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I want to start off by telling you a story…. It was a cold wintery day when a woman puddled through the snow into my office. She looked tired, withdrawn, and completely exhausted. How she presented didn’t match her outfit however, she wore many colors, prints, and fun jewelry. Taking a look at her I could just tell that she put a lot of effort into how she presented to the world. Within the first few minutes of hearing her story, I could tell that she has experienced trauma in her life, the kind of trauma that most people don’t survive.
The more she shared about her childhood abuse, experiences with addiction, abusive relationships, and currently her abusive marriage, I felt a sense of compassion rise within me. To be able to bear witness to her pain and darkness felt like an honor. Week after week she consistently came into my office with the same withdrawn look on her face, tired of fighting against the world. I knew then that my primary job was to sit, be present, and create a safe space for her to process. It took many months for her to start to see that she didn’t deserve the treatment she was receiving from her husband, stepchildren, and the way she viewed herself.
We worked tirelessly on healthy versus unhealthy relationships, how trauma affects her body, how trauma responses are normal and natural since our bodies want to either fight or fly away. We worked on rebuilding her from the ground up.
I remember, it was a sunny spring day and she walked into my office and said she was finally done with the abuse at home and with her marriage. To know that she had built up enough courage and self-esteem to know that she deserved better warmed my heart.
This next phase of treatment was my favorite. I saw a completely different side of her; that withdrawn look on her face dissipated, and she had a look of true resilience. She was able to look me in my eyes, she sat more upright on the couch, and even once in a while, had this beautiful smile that I knew would light up a room.
Once we created a safety plan on leaving, she got an apartment with her daughter, left her husband, got a second job to pay for her apartment, and was finally safe. We worked together for another year on her independence, how to create healthy relationships, and how she can start to love herself for the first time in her life. Currently, she is thriving, she finally is at a place of happiness and fulfillment.
When I think about trauma, I realize that for my client and really for all of us, 2020 has been a rough year. We are all experiencing some form of trauma, we might be feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty coping.
First, I want to explain what I mean when I say we’re all experiencing a trauma. It is defined as a stressful event or incident of a threatening nature, which is likely to have a pervasive impact on anyone who is experiencing it. A traumatic event is characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of death. Trauma can be cumulative, or it can be a one-time event, it changes how we view the world and it changes our brain.
COVID-19 is considered a trauma, it has left our country feeling a loss of control and insecurity about the future. When we feel we are out of control over our lives, internally and externally, we start to panic. Given the epidemic, we had to practice social distancing, wear masks outside of our homes, and be mindful of our exposure to the outside world. This was specifically isolating for all of us given we could not stick to our routine schedule or socialize with friends or family. On top of the isolation, this was also triggering for a lot of us because our bodies went into fight or flight mode. We felt like we were always on the look-out for danger because we were concerned about getting sick ourselves or our friends or family members getting sick. We also felt we were in danger because we didn’t have hope for the future because there wasn’t any certainty in what professionals were reporting.
Our ability to cope and adapt to this “new normal” was not an easy task for anyone. We as a nation were just getting our barring’s until we experienced the news about George Floyd. This on top of what we were already experiencing, was a whole different type of trauma. This left our nation feeling scared, unsafe, victimized, and hopeless. If you are struggling with intense or painful reactions or experiencing changes in sleep patterns, an increase of anxiety or depression.
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Transformations Counseling Group’s trauma therapist Jessica Rebelo, will be hosting a 3-day mini-series on how to cope with stress anxiety trauma health well-being during COVID-19 . Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00 a.m. join Jessica on Facebook live to learn skills and techniques on how to better manage your mental health symptoms and regulate your emotions. This is a very difficult time for people to cope with what’s happening around us, we are all feeling hopeless and isolated. This is a great way to come together as a community to have a better handle on our own symptoms. If you are someone in need or need someone to reach out too please contact us at 631-257-5900! You can also visit our website at www.transformations-
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With all the back and forth and up and down in the news, it is difficult to know what to think anymore. As confusing as it is for adults, can you imagine what it is like for kids to see and hear what’s going on in the world? I began to wonder if it was a good idea to have kids even be around reporting of current events. We are a divided country right now and I asked myself if kids are alright with this?
From what I have been reading, many kids are very concerned about current affairs. But unlimited access to these stories might not be a great idea. They will see crying children being separated from their families, witness acts of violence in our country and around the world and hear both the democratic and republican parties bad mouthing one another.
