The Books That Helped Me Transition from Trauma to Triumph: A Book Review Series – “Getting Past Your Past”

Book three in this blog series – Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Francine Shapiro, PhD.

This book was recommended to me by my therapist in the midst of our four year, ninety-eight session, EMDR healing journey. For those unaware what EMDR is and how it helps, I will give you my trauma-warrior perspective, a view from the inside. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. During most sessions, I would watch a light bar flash from left to right and back again or hold vibrating paddles in my hands, alternating left, right, left, right. This would result in my eyes naturally falling into a rhythmic back and forth as I was encouraged to revisit traumatic events from my youth.

What would arise during these sessions ranged from body memories, such as a feeling that someone was squeezing my left shoulder in a fierce grip, to flashbacks of images, such as seeing my mother’s face from beneath water as she held me down, to sensations of a spirit presence in the therapist’s office (I believe it was my deceased father trying to help me). Naturally, I would at times experience panic attack symptoms, and would almost always cry. Sometimes slow tears cascading down my cheeks. Other times full-on ugly crying, requiring a pause in the action.

While at times I found this to be terrifying, my therapist was always there to remind me to keep myself grounded, be gentle with myself, just notice the body memories or panic symptoms without judgment, and to guide me to tuck the session into a storage box, until next time, so I was able to walk out of her office, most days, emotionally exhausted but able to continue with my day. EMDR was life-altering. I would not be in the place of tranquility I am today without it.

This book, penned by the developer of EMDR, kept me holding on to hope as I weaved my way in and out of horrific childhood and young adult memories. It was my reminder that the symptoms of my Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) diagnosis need not be permanent. I could learn to process the memories in a healthy way, release stored negative energy, rewire neuron pathways, and create healthy coping strategies and new habitual patterns. Whew! Sounds exhausting, right? It was. But, wow, was it worth it.

PTSD makes life unmanageable. It pushes people into trying to do something to survive the chaos within them.

Francine Shapiro, PhD in Getting Past Your Past

Using real-life stories throughout this book to guide us readers through the lessons to be learned about trauma and its effect on us in brain/mind/body/spirit levels, helped me feel not-so-alone in my journey. Dr. Shapiro also took me by the hand, along with my therapist, and guided me toward a better understanding of the physiological processes that had occurred during the traumas, and helped me understand what being triggered was doing to me in the present day.

Dr. Shapiro takes us into exercises we can utilize as we move along our healing journey. Trying to survive the chaos within me was a heavy load to carry each day. Not knowing when I would be triggered. How severe the panic attack would be. Wondering if I would actually die from it this time (a racing thought that haunted me mid-panic). However, these self-help techniques outlined in the book encouraged me to believe in the possibility. The possibility of relief. The possibility of hope. The possibility of true healing.

Basically, life is not just about getting rid of suffering. It’s about expanding our potential while embracing feelings of joy and well-being.

Francine Shapiro, PhD in Getting Past Your Past

This incredible book introduced me to life changing concepts such as mindfulness (which I practice on a daily basis now, particularly on my nature hikes), post-traumatic growth (which I can proudly claim has occurred in my life), and Hope for Healing (my own coined term for what I experienced in my life as a result of EMDR – and also the name of my monthly newsletter).

I hope you find comfort in this collection of stories and pertinent information on trauma-recovery. You are so very worthy of the possibilities EMDR can offer.

Anticipatory Anxiety: What Is It and How Do You Stop It?

By definition:

Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future. Rather than being a specific disorder in its own right, anticipatory anxiety is a symptom commonly found in a number of anxiety related conditions, such as generalized anxiety. Anticipatory Anxiety can be extremely draining for people as it can last for months prior to an event. The worries people experience specifically focus on what they think might happen, often with catastrophic predictions about an event. The nature of negative predictions about the event will be the difference between an anxiety level that is incapacitating or merely uncomfortable.

as defined by Anxiety UK

A friend recently reached out to me prior to her drive from Cincinnati to Chicago to inquire about mindfulness practices. As she spoke, she talked about her fears of traveling alone, the possibility of heavy traffic, not knowing where she was going once she arrived in Chicago, and the known fact that she would be driving over bridges. All of which were causing her to experience heightened anxiety. I love it that she reached out to me, trauma-warrior research guru that I am, to discuss options.

I advised her to begin practicing mindfulness as that is my favorite go-to when experiencing anticipatory anxiety. I just happen to be working through my own bout with that pesky little symptom of my C-PTSD right now. We are preparing for a trip to Denver to visit my oldest son. While I am super pumped to see his cute face and the beauty of Colorado, I am also fretting flying, the high elevations, and being far from home.

