolating. The inspiration from the grieving who are brave enough to come forward and name what they are feeling, and those around me that have loved and supported me, have helped me to to say out loud: I am grieving.

I have accepted that a part of me will grieve forever. To grieve isn’t a choice, it’s the reality that all the love we have for a person who passed, is still truly in our hearts. I have learned to integrate this new normal in to my day to day life, while still continuing on my grief journey. My hope is that grief gets recognition for the trauma it very much is. We must start by naming our grief.

Thank you, Brian, for teaching me about life, death, grief, and love.


*If you want to learn more about self-disclosure in therapy, I found this article in Psychology Today to be quite interesting! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Therapy & Celebrities

Like most people, I spend time scrolling on social media, Instagram in particular. I follow friends, family, meme pages (who doesn’t love a meme that makes you actually LOL?!), therapy-related pages, home decor pages (there are few things more satisfying than a good before and after picture!), and a random assortment of famous people. I have recently noticed a trend of famous people, including athletes, actors, musicians, and even royalty, coming forward with their experiences in therapy. While I am more than aware of the countless downfalls to social media, this realization made me hopeful that perhaps there are instances where a message from social media, such as the benefits of therapy, have changed someone’s life for the better.

One of my all time favorite shows is NBC’s This is Us. So much so, that my best friend and I make it a point to watch every episode together. I should mention, my best friend is also a therapist, so you can only imagine the analysis (for those who have watched the show: let’s be honest, analysis and lots of crying) that takes place on commercial breaks! Since I love the show so much, I felt it absolutely necessary to follow the Instagram accounts of everyone who stars on the show, including Mandy Moore. Mandy Moore recently came forward and revealed her experience in an abusive marriage with her ex-husband. Following this revelation, Mandy posted a story on Instagram (below) about her subsequent return to therapy, and I could not agree more with her words. Sometimes just the act of verbalizing what you’ve held inside, out loud to another human can be incredibly healing!

Another one of my favorite things to watch is stand-up comedy specials, which has also led to my following of various comedians’ Instagram accounts, including Chelsea Handler. While scrolling one night, I saw a story that Chelsea posted talking about her new book, Life Will be the Death of Me. Chelsea was specifically talking about how the book is about her journey of self-discovery, including her experience in therapy! Gloria Steinem read the book and stated, “You thought you knew Chelsea Handler—and she thought she knew herself—but in her new book, she discovers that true progress lies in the direction we haven’t been”. Therapy can make anyone traveling in that new direction feel, at the very least, more supported.

While promoting his latest album, Jay-Z very openly discussed his experience in therapy. He explained that the most notable part of the experience for him was realizing that “…everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you…at such an advantage”. Jay-Z has also advocated for therapy for men, as it has been proven that men are less likely to seek out treatment.

Jay-Z speaks about it, and the world listens...That’s why it’s so critical. It models, for young boys and men — particularly young boys and men who consume his music — that being open about your emotional life can welcome in more love, more respect, more connection to the human world.
— Dr. Wizdom Powell, PhD, MPH

My hope is that more and more celebrities take advantage of their platform to help break the stigma towards mental health and seeking treatment, just as Mandy Moore, Chelsea Handler, and Jay-Z (what an eclectic group!) have done.

What is Anxiety?

im-sorry-i-had-anxiety-from-having-anxiety-about-my-anxiety--fd92b.png

Anxiety is a term we hear more often now than ever before, and that is likely due to the fact that anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 18.1%, or 42 million, American adults live with anxiety disorders (2019). So, if anxiety is that common, what exactly is it?

Healthline (2019) vividly describes anxiety as, “…your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous”. Similarly, Merriam Webster (2019) defines anxiety as “…overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it”.

If you have ever experienced anxiety, just reading those descriptions likely makes you feel a version of unease, butterflies in your stomach, or! A flash of a random memory from somewhere around 14 years ago (isn’t it amazing how quickly triggered anxiety can rip open the mental filing cabinet?) where you had a cringe-worthy moment, compounded with a wave of sweat/nausea, followed by the thought “why am I like this?” (I know you’ve seen the memes!).

Clearly, anxiety is experienced in a variety of different ways. Some individuals have gone to the hospital with symptoms of a heart attack, which actually turned out to be a panic attack, triggered by anxiety. Others have experienced intrusive, racing thoughts. I personally have experienced anxiety (somehow therapists are not immune to experiencing the not so great emotions!), and know the racing heart, sweating hands, and feeling of fear, all too well.

HOW CAN A THERAPIST HELP WITH ANXIETY?

I was actually first introduced to the idea of therapy when I was struggling with managing my own anxiety. What I found to be the most helpful, was my therapist helping me understand anxiety. I think it is crucial to recognize that anxiety, is more often than not, irrational. It is so easy to get caught up in thoughts of “why am I like this?”, that we don’t realize we can work through this! Once we accept that anxiety isn’t always rational, we can then work to manage our anxiety. We can do this with a variety of coping skills from therapy treatments such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) where we focus on identifying our thought patterns in turn to change our behaviors and change how we feel

  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy which uses the framework from CBT, and a combination of mindfulness practices, such as meditation

Since anxiety can look different for different people, no two clients will require identical treatment. Some may benefit from a blend of skills from various treatments, while some may benefit from exclusively CBT skills. You can make sure that you get the best treatment plan for you by being honest with your therapist about what feels like it works and what feels like it doesn’t work.

