Archive for March, 2011

Post-Traumatic Growth “Better than ever.”

Thursday, 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)

Thursday, 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.