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Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

Last night, we were given so many gifts, as many familiar faces returned and some new ones took part in conversation as well. It’s safe to assume, that everyone in that room left with a feeling of gratitude and compassion. Thank you.

Initial thoughts to circle back to: 

  • Remember that healing is a journey, not a destination. There are many peaks and valleys on this ride, but celebrate every small step forward.
  • Helping is healing. When you share your story, your vulnerability creates safety for someone else to share.

Themes: 

  • Compassion: When we encounter something joyful in our lives, it’s easy for us to instantly react with love and compassion. But pain doesn’t instinctively translate into compassion (for most of us), but learning to transform our reactions to pain into compassion is incredibly healing. A lot can get in the way of compassion, especially for those who have suffered trauma. When we feel wronged or hurt in some way, it’s difficult to actively let go of control and embrace a feeling we’re not used to associating with pain. [Read more]

“Compassion is a feeling of empathy for ourselves and for others. It is the emotional response to suffering, and it motivates a desire to alleviate that suffering.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

  • Forgiveness: Forgiveness is a feeling, not an action. Forgiveness can be difficult for many reasons: we haven’t let go of our anger, we want to harm those who’ve harmed us, or simply the notion that forgiving will free our offenders from justice. When battling with being able to forgive, it’s important to note that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean justifying the actions of your offender. [Read more]

“Remember, real forgiveness does not make excuses for the other person’s hurtful behaviour. Forgiveness is a decision that you make with your whole self after you have done your emotional work.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ 

References: 

  • Trauma loop: 

Brain states are states of confusion. A Trauma Loop is a brain state that has created a pathway in the nervous system. We use it again and again and it gets stronger. An example is a rage response to stress. Trauma loops occur when reality is overwhelming. Too intense, too scary, too loud, too fast. The nervous system can’t organize and reverts to survival threat response behavior. [Colorado School of Somatic Studies]

  • EMDR: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions. [Learn more about how it works]

Ideas and inspirations: 

  • Writing: The practice of writing about trauma, or journaling, has been shown to have huge benefits both physically and mentally. In fact, a study from the University of Texas explored this notion, and found that participants who wrote about their traumatic experiences, visited counseling services less often, cut down on pain relievers, etc. [How to get started]
  • Spirituality: When it comes to our healing journey, there’s one aspect that oftentimes gets overlooked—spirituality. [Read more from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’]

Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In addition to the brain’s reward circuits, the researchers found that spiritual feelings were associated with the medial prefrontal cortex, which is a complex brain region that is activated by tasks involving valuation, judgment and moral reasoning. Spiritual feelings also activated brain regions associated with focused attention. [Science Daily]

  • Create a “ta-da” list: one of our friends at the meet-up last night, suggested in lieu of a ‘to-do’ list, to have a ‘ta-da’ list. Instead of getting bogged down in how much work we have to do, try making a list of all you’ve accomplished. For practice, we will start with this at the next meet-up in January!
  • Star Trek: we had to throw this in because it made for amazing conversation! There has been unconventional practice on using episodes of Star Trek as therapy, in tackling different topics. Interestingly, this was the subject of a Psychology Today article that explains more.

If you’ve ever attended one of our BFF meet-ups, you’ve likely heard Theo Fleury talk about his successes with EMDR therapy. When it comes to trauma treatment, this particular type of therapy has some incredible research and anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Before you decide whether or not EMDR is the right approach for you, here’s some information about what it is and how it works.

What is EMDR? 

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions.

How does EMDR work? 

When people experience trauma, the brain does not process information as it would normally. A moment can become a lasting memory, and flashbacks can come in the form of images, smells, sounds, etc. EMDR however, allows patients to take direct control of how their brain processes information. By reprogramming the traumatic memory into a neutral or positive memory, you remove the upsetting emotions that come with it. You will still remember the event, but it won’t leave you in distress anymore. There are many different ways therapists do EMDR, but the idea is to activate both sides of your brain during the reprogramming of the memory, and this can be done with alternating lights or even just tapping with hands.

EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. [EMDR Canada]

How long does EMDR take? 

Before your actual EMDR session, you will have one or two meetings with the therapist so they can properly understand the nature of your difficulties and trauma, in order to properly prepare for the EMDR session. They may also determine that EMDR treatment is not a good fit for you. EMDR sessions last 60 to 90 minutes on average, and the number of sessions you need can vary from one to several.

How effective is EMDR? 

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment. [EMDR Canada]

Who can benefit from EMDR? 

EMDR is noted as an effective treatment option for those suffering from PTSD, or those who have a hard time talking about their traumatic experience. However, many studies have shown EMDR to benefit people with:

  • Panic attacks
  • Complicated grief
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbing memories
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorders
  • Personality disorders

To find a therapist in your area who uses EMDR therapy, visit the EMDR Canada website.

The benefits of verbalizing our feelings by talking to a therapist, have long been proven to help us on a therapeutic and scientific level. But if you’ve never experienced therapy before, like any new change, it may seem a bit scary. We could share with you the research behind how therapy can help you overcome trauma and live a fulfilling life, but instead we will let some real people share how therapy helped them (in some surprising ways too).

What was the biggest benefit you got from talking to a therapist?

  • “The biggest benefit I received from talking to a therapist was validation of my experience. Despite my training and experience in the mental health field, I often find myself quietly self-shaming my internal experiences. There really is no hack code for experiencing unconditional acceptance and non-judgmental validation; it has to come from another person.” — Molly Hayes
  • “Tools for coping with all of life’s every day stresses.  On top of helping me work through my baggage, the tools to help me better manage future issues continue to be so beneficial in my day-to-day. Often very simple explanations, suggestions have had the greatest impact.” — Amanda S
  • “It’s a great way to check in with yourself, sit with your emotions and release any stress or negative energy that may be brewing.” — Monsy
  • “I didn’t know how much I would benefit from a third party to not only listen, but interpret my struggles. To have another ear to listen and voice to respond that isn’t directly connected with your own issues is extremely helpful!” — Bonnie
  • “I think my biggest benefit and certainly a feeling of relief was, the weight off my chest, a ‘letting go’ type of experience. Being able to open up to a professional without a fear of personal judgment really helped the encounter.” — Joel
  • “I owe a great deal of gratitude to therapy. If not for the therapists I’ve worked with over the years, I never even would have been able to identify my trauma and put it into words. Going through the therapy process has allowed me to identify my issues, process them and develop tools and skills to move past them.” — Amber Craig
  • “I think the benefits intertwined for me. Recognition that I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s actions, validation that what I was going through was real, and tools to help me work through both the process and change.” — Shandra Carlson

What is the biggest stigma about therapy, in your opinion?

  • “There’s this misconception that we should be able to figure out life on our own, and that going to therapist means you’re either crazy or weak, when in reality I believe it’s so healthy to seek advice and learn from the wisdom that someone else can offer!” — Bonnie
  • “That you have to have something wrong with you. Therapy is as great a tool for prevention of emotional imbalances as it is for working through current ones.” — Amanda S
  • “In social circles, I have noticed a stigma pertaining to the potential of diagnoses relating to therapy. It appears that some people believe that seeing a therapist means that at the end of a session or series of sessions that one will receive a permanent diagnosis for a mental illness. Fearing the judgment, misjudgment, and permanence of consequences for expressing one’s inner experiences, people avoid it. This comes from a pervasive misunderstanding of the experiences and goals of therapy and diagnostic procedures.” — Molly Hayes
  • “That it means you are weak or have ‘issues’. The reality is, there isn’t a person on the planet that can’t benefit from therapy. Even when I’m feeling unstoppable and on top of the world with my healing, I can have an amazing therapy session just the same and come out of that conversation having improved some area of my life.” — Amber Craig
  • “I’ve heard many people say they don’t need that ‘crap’, yet without giving it an opportunity, how do they know? The stigma that independence = I’m okay or maybe even better than those who don’t ‘need’ therapy, can keep people from becoming the best version of themselves.” — Shandra Carlson

Who do you think can benefit from therapy?