I am well aware of these fears and why they are present, after my four year stint in EMDR therapy, so I honor their presence and just notice them without judgment. I remind myself these are physiological responses triggered by chemical surges in my brain in relation to past traumatic events. I am working at re-wiring my brain and creating new neural pathways, but that is still a work in process.

Think: brain pep talks! Do what scares you, Teri. You got this, girl!

My personal anticipatory anxiety goes something like this:

Lying in bed. Thinking about staying at The Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver with its rooftop pool and tennis courts. Then my knees start to sweat. Rooftop pool? How does that water not crack the roof and cause the building to crumble? Is there a guardrail? How high is it? Will I be able to ride the elevator up there? Will I feel it swaying? I swear, if that kid of ours goes near the edge, my heart will stop. I wonder how the drive is from the airport? I’m hoping we aren’t in heavy traffic. Especially on a busy highway. I’ll have to sit in the back. You should check out the city and enjoy it, Teri. No. What if you have a panic attack. You haven’t had one of those in a long time.

That all transpires in a mater of seconds. Ah, the joys of racing thoughts. But, then I reach into my coping skills tool box and start to pull out my calming strategies and redirect my thinking.

Deep breath. Closing my eyes slowly, I savor that breath. Now another. A smile creeps into the corners of my mouth. Another breath follows, even deeper. I reach over and grab a grounding stone lying bedside. I love this stone. It’s cool to the touch. And heavy in my hand. So smooth. Other than that rough little edge where it dropped into the gravel on a hike once. I wonder sometimes how long it might take for me to rub it smooth again. My fingers engage in their rhythmic dance along that edge.I’m excited to walk the one block trek from our hotel to the 16th Street Mall. I’ll let John pick a fun restaurant since he’s now a Denver pro. My sweet boy. The best hugger ever. Looking forward to that hug. If something triggers some anxiety, I’ll just hold onto his arm. He knows how to help his momma stay grounded. So blessed to have these children in my life. This trip is going to be amazing. I am going to savor every one of my senses. The sights of the city and atop the mountains in Estes Park. The tastes of new eateries. I wonder how crisp the air will be without Cincinnati humidity? I look forward to breathing it in, smelling The Rocky Mountain flora. We will definitely need to rent a boat on the lake so I can feel the cool water mist splashing onto my face. Oh, to hear the laughter of my children as they catch up with one another after months apart.

My anticipatory anxiety is now silenced. Perhaps it will poke its annoying head out of hiding again. But, I know how to put it in its place.

Back to my friend who was traveling to Chicago.

She called me today as she drove back home to Cincy. I was happy to hear her voice sounding perky. When I asked about her trip, she replied, “Oh, Teri, it was wonderful!” Yay! I then inquired about the six hour drive. She spent the next thirty-one minutes telling me about the strategies she used throughout her trip. How she brought along one of her stuffed otters someone had gifted her from the Cincinnati Zoo, having stuffed the little guy into a pocket of her purse, and reaching for him to touch the softness as she approached a sky-way bridge into the city. She discussed the pep talks she gave herself, You’re fine. You’re doing great. Just stay focused on your lane. The songs she sang along with and the phone calls she made in order to pass the time and keep her mind re-directed from anxious thoughts.

Her friend lives on the fortieth floor of a high-rise condo overlooking Navy Pier so her fear of heights was another anticipatory anxiety. She explained how the elevator ride was smooth and quick and her friend kept the shades shut in the bedroom in order to allow her to settle in. She took stunning photos of the scenery from forty floors above the city streets, but avoided stepping onto the balcony. Honoring her needs. I love that.

She also challenged herself to new adventures, such as an architecture tour of the city from a boat cruising along the Chicago River. Her friend praised her for how well she was doing throughout their escapades. She even watched the fireworks display through the windows of her friend’s condo upon returning from their day of tours and sight-seeing. She told me she continued to use mindfulness techniques to shake off her anxieties and enjoy the present moment. Again, I love this!

Mindfulness as defined by me: reminding myself to re-direct any old habitual scary thought patterns back to this moment, right here, right now, and all the joyous beauty to be found in it by use of my senses. I open myself up to all things smile-inducing in this moment in time.

So, how do you stop anticipatory anxiety? Practice mindfulness. As often as possible. Soon you will be living mindfully aware. And anticipatory anxiety may try to sneak in a word or two, but you can mindfully remind it to sit down and shut up. You have a beautiful life to enjoy without its input.

