Most of my work has focused on providing care to people who have been impacted by traumatic events - a life-threat experience, or the sudden or unexpected injury or death of another person. Combat, street violence, domestic violence, childhood abuse, recreational and climbing accidents. Grief and loss from these experiences can be overwhelming. PTSD, anxiety and depression, and increased substance use can sometimes follow.
Traumatic experiences often come with intense emotions such as fear, horror, shame, or guilt. Those emotions can be unbearable, so we naturally try to cope with memories and the emotions with avoidance. Many people depend on emotional numbing and/or substance use to avoid the feelings. We try not to think about it or talk about it. But while avoidance can work for the little things in life – “I am just not going to think about that for now” – it doesn’t work with experiences associated with life threat or with conscience. These types of experiences loom too large. We cannot keep them out of our minds. Similarly, we can try to avoid reminders of the event, but then the quality of our lives shrink. We stop going places, and we withdraw from relationships. As we disengage from life, depression grows, and we stay stuck in the original traumatic reactions that the original event had caused.
The right therapeutic process offers a manageable, structured, and safe process to overcome avoidance. With the support of a therapist, you can gradually take small steps to overcome the habits of avoidance and begin to turn toward the memory and its reminders. When you do that, you can begin to put the event into context, can again see the “whole story” and not just a “tunnel vision” version of what happened. Feelings become lighter and critical beliefs about what happened begin to change in ways you cannot anticipate. Psychotherapy can get you unstuck, can bring you back into relationship, and can start a process of healing and recovery.
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