  • “I truly believe everyone can. There is not one person that has picture-perfect past without some form, small or large, of trauma, bullying, abandonment, neglect, hostility, etc.” — Joel
  • “I am a firm believer that there is an appropriate therapy out there for everyone.” – Amanda S
  • “Every single person!” — Amber Craig
  • “What Amber said! If connected with the ‘right’ therapist, we all benefit.” — Shandra Carlson

What forms of therapy, besides talk therapy, have you had success with? 

  • “Journalling has to be my favourite form of therapy. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m feeling until I’ve written my thoughts and feelings on paper. Feelings can seem so overwhelming until I have the chance to organize them.” — Monsy
  • “I’ve had a lot of success “trying on” the therapies of other cultures i.e. sweat lodges, Eastern meditation practices, travel, etc.” — Molly Hayes
  • “I’ve tried lots of forms of therapy, and my biggest successes have come from spiritual ceremonies like guided meditations, sweat lodges, etc. I have also found writing and journalling to be extremely helpful, as well as music and physical activity.” — Amber Craig
  • “I have a phenomenal support system with my family and friends, which I consider a form of therapy for me! I fought journaling for years but finally decided to give it a go, and it has definitely become one of my greatest treasures.” — Shandra Carlson

Are you interested in talk therapy for your trauma healing? Click here to learn about our Therapy Grant Program.

For all of you who tuned into this blog, just waiting to expand your vocabulary with the most offensive swear word I know, you’ll be happily disappointed.

The word is actually an acronym. So what is this offensive acronym? PTSD – or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological injury, or condition of caused by experiencing traumatic event(s). PTSD is often found in military personnel and emergency service workers, although it is certainly not exclusive to them. Having PTSD does not mean a person is a cry baby, has their feeling hurt easily, someone who is weak, or has a disease of Bubonic Plague proportions. Although talk to someone who has experienced if for themselves, or worked in emergency services, and they will likely feel different.

I have extremely personal experience with both being diagnosed with PTSD, and treatment from colleagues that work in emergency services. Don’t worry, this is not a story of someone complaining about what has happened to them, or how they were treated. Rather, it’s a story of Trauma, enlightenment, perseverance and Triumph.

Granted we all face difficult times and task throughout our whole lives, sometimes those situations can be too much and can affect our present.

I was hired in 2007 in emergency services. Within the first couple of years I attended several horrific events:

  • An accident where the driver was scalped
  • A collision where  people 19-22 years old where killed,
  • I had a 15 year old die in my arms from a collision
  • Watched a 19 year old die from a collision and later attended that autopsy (that’s a whole other story)
  • Watched a co-worker die in front of me in a freak accident
  • Was put in a position to mentally commit to taking a life

Over the next few years I attended several more collisions and watched a few more people die in front of me at the hospital. I had a mother hand me  a 2 week old baby that was dead, and I attended to many other situations where I saw death, or had to make choice to cause serious harm or death.

In a span of five years, I managed to see a lifetime of trauma. One day I just became overwhelmed and sought help. I got professional help, and this was honestly the best thing ever to happen in my life. I learned mindfulness, so much so I became a certified instructor. I learned I needed better fitness for my body and with that came some unique performance hypnosis ideas. I identified that I suffered from low confidence, so much so that I decided to become a master certified self confidence coach to overcome it. I also learned Tai Chi and found it so helpful I continue working towards instructor certification.

However, according to my colleagues, at some point I changed from a coworker to a cry baby. I had my feelings easily hurt, I was damaged goods. These opinions were held about other co-workers who had been in similar situations as well. I, and others in my category, were avoided by our coworkers. I had an emergency service refuse my application, until I could prove this type of injury wouldn’t happen again, until I quoted from the Human Rights Act.

