When we experience trauma, our bodies store it, along with our memories, our psyche and our soul. When we experience sexual trauma, our second chakra (the energetic center around the sacral area of the sex organs) can be thrown out of balance.
A colleague and friend of mine, Scott Giacomucci, MSS, LSW, CTTS, CET III has been up to some pretty amazing things in the world of trauma, psychodrama and PTSD healing. He was kind enough to share some information he put together for his clients with us. The following is a handout on Trauma and PTSD. Let us know what you think and if you have any questions in the comment section below:
Trauma and PTSD
by Scott Giacomucci, MSS, LSW, CTTS, CET III
Client: "What's wrong with me?"
Therapist: "Well, given your symptoms, I think you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
Client: "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? What are you talking about? Trauma? It doesn't make sense. What trauma did I have? I wasn't in a war or survive a holocaust or anything. I didn't even really get hurt."
This is a typical response following an assessment and diagnosis of this poorly understood disorder. It seems appropriate that this diagnosis - like many other serious medical diagnoses - would be initially met with denial to temporarily protect the person from the reality of his/her own vulnerability. However, in order to effectively treat the condition, the diagnosis eventually needs to be accepted, and in order to accept the diagnosis, one needs to understand it. To this end, I offer the following answers to the two most frequently asked questions: What is trauma? and How bad does it have to be to be traumatic?
What Is Trauma?
According to one of the foremost experts in healing trauma, Dr. Peter Levine,
“Trauma is a basic rupture - loss of connection to ourselves, our families, and the world. The loss, although enormous, is difficult to appreciate because it happens gradually. We adjust to these slight changes, sometimes without taking notice of them at all…although the source of tremendous distress and dysfunction, it (trauma) is not an ailment or a disease, but the by-product of an instinctively instigated, altered state of consciousness. We enter this altered state let us call it "survival mode” when we perceive that our lives are being threatened. If we are overwhelmed by the threat and are unable to successfully defend ourselves, we can become stuck in survival mode. This highly aroused state is designed solely to enable short-term defensive actions; but left untreated over time, it begins to form the symptoms of trauma. These symptoms can invade every aspect of our lives.”
One of the most effective ways to evaluate if you have been traumatized is to answer these simple questions about a significant incident: when you remember the incident, is the memory exactly the same every time? Is the memory unusually fragmented or difficult to recall?
If an answer is yes, then the memory is likely a traumatic one. By no means does one traumatic memory constitute a diagnosis of PTSD; however it does indicate that the traumatic event has been dysfunctionally stored; remains inadequately processed; and continues to cause you distress.
What is a PTSD Diagnosis?
A diagnosis of PTSD is different from most mental-health diagnoses in that it is the only diagnosis that explore and places emphasis on “what happened to you”. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) offers 4 criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
1. The first criterion relates to the actual trauma:
Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s)
Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others
Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or friend
Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s); this does not apply to exposure through media such as television, movies, or pictures
2. The second criterion involves the persistent re-experiencing of the event in 1 of several ways:
- Thoughts or perception
- Illusions or hallucinations
- Dissociative flashback episodes
- Psychological distress or reactivity to cues that symbolize some aspect of the event
3. The third criterion involves avoidance of stimuli that are associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness, as determined by the presence of 1 or both of the following:
- Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the event
- Avoidance of people, places, or activities that may trigger recollections of the event
4. The fourth criterion is 2 or more of the following symptoms of negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s):
- Inability to remember an important aspect of the event(s)
- Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world
- Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the event(s)
- Persistent negative emotional state
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
5. The fifth criterion is marked alterations in arousal and reactivity, as evidenced by 2 or more of the following:
- Irritable behavior and angry outbursts
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
- Exaggerated startle response
- Concentration problems
- Sleep disturbance
6. The duration of symptoms is more than 1 month
7. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning
8. The disturbance is not attributable to physiological effects of a substance or medical condition
According to Levine,
“The symptoms of trauma may be continually present or they may come and go. They may even surface after being hidden for decades. Usually, symptoms do not occur individually, but in clusters grow increasingly complex over time. Unfortunately, they become less and less connected with the original traumatic experience, making it increasingly difficult to trace the symptoms to their cause, and easier to deny the importance of the traumatic event in one's life. However, if we pay attention to these symptoms, for what they are -internal wake up calls - we can address and begin to heal our trauma.”
Although there are pervasive misconceptions about trauma, PTSD is neither rare nor unusual. But unlike seeking treatment for symptoms related to diabetes or glaucoma, seeking treatment for the symptoms of PTSD is somehow interpreted as a weakness. Although this couldn’t be further from the truth, you may believe it. Maybe even said something like it; Real men don’t ask for help; Trauma couldn't possibly affect a well balanced person, there must be something wrong with me; or the all time favorite, It wasn’t really that bad; I should just get over it.
