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When people use the word trauma, they often mean different things. For some, this means that they have gone through a very difficult experience, such as a divorce, loss of a job, or a family crisis. Others may use the word trauma to refer to having been subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglectful caretaking as a child. For yet others, trauma may refer to living through life-threatening events such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, serving in the armed forces during a time of conflict, car accidents, or being a victim of crime or violence. All of these definitions of trauma are legitimate, and each person’s experience of trauma is highly subjective.
A person who experiences a catastrophic event may develop ongoing difficulties known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The stressful or traumatic event involves a situation where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred, or someone has witnessed such an event. The following are some symptoms of PTSD:
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections or dreams of the event; - Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring, including flashbacks; - Intense psychological distress upon exposure to reminders of the traumatic event; - Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, activities, places or people associated with the trauma; - Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma; - Feeling of detachment from others, emotional numbing; loss of interest in activities; - Having a sense of not having a future; - Difficulty with sleep and concentration; irritability; anger; - Hyper-vigilance and exaggerated startle response
Experiencing trauma does not mean that one will develop PTSD. However, those who experience traumatic events may have impairments in their life such as work problems, physical complaints, lower quality of life, problems with intimacy, and even suicidal thoughts. Early intervention is key. Medication may also be useful.
For those who have experienced some form of abuse as a child or teen, the episode(s) can become interwoven in the fabric of daily life. Often, people have trouble forming trusting, stable relationships, or conversely, may be too vulnerable with others. They may have difficulty with emotional regulation and problems with depression, anxiety, and anger. Sometimes drugs, alcohol, food, sex or self-injury may be used as a means of trying to ameliorate distress and regulate moods.
TREATMENT FOR TRAUMA
In the first session I work to help the client feel a sense of safety - a sense that they will not be judged, that their information will be kept private, and that I can help them manage the feelings that come up in session. I provide therapy that utilizes a cognitive-behavioral, evidenced-based protocol called Prolonged Exposure which allows for desensitization of the traumatic memories. I also teach calming and distraction techniques, such as relaxation breathing, visual imagery, and mindfulness to help with the emotional overload that often accompanies trauma. I help the client explore their negative self-image and sense of self-blame often associated with traumatic experiences, and begin to develop a new, healthier narrative of who they are and where they've been. Finally, I help the client construct a sense of meaning and purpose that emerges from the ashes of trauma, and help foster growth. I blend this multi-pronged approach, and tailor it to suit each individual.
RELEVANT PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
I received trauma training at Columbia University Medical Center, and hands-on training in several hospital-based jobs. I have worked with survivors and first responders after 9/11, and provided treatment, outreach, workshops, and trainings through a Red Cross grant-funded program. Through a joint program between the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, The Children's Health Fund, and the Louisiana Department of Health School-Based Health Center, I provided trainings in recognizing and treating trauma in children for educators and clinicians in the Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. My work on self-care after disasters has been published in the journal Pediatrics.
I also work with individuals who have experienced different types of trauma, such as childhood abuse and neglect, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Additionally, I run a women's support group focusing on trauma.
SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS
Another passion of mine is my work with individuals with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I help people recognize symptoms of their illness and develop coping skills. Importantly, I also help people recognize what are NOT symptoms of their illness but rather normal fluctuations in mood, thinking, and functioning. I firmly believe that you are not your illness or diagnosis. My empathic and caring work has been cited in "Transforming Madness, New Lives for People Living with Mental Illness" by Jay Neugeboren.
I also work with families who have a member affected by serious mental illness, helping them understand the illness, support the family member, and reduce stress in their lives.