I was absolutely surprised to hear what coworkers thought about PTSD, how an emergency service would ever say they needed proof that PTSD wouldn’t happen to me again. Add to that the fact they already knew I was diagnosed with PTSD because my coworker felt it was so dangerous, they had to disclose it without my permission to this emergency service once they had found out I applied.

As I thought about my personal treatment, the treatment of others with PTSD, I began to notice something that seemed to make no sense. If someone had a physical injury, like a dislocated shoulder or they required knee surgery, their injuries were never seen as being of weak body. They were not cry babies. The expectation was that once they had surgery, rehabilitated the injury, learned some techniques to strengthen the injury they were welcomed back with open arms.

So why was I not? Why was the fact that  I saw a doctor, had the injury fixed, rehabilitated and learned some strengthening techniques to make sure it was less likely to happen again not the same? Was it because of one word that changed it from a physical injury to a psychological injury? Or realistically four additional letters (OLOG), that made this injury unrecoverable? The emergency service I applied to never asked about my dislocated shoulder, nor did a coworker feel they needed to tell this service that I had dislocated a shoulder. So why such a small difference then?

Well simply it comes down to a lack of knowledge. Although emergency services and management of those services are educating themselves at an encouraging and unprecedented rate, there is still so much mystery.

A psychological injury in the emergency services is not any less common than a knee that requires surgery, a shoulder that dislocates. A psychological injury is far less likely to be reported, and people will suffer years in silence for the fear of being ousted by a coworker. Coworkers oust those who do come forward; 1) because they don’t see a psychological injury or, 2) don’t understand a psychological injury. People often fear what they don’t understand.

What can we do to change attitudes towards psychological injuries? There is no doubt that anyone who works in an emergency service, or knows someone who does, should educate themselves about what PTSD is and what it is not. Gain understanding that like any other injury, you can recover and not return to where you were before, becoming better and stronger than where you were before.

Another strategy is mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness is a huge weapon in relation to PTSD. When we really learn to be in the moment it’s hard to be affected by the past. Another great strategy is to talk to someone, and don’t be afraid to see a psychologist. You will not regret that decision.

My favourite strategy is one of the biggest foundations I believe all of us need in life – self-confidence. Self-confidence, if you are the one suffering, will help you to learn. The best and most successful people in the world seek help. You owe yourself the love and compassion to seek that help and become better. Gaining self confidence will help these people work through the fear of the unknown, being able to treat the co-workers based on their actions. If your coworker has gotten help and says they are better, there is a real chance they’re not only better, but BEST.

By being self-confident as someone who has recovered, you have a real opportunity to inspire someone suffering in silence to get help. Professional help, or maybe just have you teach them the techniques you use to strengthen yourself, to help prevent a build up that causes harm.

By being self-confident as a coworker of someone who has recovered or suffered, you will be an excellent support. You can help your coworker have strength to seek help, have support while getting help, and have comfort that it’s alright for everyone to stumble once in a while, it’s how we get back up that truly matters.

Who knows, maybe your confidence will save a life! I often wonder just how many suicides of emergency professionals are related to silent suffering. There are enough true dangers in the world. We can do without fear of getting help, or fear of those who get help.

— Written by Jason Rorick (follow on Twitter)

 

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada, a time for our country to reflect on the elephant in the room—mental health. Mental health affects every Canadian, whether directly or indirectly; 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness first-hand in their lives. This means that we all know someone who is living with a mental illness. What we hope for, is a world where they can live with that mental illness without stigma and with the help they need to live a happy and healthy life.

How many people are affected by mental illness in Canada? 

  • Nearly 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives
  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in life
  • Mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds
  • 3 million Canadians are currently suffering from depression

It’s a big problem, so how are we doing with it? 

  • Only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them
  • On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness
  • Two-thirds of homeless people using urban shelters suffer from some form of mental illness

The reality is, we need to do better, and we can always do better. Many Canadians are without mental healthcare benefits, meaning they are left to pay for therapy sessions out-of-pocket, which can add up quickly when the average psychologist is $120/hour. Even Canadians who have health benefits, many must seek therapy through a work-approved therapist, which may not be the right person for their specific needs.