Don’t you think that if that were an option, you would have done just that?
(reference: DSM5 & Linda Curran)
Scott Giacomucci, MSS, LSW, CTTS, CET III is a certified trauma treatment specialist and licensed social worker in Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College where he received his Masters in Social Service (MSS) with a concentration in clinical social work. He facilitates trauma treatment services at Mirmont Treatment Center serving a variety of populations including young adults and emergency responders (veterans, police, fire, etc..) in both individual therapy and group sessions. Scott has a gentle, non-judgmental treatment approach that honors the inherent worth of each individual. He utilizes a blend of treatment modalities including both traditional talk therapy and experiential therapy which have been research-proven as the treatment of choice for treating trauma.
To learn more about Scott Giacomucci and the work he does, you can visit his website at: http://sgiacomucci.com/
The Main Line of Philadelphia
is a very special place to live. If you already live here, you know how unique this place is - if you don't live here, you are in for quite a treat. The suburban area to the west of Philadelphia has been referred to as The Main Line because of the main train line that connects Philadelphia to all the beautiful towns built up along the train tracks: Lower Merion includes Overbrook, Merion, Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood, Narberth, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr and Rosemont. Further out we have Radnor, Villanova, Wayne, St. Davids, Berwyn, Paoli, Malvern, Exton and Frazier. Each town is unique and has it’s own spin on charm.
Finding an expert trauma therapist on the Main Line of Philadelphia
seems harder than it should be. With Bryn Mawr's Graduate School of Social Work close by, Villanova University, Rosemont College, Saint Joseph's University, Widener, Immaculata, Cabrini, Ursinus and not to mention University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore and LaSalle, we have so many talented therapists, social workers and counselors. So, how do you find the therapist who knows just how to help you manage your post-traumatic stress symptoms? How do you find the counselor you can click with and trust to guide you through an evidence-based method of healing your past traumatic memories? Choosing a therapist is a very personal decision. You can have three great therapists, but if you don’t feel safe with them, what’s the point? If you are looking for a counselor, psychologist, life coach or therapist - I'd like to help you find someone who can help.
Here are some ways to search
Educate Yourself About Methods that Work for PTSD
When you have PTSD, there are only a few ways of treating your symptoms that have been studied and proven to effectively reduce or eliminate symptoms. Those nightmares you’ve been dealing with, the heightened startle response, hypervigilance, and avoidance of triggering situations – those are the things that get in the way of your life. These are the issues you’ll want to be sure your therapist knows how to help you manage and heal, not just talk about. One of the top researched methods for eliminating these symptoms is a method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
EMDR has been studied and proven as an evidence-based treatment method. You can learn more about EMDR and how it works here. Here is a short explanation: when we have traumatic memories, the memories tend to get stuck on one side of the brain and our body tries to heal it by re-playing it over and over, but it stays stuck. EMDR is a technique that stimulates each side of the body alternately while the patient processes the traumatic material. This technique helps the brain move the traumatic memory from one side of the body through to be able to process it so it’s not stuck on a loop any longer. You can find therapists who are trained and certified to utilize EMDR by going on the EMDRIA.org website or asking people who know therapists in the area. Think about asking friends who have or know therapists, your doctor or someone at your school. Therapists that come highly recommended and are known to work with PTSD through EMDR methods are a good way to make sure they have a good reputation.
Type into Google your town and the issue you are looking for help with. For example, "Bryn Mawr and PTSD" or "Rosemont and Trauma" and see what comes up. In the top listings that come up in your search, you will hopefully see some links to therapists that specialize in your particular need and are trained in EMDR.
What you will most likely see is a result that links to a Psychology Today profile for therapists in your area that have indicated these specialties. Psychology Today is a great site that is most commonly used for therapists to post their profiles and for clients to find a therapist nearby. It’s very helpful that you can refine your search by specialty. The unfortunate thing is that therapists can indicate that we specialize in as many topics as we'd like. Although a therapist might indicate that they specialize in PTSD, if it's really something we know a lot about, we obtain specialized training in evidence-based methods specifically for PTSD and we will often note areas we are trained in on our websites, so don’t stop with Psychology Today, make sure you read through the clinician’s website as well.
Check out the websites of potential therapists. If you are looking for help with flashbacks and the website you are visiting talks a bunch about flashbacks, that's a great sign! If you are looking for help with a heightened startle response and you're on a website that doesn't mention this symptom, you might want to keep looking.
Some therapists offer a free 15-minue phone consultation which is a great service and an excellent opportunity for you to interview your potential trauma therapist. You are going to be spending a good amount of time and finances on effective therapy, it is very important that you find the right fit for you.
