What can your trauma teach you?


I admit, it is kind of a strange question. How can a traumatic experience bring anything positive? A trauma is traditionally viewed as eternally damaging and psychologically tragic. It goes against all instinct to think of a police officer surviving a shooting and benefiting from it in some way. However, as the saying goes "For every negative there is a positive". Or this great saying "Always look on the bright side of life". There is something to be learned from every experience, no matter how terrible the experience was.

That is exactly what Associate Professor of Psychology Anthony Mancini and his colleagues wanted to find out. They interviewed the survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and found that 15% of the survivors reported a reduction in depressive and anxious symptoms. Dr. Mancini and colleagues found that social connection and closeness to peers contributed a great deal to these reductions in symptoms. So I asked this exact question to the First Responder Support Group I facilitate as I was curious to the types of answers that would roll out from this question. Here is what was said

EXPERIENCING A TRAUMATIC SITUATION WILL:

- Force you to develop self tools and talk about emotions and inner feelings. It will give you an understanding of yourself and of those around you;

- Give yourself permission to choose your friends. You will get to know who your true friends are and who only calls him/herself a friend but runs at the first sound of "help";

- Allow yourself to redefine personal boundaries. Were you a people-pleasure before the incident? Or maybe you have always been a helper (you chose a profession as First Responder for a reason). This is the time to stand up for your own values and principles, think about yourself first and everyone else comes second;

- Allow yourself to regain the control over yourself;

- Change the way you see things, and appreciate the small things;

- Make you become more resilient and accept that things will change and may change again.


As for you, what has your trauma taught you? For some reason, when we are unhappy, our brain finds it real easy to think of all the bad and negative experiences in our life. It becomes a vicious cycle, where you feel down because you can't remember the positive, and because you can't remembering the positive you feel more down. It's time to take charge and step out of this negative spiral. Think of at least 3 things that went really well today. And once you've done that, make a habit of this exercise, and you will find that it will become easier and easier to think of all the good in your life.

To watch my “Minutes with Marleen” video on this topic, click here

Don’t have Facebook? Click here to watch the video on my Youtube Channel.






Myth or Reality: only crazy people go to psychotherapy


A funny thing happens when I tell people I am a therapist. Responses range from “I’ll have to be careful around you” to “So you have me all figured out”. More often than not I get the question “You must see a lot of crazy people”. Although psychotherapy, or ‘talk therapy’ as it is also referred to, has been around since the Greeks and the Romans in the 4th century BC, there is still a stigma on this topic. And funny enough, this always surprises me.

I have been in this profession for eleven years and have been given many names referring to therapist. Among my favourites are head shrinker, mental brainwasher and the never failing nickname `Shrink`. People always seem anxiously curious about what happens in my office. What do people talk about? Are all people you see crazy? Will others look at me different when they know I have been to a therapist? How will people react when they see me walking out of your office? Does it mean I am weak when I talk to a therapist? Because many people have the same idea about therapy and the therapist, they decide not to pursue therapy despite personal emotional and mental stress.

When I had my office renovated before I moved in, the contractor and I discussed many different office-plans. We looked at different options for my office, the waiting room and the group room. One question the contractor asked me was “Do you want to keep an entrance in the group room and one in the waiting room?” “Why”, I asked. “Well, that way clients can leave your office without having to walk through the waiting area and be seen by other people”. Funny enough, I had never even considered this option.

A fact is, most people who see me do not have serious mental health problems. People seek therapy for a variety of reasons. The majority of my clients cope with self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety and stress. They are facing serious life challenges or are facing a difficult period in their lives. For example, they are dealing with the loss of a job, suicide of a family member, a divorce, family responsibilities, difficulties being themselves in social situations, or decision-making issues. I would not call these people ‘crazy’, but rather ‘lost and trying to find themselves again’.

The cultural and social norms we live by today demand that we present ourselves as perfect. How many times a day do you ask people “How are you?” and the standard answer is most likely “I’m fine, how are you?” That one time that someone replies with “actually, I’ve been having a very rough day” you will probably not know how to respond back. What is more crazy, walking around with bottled up emotions and feelings because you don’t want to or cannot talk to anyone? Or talking things through in a therapeutic setting with someone who is trained to teach you coping skills and techniques?

Get Summer Ready with your Mind


Spring is in the air. Finally! After a long and cold winter, the snow is melting and joggers are showing themselves on the ice-free pavement. Isn’t it great that soon the weather will be warm enough to wear something other than long sweaters and track pants? But wait, after a winter hibernation period all those hot chocolates and mashed potato dinners will have added an extra layer that does not fit into those summer shorts.

The golden rule to losing weight is eating healthy and regular exercise. Eating healthy is easy, substitute rice or potatoes for a salad and away you go. But working out is a whole different story; running endlessly on a treadmill is not my cup of tea. Lucky for me, exercise does not have to be boring or mindless. There are a thousand-and-one ways to exercise, so there will be something enjoyable for everyone. The strategies outlined below can help you find your inner-exercise motivation.


MAKE IT PLAYFUL

When we think of playing, we think of children. But did you know that adults need time to play too? Before the invention of the radio and the television, adults would play as well. Not necessarily the same games as children, but fun activities to pass the time. In his book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”, author Stuart Brown describes why play is such a trivial part of adult human nature. He explains “It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish through play”. Instead of going for a hike because the unpolluted air will do you good, go for a hike because it is fun. Don’t just mindlessly swim 50 laps in the swimming pool, make it playful and add some dolphin kicks.

MAKE IT MINDFUL

A personal trainer keeps you focused on the exercise and makes you work harder. Unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to work with a personal trainer. Researchers at the University of Utrecht did a study with 400 participants looking at mindfulness and physical activity. They found that being in the moment did seem to make physical activities, such as exercise routines, more satisfying.

