Does your therapist know who they are….?

For my graduate social work program I chose to do my research project on self-refelctive practice using myself as the both researcher and the one being researched. So far my work has been downloaded from universities and people all over the world.

When we look for a therapist, it is important that the therapist, know thyself.

I hope you’ll gain some knowledge from my work. To download click here: 

Abstract

Typically, in a social work graduate program, students are taught human behavioral theories, methods and interventions, ethical practices, policy and cultural competence among other areas. The primary tool used by social workers are themselves. Therefore, it is important the social worker is competent. The academic curriculum ensures that professionally, they are. However, how much does a social work graduate program ensure the social worker is competent personally? Theorists and current literature express the importance of a therapist possessing selfawareness— that essentially to know oneself is to know others. In this autoethnography, I aimed to enlighten the importance of self-awareness by participating in the self-reflective practices of clinical supervision and self-reflective journal writing during my graduate year as a social work intern and student. I took this data and interwove it with personal history and knowledge from social work literature and education. Through the process, I discovered the importance of the therapeutic relationship and its ability to provide relational repair, along with personal issues such as insecure attachment surfacing in order to be acknowledged and begin to be healed. Ultimately, I experienced the reason why self-reflective practice is essential in being a competent therapist. Self-reflective work brings self-awareness. Self-awareness brings self-knowledge. And, self-knowledge enhances the therapeutic relationship and increases a therapist’s overall competence and confidence.

To read the study click here. 

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Trauma, Triggers and the Myth about Time*

Trigger warning: this article begins with an experience of a car accident.

On September 29, 2011, I was living in California with my family. My mom had just come in for a visit, and my daughters and I were taking her to Big Bear Lake to spend the day. The car was on cruise control at 60 mph and Enya gently played on the radio. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw two round headlights of a truck. I said to my daughter in the passenger seat, “What is this guy behind me…..?”

I never finished the sentence. The white Toyota Matrix hurled through the air doing somersaults. The front end hit the pavement. The backend hit the pavement. Three times this happened until it skidded on its side and stopped at a mound of ice plant on the side of the freeway. Through the cracked windshield I saw my 11-year-old daughter, propped up against that mound of ice plant, bruised, bloodied, shocked. Our lives were never the same.

Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot….It just happens, and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it. ~Jessica Stern, Denial: A Memoir of Terror

We all survived the accident. Life went on. I resented that. I needed life to stop. It didn’t. It doesn’t. But trauma lives on in our bodies. In the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. says, “After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

After a traumatic event, many of us move on. Life doesn’t stop, and the messages we hear from the culture around us is: move on. It’s over. You survived. Get over it. And, so we do. We stop talking about it. We stop thinking about it. We get back into our lives. But, really, we are just suppressing that “inner chaos” and in doing so our lives and our selves no longer feel the same. We may stop feeling safe or joyful or content. We may experience flashbacks, which disturb our day-to-day activities. We may have physical sensations that scare us. We may be jumpy and anxious. We also might start drinking more alcohol or taking pills that calm us down. All this can be happening without any conscious reckoning that our bodies are still processing the trauma we experienced.

After our accident, I had flashbacks. I felt my body in that car again. I saw my daughter over and over on the side of the road. I cried. And, sometimes I had this overwhelming urge to scream, but couldn’t. The scream and terror, trapped inside me. For a while, I thought I had Multiple Sclerosis. My hands and feet would go numb. I would wake up in a panic in the middle of the night scared I was dying. What helped me is I had some awareness that was this was trauma processing itself through my body. I was also getting a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which has shown to be effective in the treatment of trauma.

Recognizing trauma, and treating it is essential. So many of us have experienced trauma. Sometimes just turning on the news, especially lately, is traumatic. We see our fellow human beings suffering in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires and mass shootings. Or we are those fellow human beings caught up in survival, with hardly enough time to consider our mental and emotional states. There are also groups of us suffering from historical trauma, which is experienced multi-generationally by a specific cultural group. Many of us were abused and neglected in childhood. And so many of us keep going through life as if time heals the wounds. Time heals nothing because as Van Der Kolk says, the body keeps the score. It remembers. It holds the trauma, and if not conscious of it, the trauma binds us.

In brain scans, during flashbacks, the right hemisphere of our brains is activated. This is our emotional, intuitive and visual side of the brain. What is also known, according to brain research, is that the thalamus, which Van Der Kolk describes as the “cook” within the brain because all of our sensations join together there, shuts down. This is why trauma is often remembered in snippets of sounds, images and physical sensations and not in a narrative format, with a beginning, middle and an end. Therefore, people experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may receive several of these snippets daily, or several times a day. If there is no conscious connection to the traumatic event, they may feel like they are going crazy. These experiences also make it challenging to focus, concentrate and have new learning experiences. Overtime, if not addressed, a person can begin to shut down, becoming numb and depressed.