Here are some questions to help you navigate your phone consultation:
1. What methods do you use to treat PTSD?
2. How do you help your clients manage overwhelming emotions while they work on traumatic memories?
3. What do you do to treat the symptoms versus the root of the problem?
4. How long does it usually take before your clients start to see relief from their symptoms?
5. How effective are the methods you use?
6. Given my specific set of symptoms and needs, do you think you can help me and have you helped many others’ with my specific symptoms before?
In an ideal world, you would find a therapist who has special training and expertise in the methods that show the best results and someone who has tons of experience working with eating disorders and trauma. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. So you'll need to search a bit further. You'll be searching for someone that you connect with, who you feel comfortable talking to, someone who will be honest with you and you'll know you can be honest with them.
I hope this helps you in your search for the right therapist on the Main Line of Philadelphia. If you want some tools to help now, sign up for my newsletter to get some tips and tools for managing PTSD and eating disorders. If you are still feeling stuck, feel free to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am available to listen to what's happening and help direct you to the right person. If you are looking for help with eating disorders or PTSD, you can read more about how I can help here.
What is PTSD?
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM V), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a cluster of symptoms stemming from exposure to an event that was traumatic. In an attempt to heal, our bodies tend to re-play upsetting memories until the memory can be resolved. PTSD can seem difficult to manage. PTSD symptoms include things like intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. While the key to healing PTSD requires more involved therapeutic interventions such as EMDR, there are ways to manage some of the symptoms to make life in between therapy sessions a bit easier.
What is a Flashback?
Jane, a 28 year old abuse survivor, was out to dinner with her friends. Suddenly, a waiter drops a tray of food and the sound carries through the restaurant. Jane hears the clattering of dishes and silverware hitting the floor. Her body believes she is back in the kitchen from her childhood when her parents fought and kitchenware broke. Jane crawled under the table, and ducked her head under her arms. When one of her friends reached out to her under the table, she flinched and apologized to her mother, reliving the childhood scene with her parents. This is one example of what a PTSD flashback can look like.
A flashback is when a person who has experienced a traumatic event, re-experiences that event in their body. Flashbacks can be so powerful, that the body believes that the event is happening to them in real time.
Anticipating a Flashback
While there’s no way to be able to fully anticipate when a flashback might occur, there are some preventative measures you can take.
Learn what your triggers are -
Scan your history with flashbacks and traumatic situations to see if you can find some themes. In the example with Jane, she experienced trauma in the kitchen with sounds of breaking plates and glass. You might notice that there are certain situations like restaurants, the beach, or the grocery store – that can be triggering. There might also be objects, sounds, smells or people that can set off a flashback.
Be Prepared -
Once you have a good idea of what your triggers are, see if there’s a way to prepare for them. In Jane’s example – she might decide to avoid restaurants or just loud, busy ones for a while until some of her symptoms decrease. She might sit with her back to the wall so that she can see what is happening around her in real time.
Practice Mindfulness –
You can practice mindful awareness by checking in with yourself regularly to see what you are experiencing in your body. Notice if any anxiety or dissociative sensations are heightened. Some people describe their PTSD symptoms as sensations of feeling floaty, spacey, leaving their body, spacing-out, zoning out, feeling overwhelmed, high anxiety or easily startled. If you experience any of these sensations, pay attention on a regular basis. These sensations are warning signals that you could be easily triggered when you are in this state. If you catch the trigger early enough, you can avoid a flashback.
What to do when you’re triggered –
Once you notice that you are in a heightened state of anxiety or dissociation, use some tools to stay in the present; in your body.
Tools for PTSD Symptoms:
(note: don’t use any techniques or tools you find triggering)
Use the senses – taste, touch, smell, sound and sight
Drink some water slowly. Notice the cool sensation of the glass on your lips, the water in your mouth and the sensation as it goes down your throat.
Hold an ice cube. The cold can help you stay in your body by bringing your awareness to your hand.
Light some incense – watch the smoke rise and coil, inhale the aroma.
Listen to music you find grounding. Pay attention to the words, tap your feet to the rhythm.
Play with Silly Putty or clay – notice the texture. Pay attention to the sensation of the clay in your hands.
Distract yourself and enlist friends to help you distract –
Try to think of as many baseball teams as possible. Take turns with friends in thinking of the names of all the teams.
Count backwards or say the alphabet backwards
Try to think of other categories such as names of movies, bands, TV shows, etc.
Ask someone else about how they’re doing
Get involved in a project like building model airplanes or re-arranging your closet. Something tactile that also involves thought is helpful.
Read an engaging book – this uses your sight, engages the sense of touch and distracts your mind.
When you’re thinking about where to put your shoes, your brain is less likely to slip back into a trauma memory.
To learn more about PTSD treatment, contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com