After watching these events, kids might ask their parents questions like:
- Can a person with a gun get into my school?
- Is someone going to take us away from each other?
- Is that fire/ earthquake/ flood going to hit us?
- Why are those people fighting with each other?
I know how easy it is to leave the television on in your house and you don’t even realize it’s on. You go about your chores, get the kids homework done with them, have their friends over and in the background the noise of the TV gets unnoticed. However, what we don’t realize is that a child might stop for a few seconds and hear of a story that can cause anxiety and you might start hearing questions like the ones above. Or you might have your child wake you up because of a nightmare s/he saw on the news.
So, our advice is:
- Hold off keeping the TV on ad infinitum
- Restrict their viewing of current affairs until your child is 10 years old
- After ten, watch the news with them so you know what they have witnessed and you can talk about what you both have seen and what you think about it
- Don’t be scared to ask your children if they have any feelings about what they watched. This can set up an environment where your child won’t be afraid to voice their fears to you. (In a Kidscape survey, it was reported that only a quarter of 9-13 year old were open to talk to their parents about their anxiety)
Even with your best efforts, there is a chance your child under 10 will see the news at home or at a friends house. Ask them about it and see if there is anything confusing or scary for them.
If your child says s/he is afraid, don’t dismiss it. Acknowledge that what they saw is real and have a rational and realistic talk with them. Let them know that they are safe and loved and help them stay in the moment. No one can predict the future, but your job is to encourage freedom of expression and help them have as much peace of mind as possible so they can enjoy their early years.
Adult Article / Infertility
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I am a psychotherapist specializing in working with individuals and couples who are experiencing infertility. I have been doing this work for well over 20 years and lately have concentrated on people using third party reproduction to create their families. I began to notice that it was hard for couples to imagine themselves as parents. How could they? After sometimes years of failed treatments, the thought that a procedure might bring them a successful pregnancy was just too hard to conjure up in their minds and so when they came into my office, talking about their future child was too far a stretch.
The problem is that I need to talk to them about their family building option and their belief of how their child’s conception would impact him/her later in their lives. My job is open up a discussion about their feelings about disclosure (who to tell, who not to tell), family support, their individual feelings about being biologically or non biologically linked to their child and what they imagined this relationship would look like.
I began to wonder how I could help them believe that one day they might hold a baby in their arms. A baby who would call them Mommy and or Daddy. So when they sat down in my office and I told them that during our consultation (as mandated by their physician), they were not the most important person in the room, but their future child is. Everything that we will talk about will revolve around what is in the best interest of their child and nine times out of ten, they looked at me like I had three heads.
I am trained as a Gestalt therapist. We use an empty chair technique to help our clients focus on the different parts of themselves. The client places an imaginary inner child or the people in their lives that have hurt them onto the empty chair, which allows them to open up about their feelings. As they speak to this projected person, they can get in touch with the feelings and begin to name them, recognize them and start releasing the negativity from their lives.
Hmmm! I looked around my office and realized that I could use an empty chair with the people who are planning to have a child. I could ask them to project that baby/child/teen onto the chair (that has a few teddy bears on it!!) and when I questioned them about how they will thought they might feel telling their child they were conceived through a donor, surrogate, gestational carrier, they could imagine it. If they sit for a minute and focus on the chair, they are able to let their heart and their minds project how they might feel.
So when I ask them what do you think about talking to your child about his/her biological origins, they take the question in and ponder. Before I used the chair, most couples’ immediate response would be that they would not ever tell or they would wait to tell or they were undecided and were afraid to even think about it. But with the chair present and my coaxing them to think deeply about what would be in the best interest of their child, they almost always decide that if they have their child’s best interest in mind and heart and they want to be honest parents that their children can trust, they decide just like the research teaches us. The earlier the story begins, the easier it evolves and the family moves on to create a secure and stable environment where children can grow and flourish, no matter how they came to be.
So, thank you empty chair for bringing this imaginary longed for child into the room so these future parents can make a decision that will benefit all of the members of this beautifully conceived family.
Harriette Rovner Ferguson, LCSW has been specializing in providing psychotherapy to individuals and couples experiencing infertility for the past twenty years. She is a mental health consultant to infertility clinics on Long Island, New York City and Pennsylvania. She conducts interviews and evaluations for infertility patients entering an IVF cycle or those contemplating using a third-party to create their families.