This is why we created the Breaking Free Foundation Therapy Grant Program. Our program allows Albertans to apply for high-quality therapy services with vetted trauma specialized psychologists, at no cost to them. Through fundraising and sponsors, we are able to pay for therapy for our clients, and ensure that they are receiving the specialized care they need to begin healing.

Right now, our program is available in Alberta only, but we will be expanding nationwide eventually. For information on how to apply for our Therapy Grants, please see here.

*Statistics via Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Health Commission of Canada

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In my past life I was a counsellor at an organization that provided support for women and children who were experiencing homelessness, poverty and family violence. It took me a long time to recognize that I was dealing with unacknowledged trauma of my own. In May of 2014 I made the decision to leave the organization where I had worked for eight years. It was painful to leave the colleagues I loved, but I realized that it was time to find a new place to shine. To my great surprise, immediately after I made this decision and seemingly out of nowhere I was pulled into dealing with my own trauma that had gone for so long unacknowledged. It was as though my body was waiting for me to be still and then it said, “We have to deal with this.”

I finally had to acknowledge that as a little girl I was sexually assaulted by someone that I really loved. I will never forget the pain. I could feel that my little body was bending and straining against itself in a way that was never intended. Part of the assault was witnessed by an adult I loved and trusted, who chose to do nothing.

I was so heartbroken and confused that I buried my pain and shame deep in my heart and tried not to think about it. As someone who worked for many years with children and families who had experienced suffering, I know it seems ridiculous that I didn’t ever acknowledge my own. I was completely unprepared for the debilitating despair, shame, fear and anxiety that overwhelmed me as I tried to confront this experience. The numbness and sense of deep unworthiness that I carried my whole life now made complete sense. I now recognise that there is no area of my life (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and mental) that this experience has not distorted.

I was cut off from spiritual resources during the first steps of this journey because I was raised in a loving but unhealthy family that participated in a very spiritually abusive cult for a time. I had completely rejected any spiritual connections as adult, so I was startled to establish a loving attachment to the Divine Feminine – I call her “Maman”, the French word for mother.  (The Over the Moon community has been so influential during this process – thank you).

I have been reflecting on many different aspects of the healing journey. For years I witnessed it and indeed facilitated it in others. Now I am experiencing it and of course, that is very different. I don’t have easy answers. What I am hoping is that by being open and honest with my experiences, some of the things that I have been discovering in this darkness might resonate with other women.

I am in therapy with a very skilled, gentle and feminine counsellor who has an extensive background in treating sexual trauma. Still, that has been exhausting and overwhelming. I wonder if it is like going to cancer treatment – you really hope that it is working, because the treatment itself is so painful.

Things that have unexpectedly been helpful and meaningful are exploring art and literature and reconnecting to the Divine Feminine. The last one may seem obvious, but as someone who had been in a patriarchal and abusive cult, it was a very big discovery for me.

I love to reflect on the special, ordinary things that come up throughout my day – sometimes a little meditation on a poem or a piece of art. I am also very interested in the stories of my French mother and grandmother. Healing my spiritual feminine lineage has become very important to me on my journey. In my years of working with people who had experienced trauma, we constantly recognized the importance of art, stories, dance, music, play and expression in healing. Now I am experiencing this for myself, and I know it is true. For years, I feared my body – large tracts of it were frozen and inhabiting it felt like living in a haunted house. To my surprise, she has turned out to be a wise and gentle friend, who remembers everything and never lies to me.

Thank you so much for listening to my story. I know that I have a long way to go on my journey. But I feel grateful to look back and acknowledge that there has been some progress after all, and that I found love in all kinds of dark, unexpected places.

— Written by Claire Anderson
[Follow her on Twitter

Are you interested in sharing your story, or experience breaking free from trauma? Please contact us to guest blog. To continue the conversation about trauma, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.