Fortunately, there are several interventions, which can help with the symptoms of traumatic stress. According to Van Der Kolk, “The fundamental issue in resolving traumatic stress is to restore the proper balance between the rational and emotional brains, so that you can feel in charge of how you respond and how you conduct your life.” He goes on to say, that we are shoved outside of this proper balance when we are triggered and then, become “reactive and disorganized.” Therefore, we must become conscious of these triggers. For example, recently I was triggered when I saw a car accident on a television show. Immediately, my body felt anxious and I became distracted and could not focus. When I recognized the symptoms in my body, I connected the image of the car accident on television to my own real experience in the Toyota Matrix. Upon making this connection, my mind could orient itself back to the present moment. I took some deep breaths and my body began to calm down. This would be an example of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is simply a state of being aware. Self-awareness is the fundamental principle of recovering from trauma. We just begin to notice, notice what is happening in our bodies. Notice what we are feeling, especially when triggered by either an external or internal event. Developing a meditation practice can help facilitate mindfulness. Journal writing can increase self-awareness. There are also many therapies, as mentioned earlier. Some of them include: EMDR, art, music and dance therapy, Yoga, and Narrative Therapy.

The important realization in regard to traumatic stress, is we do not have to be bound by it. We can be free in our bodies, minds and emotions. We can feel alive again, and take in new experiences. It takes consciousness. It takes desire to understand. It takes support, and we can know the support is there.

*Originally published in The Volk, Winter 2017

 

Exploring Unprocessed Hurt*

In Rising Strong, Social Scientist, Brené Brown says, “Depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of old hurt.” Further, according to Brown, depression and anxiety, although have “organic and biochemical reasons…unrecognized pain and unprocessed hurt can also lead there.”

There was a time, many years ago, where I began experiencing intense anxiety. Eventually I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes several a day. This was making life difficult to enjoy. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, which only made the anxiety worse. In a way, the anxiety was fuel for me to figure out what was wrong. This led to years of inner work where I experienced sadness and pain and discovered patterns that were connected to my childhood. There, is where I dug deeper into my unprocessed hurt. The more I dug, the more I understood the unrecognized pain and released the unprocessed hurt, which eventually led to less anxiety.

So, what is unprocessed hurt and further, if it has anything to do with our childhoods, why would anyone want to go back there? Who has time, right? I think this might be a tough sell, but I am going to try anyway: go back there. And, here’s why: many of us are there anyway, especially emotionally. Let me give an example. We are at work, or in my case, a classroom. There is a large group discussion. We raise our hand or attempt to speak up, but our instructor or boss doesn’t listen or respond to us. We quickly put down our hand or shut our mouth and look down awkwardly. How are we feeling— rejected? Embarrassed? What are we thinking— no one cares what we have to say? My ideas aren’t valuable?

Now, it could be that the instructor or our boss just didn’t hear our voice or see our hand. Yet, we have a story that says we’ve been rejected. This story gives us certain thoughts and feelings, and very often, anxiety, which moves us away from the present moment where we might see that we just weren’t heard or seen because of a simple mistake by the person leading the discussion. It wasn’t personal. If this is relatable, maybe we can think of similar experiences as an adult where we felt rejected or ignored. Maybe we notice a pattern. What if we went deeper? Are there any childhood experiences where we felt this way? At school? At the family dinner table? Maybe we notice a connection to experiences now and experiences then. Maybe this connection makes us feel sad for the child that felt this way. What if we felt that?

This is inner work. And yes, it takes time. But more so, it takes a curious mind and the courage and willingness to go a little deeper beyond our stories, in this example, a story of rejection. When we begin to move our attention beyond our stories, the story of rejection being a common one, we find patterns and make connections and begin to recognize our unprocessed pain, and we begin to feel the unprocessed hurt. The more we do this, we might notice our anxiety dissipate. When anxiety dissipates we are more present. When we are present, we see more clearly and breathe more freely.

Now, this is just a theory of mine. It comes from years of inner work, along with years of learning and reading about self-help, psychology and social work. This theory does not discount the organic and biochemical reasons for anxiety, some of which are often treated with medications. It also doesn’t dismiss the varying environmental and social issues that can cause anxiety. It only serves to offer another perspective, one similar to the psychoanalytic framework, which considers unconscious forces that affect our behavior and emotions.  In this way, connecting current emotional and mental patterns to childhood experiences and other unconscious pain, gives another potential cause of anxiety and how it might be relieved.

To engage in more inner work, I suggest beginning to notice your thoughts and feelings in your day-to-day life. I would also suggest using a journal to record experiences in your day that brought up noticeable thoughts and feelings. After a while, see if you notice patterns or triggers, which prompt noticeable thoughts and feelings. Be present with your self-inquiry and see where it takes you. There is a passage from the poem, The Sunrise Ruby by the Sufi poet Rumi that can be used for inspiration on the path of self-inquiry and discovery:

Work. Keep digging your well.

Don’t think about getting off from work.

Water is there somewhere.

 Submit to daily practice.

Your loyalty to that

is a ring on the door.

 Keep knocking, and the joy inside

will eventually open a window

and look out to see who’s there.

~Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, p. 101

*Article originally published: The Volk, Fall 2017