How can you be “in the moment” while exercising? By being aware of your body, how you move, and what the surroundings look like. For example, noticing that your heart rate is up, sweat trickling down your back, or what noise your shoes make on the pavement. By putting your awareness on your body, you will not have time to focus on negative thoughts (“i.e. Do I look funny doing this exercise?” or “My heart is going too fast, I’m having a heart attack”) and time will fly by while you enjoy the exercise.


TAKE YOUR WORKOUT OUTSIDE

Nothing is more enjoyable than drinking your morning coffee outside in your lounging chair, or having a drink with friends on the restaurant patio. The same principle goes for exercise. Are you tired of doing the same workout routine in the gym? Why not do it outside. More and more parks have an “outdoor gym”, small workout stations you can use freely. Are you someone who uses exercise videos at home? Why not drag your tv outside and workout in the sun.

When we think of playing, we think of children. But did you know that adults need time to play too? 

What NOT to say to someone who is depressed?


Yes there are things to say and things you should absolutely avoid saying to someone who is depressed. In fact, by saying the wrong things you can potentially jeopardize their road to recovery. Mental health is still an underestimated and misunderstood aspect of being human. There are the “Let’s talk” days sponsored by Bell, and the “Mental Health Awareness Month”. But knowing that mental health exists is not the same as knowing how to help someone with a mental health illness.

Think of it this way, coping with a mental health issue is like coping with a physical issue, except that mental health is invisible to the eye. Would you tell someone with a broken leg to “stop whining and start walking”, or “tomorrow is another day” as if that leg will magically be healed in the morning? The same goes for mental health, with an added complexity that we can’t see it so it must be faked, or over-exaggerated, or simply a cry for attention.


Here are some examples of what NOT to say to someone who is depressed:


  • “No one ever said life was fair”
  • “Tomorrow is another day”
  • “Are you still in bed? You’re so lazy!”
  • “Cry baby”
  • “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”
  • “I was depressed once, I know how you feel”
  • “It could be worse”

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN A LOVED ONE IS DEALING WITH DEPRESSION?

Ask them what you can do to help.

Don’t assume you know how they feel or that you know what they need. Simply asking them what they would need you to do could open up the door to further conversations.

Simply Listening

We live in a “fix-it” world. Don’t like your shoes, buy new ones. Don’t like the colour of your walls, repaint them. Don’t like your career, reschool yourself. Emotions are not fixable or replaceable. When someone tells you how they are feeling, don’t offer any advice, just listen.

Recommend that they speak to a therapist

Even if you have the best of intentions, chances are you know this person too well. Speaking to a complete stranger, who has no prior knowledge of who you are and who has no judgments about you, can allow you to open up about the thoughts you try to avoid the most.

Encourage exercise, fresh air and being social

Someone who has depression will not feel like engaging in activities, being social with people, or exercise. Encourage them to go out, even if their thoughts tell them to stay in bed, but don’t overdo it. Ask them to join you for a walk, or go for a coffee in town.

Healthy Eating

Eating healthy and on set times is important for anyone, especially someone dealing with depression. If they have no appetite, encourage them to at least have a smoothie, or a slice of toast, or make them a fruit salad.





How to work with your fears


As a therapist, I have worked with quite a few people struggling with fears, or phobias. I’ve had people with common fears, as a fear of spiders, elevators, and driving on the highway. I’ve also worked with people with less common fears, such as fears for dirty hampers, and a fear of fallen leaves (which was especially challenging in fall!)

There are as many different therapies as there are roads that lead to Rome, but my go-to therapy for helping someone overcome their fear is exposure therapy. This is a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy technique and it is most often used with PTSD and anxiety.

REAL FEAR

First, let’s look at the basics: what is anxiety? Anxiety is a common human stress response and is part of the human spectrum of emotions. Back in the days of the cavemen, our fear was either to be eaten by a saber-tooth tiger or be outcasted by our peers. This fear is also known as “real fear”, meaning that there is imminent danger. Other examples of real fear would be walking down the street and noticing that the car ahead is not stopping for you, or walking through the Amazon jungle and all of a sudden a poisonous spider jumps on your arm. This type of fear is an emotional response to tangible and realistic dangers.

PERCEIVED FEAR

Nowadays we have something termed “perceived fear”, it’s a type of fear that we have created for ourselves, has usually never occurred in real life, and is founded out of worries. For example, the fear of heights, or of being trapped in an elevator, or the fear of driving on the highway. Of course, there is a chance that you have been in a car crash on the highway, which is why you developed a fear of driving. However, the difference between “real fear” and “perceived fear” is that the latter is an emotional response to a thought. In the case of the fear of driving, it is the thought of what might potentially happen on the highway that causes you anxiety.

AH-HA MOMENTS

The reason why I like using exposure therapy with clients who want to learn how to stop being fearful, is because there are so many “ah-ha” moments in our sessions. This type of therapy teaches your brain that there is no pending danger with the phobia (which is the perceived fear), and it teaches you the power of your thoughts.

Learning to face your fears has to do with undoing the habit of listening to your thoughts when your mind tells you “I wouldn’t get on that elevator if I were you...”. If, in a controlled environment with a person you trust, you create a space where you feel comfortable to experiment with fears and thoughts, you might be surprised to find that you can leave the fears behind.

To learn more about what an exposure therapy session looks like, click here to watch my video where I walk you through an exposure therapy session.

Don’t have Facebook? Click here to watch the video on my Youtube Channel.





Stay in touch with us and up-to-date with the latest coping skills.
Sign up for our free newsletter

Sign me up!