I have anxiety, I’ve always had anxiety. Both in the lighthearted ‘I’m anxious about this’ kind of thing, and I’ve been to the depths of the darker end of the spectrum, which is not fun...If pure anxiety was an Olympic sport, I’d feel really anxious about all the gold medals I just won like a boss.
— Ryan Reynolds

What is Trauma?

As someone who believes it is crucial for all humans to understand our weaknesses, I will be the first to admit I am terrible with technology. However, I have proudly mastered Instagram, and follow all kinds of therapy pages (what can I say, I love my job!). One of my favorite Instagrammers, @mindfulmft, shared @gaytherapy’s post above that stopped me right in my scrolling tracks. This post is the perfect summation of the new level of understanding in the impact of trauma that I’ve gained since completing basic training in EMDR.

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

First, Merriam Webster (2019) defines trauma as “an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent…a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury”. On the post, @gaytherapy describes trauma as being:

…held in the nervous system until it is addressed and healed. When we go through something that completely overwhelms our system - when our typical fight or flight responses are not enough - our body protects us by going into freeze. And we can stay stuck in that freeze state for months, years, or decades. Though we may function in the world, there is a part of us which still believes that we are in the trauma, that everything is still at risk, that we are not safe, that we are going to die. Our nervous system is still frozen in that moment of terror/humiliation/shock/helplessness, or whatever it was that we were feeling at that traumatic moment. Our bodies will stay in this state until the trauma is addressed and processed through to completion.

Wow. Let that sink in for a moment…

There is no denying the extensive impact that a traumatic event leaves upon an individual. For me, a trauma is anything that leaves a clear marker in the timeline of someone’s life. For example, “before the accident I was so carefree”, or “after she died I became such an anxious person”. Examples of trauma are on a spectrum, ranging from divorce, injury or illness, on the job experiences for first responders, death, domestic violence, sexual assault, and more. With just these few examples, it is safe to say that we all know someone who has experienced a trauma, and we may have even experienced a trauma ourselves. The PTSD Alliance (2016) reports that “an estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD”.

HOW CAN A THERAPIST HELP WITH TRAUMA?

Due to the complex nature of trauma, the therapeutic journey will vary from person to person; as some treatment methods are more appropriate for some people than others. Trauma therapy is heavy work, and because of that, people may find that they feel a little worse before they feel better. Feeling a little worse during trauma work is actually great news! I personally view it as a sign that you are working through exactly what needs to be worked through, thats why it feels like a challenge! Persevering through the initial challenges of trauma work is so worth the reward of processed trauma, and a restored sense of peace.

First and foremost, our work will be focused on creating a safe space — both in and out of my office — where an individual can find a feeling of calmness. The idea behind this is, the more calm a person feels, the less intensely they will feel the not so great feelings, such as anxiety and/or flashbacks while processing the trauma in the later stages of our work. After establishing the foundation, we will then begin to process the trauma. For example, this can be done through creating a narrative about the trauma, as per the guidelines of Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), or using bilateral stimulation and eye movements, as per the guidelines of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, just to name two methods. Regardless of the processing method that is chosen, it is important to remember that you are in control of your trauma work. We will work at a pace that feels comfortable to you, and at any point it becomes too much, say so! You are in control.

I am not what happened to me.
I am what I choose to become.
— Carl Gustav Jung

What is a Life Transition?

When introducing myself as a therapist to clients, colleagues, and strangers alike, I always include the areas I specialize in: trauma, anxiety, and life transitions. More often than not, the response I receive is a variation of: “That’s so cool! But wait, what do you mean by life transition?”. Merriam-Webster (2019), defines the word transition as “a passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another”. To me, the word “transition” is indicative of some kind of movement and change. So how does this apply to life?

Examples of Life Transitions

  • Starting or finishing college

  • The beginning of a relationship or marriage

  • The end of a relationship or divorce

  • Family planning, becoming a parent

  • Starting a new job or career path

  • Recent health diagnosis

How Can a Therapist Help With a Life Transition?

From the list of examples above, you can see that transitions are incredible changes in the path of someone’s life. In other words, we are talking about some really heavy stuff! These changes can illicit a variety of emotions and experiences, such as depression, anxiety, anger, and overwhelm. People may also find themselves confused, and even shocked, at their feelings of grief and loss associated with a life transition, even when its a positive change. Change is powerful! A therapist can help an individual “unpack” and sort through these emotions and experiences, in addition to exploring and establishing coping skills. A therapist can also provide emotional support as your discuss and move through your life transition.

Times of transition are strenous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.
— Kristin Armstrong

EMDR - Part Two

I was already excited about EMDR after part one of my training, but part two took that to a new level! In going through an EMDR session myself (part of the training is experiential — meaning us therapists get to practice on each other!), I can say with confidence that this modality of treatment is incredible!

I will be expanding the knowledge obtained in basic training to continued training, once a month in New York City, with an expert in the field of EMDR. Beginning in January 2019, I will also be accepting new clients who are seeking EMDR therapy. If you are interested in EMDR, please contact me here!

EMDR - Part One

After completing part one of training in EMDR, I have to say, I cannot WAIT to try this type of therapy with clients! I think it will be especially beneficial for clients who have been processing trauma, but seem to get “stuck”. If you are interested in trying EMDR with me in the future, please send me a message through the form on the contact page!

Also, check out this video I found, which helps explain how EMDR works. As always, feel free to ask me any questions as well!

EMDR Training!

I am looking forward to an upcoming training on October 11, 2018 - October 13, 2018, where I am going to be learning the basic skills of a cutting edge therapy, eye movement desensitization & reprocessing (EMDR). You can learn more about here, and of course, feel free to ask me any questions!