Post-Traumatic Growth “Better than ever.”

March 31st, 2011

In an earlier article on PTSD (see CPFS Mental Health Notes—June 2010–on “PTSD”), information was given about the adaptive healing process from a traumatic event. Life after a traumatic event can go one of three ways: 1) we remain stuck in the experience (PTSD); 2) we return to previous level of functioning (Resiliency); or 3) we are a better person from the experience (Post-traumatic Growth).

Personal growth from a traumatic experience is not a new idea. Our grandmothers would lovingly encourage us: “When you get lemons, make lemonade” or “make hay when the sun shines.” In the movie, Lion King, there is a short vignette that exemplifies growth after trauma. Remember when Rafiki hits Simba in the head with his walking stick and Simba cries out “that hurts.” Do you remember what happens next? (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykbx-yzFgBo&NR=1 ) What a wonderful message to have given to so many people, and yet how many of us missed that wisdom the first time.

Many of us wait for misfortune to be a time for change, or said another way, many of us take advantage of trauma and make changes in our self. Dr. Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist who works with grieving families, has identified five domains in which people change: 1) appreciation of life; 2) relating to others; 3) personal strength; 4) spiritual change; and 5) new possibilities. Let’s take a look at some examples of these domains.

With greater appreciation of life, we experience more purpose, different priorities, and meaning for each day. With changes in relating to others, we get closer to others, rely more on others, more open with others, more compassion for, and appreciation of, others;, and more trusting. With increase in personal strength, we have greater self-reliance, confidence in our coping skills, acceptance of how things work out, and feeling empowered. Spiritual changes include increases in faith and understanding of spiritual issues. When we experience “new possibilities”, we develop new interests, new skills, new life paths, new opportunities, and new direction.

Obviously, these changes don’t occur overnight. Be patient. As the Chinese proverb suggests: “The best way to clear dirty water is to let it settle.” Peace and serenity can be achieved, and are interwoven with feeling safe. When we feel safe, we are more motivated to approach (compared to avoid when we feel in danger), connect, and explore.

Research identifies numerous ways to facilitate the healing process: maintaining connections with others, accept change as part of living, don’t view crisis as insurmountable but as opportunity for change, maintain hope, keep things in perspective, nurture positive view in self and others (“we have what it takes to get through this”), and take care of yourself.

Let the staff at CPFS be your travel agent as you prepare for your exciting journey for the future.

PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Getting Stuck in Getting Well)

March 31st, 2011

PTSD is a psychological “disorder” that occurs when the mind is trying to recover from a significant life-threatening event (e.g., motor vehicle accident, combat, rape, sexual assault, child abuse, invasive surgery, life threatening illness, to name a few) for our self or a loved one. The typical responses to these events include re-experiencing the event, avoiding the event, or hyper-arousal for the event. Examples of re-experiencing are flashbacks, intrusive thoughts/memories/images, nightmares, and strong emotional/physical reactions when reminded of the event. Examples of avoidance are trying to not think of it, not doing things that remind you of the event, not remembering important parts, loss of interest in past activities, drinking/drugging, withdrawing from partner/family/friends, and feeling numb about things we really liked. Hyperarousal stems from feeling in danger and not feeling safe; behaviors include sleep disturbance, irritability, concentration difficulties, jumpy, easily startled, and hypervigilant.

Healing from trauma involves the adaptive process of coming to a meaningful understanding of the event without the horrific emotions. It is not “just forgetting it” but involves changing the experience of the event. Post-traumatic growth occurs when we come to a new awareness from going through the experience and results in change in our personal strength, relating to others, spiritual growth, appreciation of life and seeing new possibilities. (See CPFS Mental Health Notes on “Post-Traumatic Growth”.)

But, how do we get from here to there. Our minds, like our bodies, have an innate adaptive drive to survive. With our bodies, white blood cells go to the site to fight infections, and swelling stiffens a sprained joint. Our minds work in a similar way. The mind helps us avoid until we are in a safe enough place to think and experience the event. Re-experiencing an event with reduced emotions and physical arousal (i.e., slow breathing, normal heart rate, calm and relaxed) allows us to make sense and process the event. So, these are really the mind’s attempt to set the stage for healing. Many spontaneously recover from events in this healing way with the help and support of family, friends, faith, early interventions, etc.

