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Trauma/Healing

Wildfire Recovery and Healing

Wildfire has devastated our community. Lives have been lost, homes and businesses destroyed, and individuals and families dislocated. Firefighters have labored in high-risk conditions. Law enforcement personnel have protected our neighborhoods. Community organizations and countless individuals have stepped forward to offer refuge to evacuees. My heart goes out to everyone in my community who is suffering in the traumatic aftermath of the Wine Country wildfires. Their impact will be felt for years to come.

I’ve worked in the field of trauma recovery for over 47 years. I’ve seen that after a crisis passes, the steps to recovery and healing can begin. While recovering from trauma isn’t simple and will take time, I offer five suggestions for starting the process:

1. Allow yourself to grieve.
Give yourself permission to feel and express your grief. Grief includes feelings of loss and sadness, but also of anger, distress and frustration. Shortcutting the grief process postpones your recovery from trauma. Buried feelings don’t go away, they fester. Grieve your losses.
2. Deal with reality without succumbing to fear.
Traumatic experiences involve threats of danger and loss of control. Fear is a natural response in such situations but allowing your fears to take over will only make your situation worse. Discipline yourself to focus on taking one step at a time. Don’t obsess about the past or the unknown future. So much can seem chaotic and unpredictable now. Ask yourself, what is the next constructive thing I can do? Then act, keep moving forward.
3. Look for new opportunities.
During dramatic upheavals, it’s easy to lose sight of new opportunities. What have you been hanging onto which it would be better to let go of? In what ways would it be better NOT to go back to “the ways things were?” I have seen that trauma produces not only post-traumatic stress but also post-traumatic growth. Change can be for the better.
4. Find things to be grateful for.
What can you be grateful for? I’m not suggesting that you feel gratitude for pain and loss. If you and your loved ones survived the fires, be grateful for the chance to rebuild and start again. If you were evacuated and received support, be grateful for that. If you helped hurting people in our community, be grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.
5. Help others.
Probably the quickest way to temporarily set aside your own pain is to help someone who is suffering, who may have had a harder time than you. Or, reach out to our first responders who have worked hard to protect us. Continue to care for others and you’ll find your own burdens will feel lighter.

In my years as a therapist, I’ve seen all kinds of trauma – combat, crime, abuse, violence, even our recent financial recession. I’ve helped many people get through traumatic life experiences. I know it can be done. It’s urgent to start the process of recovery as soon as possible after the immediate crisis is over. My staff and I are committed to helping our community to develop resilience, heal and find hope. Let’s reach out, come together, hold each other up. My heart is with you.

Psychotherapeutic Boundaries

One of my lifelong priorities has been to demystify the language of psychotherapy. Academic terms and jargon more often make the therapist sound impressive rather than help the patient get better. “Make it simple and down-to-earth for me,” is something I say a lot – to fellow therapists and to my patients, as well. Vague confusion doesn’t do anyone any good.

So today I want to demystify two terms in the psychotherapy profession. These thoughts come straight out of my thesis of 38 years ago. The terms I’m talking about are the external boundary and the internal boundary.

Part of a psychotherapist’s job is to set and control the external boundary for their patients. This means – as simply as I can put it – that it’s my responsibility to create and maintain a safe and beneficial space for my patients. This setting will give them the best chance to understand and resolve their challenging personal issues. Part of the space is my office. Patients must be able to feel physically safe. This includes the promise to complete privacy and confidentiality.

The other “space” that’s part of the external boundary is the structure of the therapy I provide. Working within their budgets as best I can, I determine how many sessions, lasting how long, and happening how often, are needed to give my patients their best chance for success. I also set up scheduling and payment methods to help my patients be more accountable for their progress and success.

The internal boundary of psychotherapy, however, is less directly under my control. It is more like a delicate partnership with my patient. Patients cross the internal boundary to reveal to me their pain, wounds, struggles, and fears. They reveal their traumas from the past and the present and their hopes for the future. These revelations allow me to get to work – helping them address issues, resolve pain, and create a better life and relationships.

But crossing the internal boundary can be complicated by many, many things. Patients can feel shame and have trouble being honest. Patients can want to blame others or events and deny responsibility for themselves. Patients can be in denial, or disconnected, or just plain don’t know how they feel or why they keep making a mess of their lives.

Over my years in practice, I’ve developed ways to help people cross the internal boundary, discovering and revealing their most deeply held pain and secrets so that they can heal. I believe this is where psychotherapy goes beyond having a toolkit. Yes, tools are necessary, but there is an art to using them. In this area, I can always improve.

Trauma/Healing 5

Trauma . . .

. . . can happen at any age.

Healing . . .

. . .often proceeds faster in a malleable child than a hardened adult.

Trauma/Healing 4

Trauma . . .

. . . can be an isolating experience.

Healing . . .

. . . happens most fully in relationships.

From “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma” by Catherine Woodiwiss

Trauma/Healing 3

Trauma . . .

. . . is a hidden epidemic.

Healing . . .

. . . is possible.

Trauma/Healing 2

Trauma . . .

. . . is not a disease.

Healing . . .

. . . is not a cure.

Trauma/Healing I

Trauma . . .

. . . is a visible or invisible wound.

Healing . . .

. . . repairs the wound, but there will always be a scar.