However, if we are in the fight/flight state, we can’t feel safe, and cannot process the trauma. As one patient told me, “I get in such a state I can’t think state.” You can’t make sense of something if you are still scared to death, and consequently stay “stuck.”

Treatment restores the natural progression of the healing process, allowing for the traumatic event to be safely part of one’s past, through which they have survived, and become a better person than they were before the event. The shorter the interval between trauma and treatment, the less disruption to our life. But, clearly, PTSD can be treated, and treated very successfully.

If you or a loved one are stuck in progressing toward healing, give us a call to facilitate getting on with your life!!

Richard “Rick” Murphy, Jr., Ph.D. has worked with trauma survivors since 1978. He has been a guest speaker on trauma treatment to psychologist, law enforment, school personnel, veterans, and clergy. He is a Charter Member of EMDRIA (1996) and Certified EMDR Therapist.

All the psychologists at CPFS have extensive experience working with trauma.

On Robin Hood & Fathers

May 21st, 2010

The story of Robin Hood demonstrates the importance of fathers…the importance of Dad in the development of a child, the difficulties posed when Dads leave or die, and the importance of other fathering relationships that can further others’ capacity for emotional connection and attachment.

The 2010 release of Director Ridley Scott and Actor Russell Crow’s Robin Hood, at first glance, was just another Robin Hood movie.  It is a great movie, to be sure, with good acting, wonderful scenery, and convincing period costuming and setting.  After I watched the movie, I became interested in how well the movie developed the Robin Hood character…how he became  a figure at once so brash and seemingly rebellious of the status quo, and yet so admired by his band of merry men and worthy of Maid Marion’s affection.

Think about it…Robin’s father was present in Robin’s early life and actively involved in developing Robin’s basic character– his moral fiber, sense of justice, and belief in liberty and equality of individuals.  Robin’s father’s death was sudden and traumatic, resulting in emotional withdrawal by Robin and his walling himself from others.  Robin’s participation in war during the crusades with King Richard likely added to the emotional distancing, yet Robin was set apart from the other soldiers by his honesty and his sense that the war was wrong and that he was no different from those he was fighting.  Robin also had the strong sense of self to speak plainly to King Richard–apparently a trait that kings didn’t always take kindly.  So, even though Robin was emotionally distant, he maintained the basic character set in motion by his early parenting, which we are led to believe was strongly influenced by Robin’s father.

When he entered the home of Sir Walter Loxley, Robin was taken under the wing of the elder baron and treated with the warmth of a father in a way that allowed Robin to be able to show warmth and kindness to those around him.  Experience and research tell us that had Robin not had the early parenting and early healthy attachments, the emotional healing could not have happened so quickly.  And it is wonderful that in the movie the fathering of the elder Loxley was seen mirrored in later scenes as Robin showed affection and fathering toward others, including the orphaned children of the wood in the final scene of the movie…

Fathering is passed down to the next generation.  If appropriate father skips a generation, there is a gap that can have dire results.  Fathers should never doubt how important they are in the lives of their children and others in the sphere of their world, including the healing of others who have not been so fortunate to have a father in the first place.

Anitra S. Fay, Ph.D.

Welcome to Mental Health Notes!!

March 3rd, 2010

We are excited to bring you this column and plan to use it to meet several important purposes.  First, we will post news about CPFS and the services we offer.  We are continually refining and improving our range of services so that we can provide “state-of-the-art” mental health treatment to our patients. In this column we will describe these treatments, as well as give you information about continuing education training our clinicians receive.

Frequently, local, national, and world events occur that are distressing and that present challenges to our efforts to cope.  We intend for this column to serve as a resource that can support effective coping skills and promote resilience in the face of these challenges.  We will provide specific suggestions designed to help us better cope with these events.

We will use this column to educate our patients (and other readers) about various mental health topics.  While there is an enormous volume of information available on the internet, we feel there is a need for a local source of mental health information that is based on sound, scientific research.  All of the information in this column will be supported by such research and we plan to provide appropriate links for those who desire more information than space will allow us to provide here.

It’s easy to see why we’re excited about this feature of our website.  We invite you to check back often as we regularly update this column. –Dr. Barling