The Healing Place Podcast Interview: Jim Ellis & Dr. Sara Gilman – Keeping the Peace

Welcome to The Healing Place Podcast! I am your host, Teri Wellbrock. You can listen in on iTunes, Blubrry or directly on my website at www.teriwellbrock.com/podcasts/. You can also watch our insightful interview on YouTube.

What a hope-infused conversation with Jim Ellis and Dr. Sara Gilman regarding the soon-to-be-released educational film, Keeping the Peace.

“A 30-minute educational film – titled Keeping the Peace – will be gifted to police agencies across San Diego and then the nation for in-house training of officers. The purpose? To bring awareness to the stresses and traumas experienced by officers and law enforcement personnel while on duty in order to empower them to normalize their emotional and mental responses to on-the-job experiences and to take action in alleviating, diffusing and treating the symptoms of trauma (PTSD), so that they can retain wellness in all areas of their lives.”

Jim’s Bio:

James Anthony Ellis is an award-winning playwright and reporter who owns Legacy Production, a San Diego production company that in 2012 produced the acclaimed “Indoctrinated: The Grooming of our Children into Prostitution.” An author of eight books and producer of 100 video presentations, Ellis is now working on a new educational film “Keeping The Peace” supporting law enforcement officers in their mental and emotional wellness.

Websites:

Company: http://www.LegacyProductions.org

Contributions: https://chuffed.org/project/keepingthepeace

“Keeping The Peace” – direct to page http://legacyproductions.org/keeping-the-peace-for-the-peace-keepers/

I Have Seen montage – YouTube https://youtu.be/ZOoY0CAvlBY

Dr. Sara Gilman’s bio:

Dr. Gilman, is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, and has a doctorate degree in Psychology, with a certification in Sports Psychology. In 2017, her doctoral dissertation focused on the effects of cumulative traumatic stress exposure in first responders and the use of EMDR as an early intervention. For the past 32 years, she has specialized in the areas of Traumatic Stress, Addictions, and Peak Performance. She is the co-founder and President of Coherence Associates, Inc., an individual & family counseling corporation, with offices in Encinitas & Rancho Bernardo. The CAI team of counselors is dedicated to expanding human potential through the coherence of mind, body & spirit through clinical excellence, integrity, and compassion. Additionally, Dr. Gilman holds certifications in EMDR Therapy, CISM, NLP, Hypnosis, Coaching, and HeartMath.

She is a former Firefighter/EMT and served on the San Diego Critical Incident Stress Management Team for over 10 years. She was awarded Fellowship status with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress for her extensive work in utilizing EMDR with first responders following critical incidents. She was elected to serve on the EMDR International Association Board of Directors, is a former EMDRIA Past-President, and contributing author in 2 books addressing treating trauma in 911-Telecommunicators with EMDR Therapy. Sara is an invited speaker nationally and appears on radio and TV discussing the topics of stress, trauma, addiction, and mental toughness. Counseling for Individuals, Families, Couples, Children Peak Performance & Mental Toughness Training; First Responders, Athletes, Performers

Sara G.Gilman, Psy.D., L.M.F.T., President/Owner www.CoherenceAssociates.com

Peace to you all!

Teri

Hope for Healing Newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/999ad011495f/hope-for-healing-newsletter-february-2019

Book Launch Team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/unicornshadows/

What is Present-Centered Therapy?

What is Present-Centered Therapy?


Present-Centered Therapy is a non-trauma focused treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This therapy modality is called “present centered” as the goal is to focus on the client’s current/present life while recognizing the connection between PTSD symptoms and current struggles. All the while doing this without focusing on past traumatic events.

There are a host of therapy options when it comes to treating PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms and they reside under different treatment umbrellas: medication treatment, trauma-focused therapy, and non-trauma focused therapy.

I have utilized all three! When I was first experiencing severe panic attacks (but, not yet given a C-PTSD diagnosis), I was prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. I eventually requested to be weaned off of all medications and challenged myself to learn coping strategies while continuing “talk therapy”. I began psychotherapy with a licensed practitioner in 2013 and we started the process of shining a light on my trauma history. This counselor suggested EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as an alternative and I moved into that therapy practice. It was there that I started the deep-dive back into my trauma history, reliving traumatic events throughout my sessions. I participated in ninety-eight EMDR and brainspotting sessions which spanned a four-year period.

The goal for YOU (or anyone in your life seeking therapeutic support), is to find what works best for you and your needs. You know YOU best. The key is to research your therapy options, then research therapists who specialize in the treatment you have chosen for yourself. Continue your self-care journey by reading the latest research on brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to change) and evolving therapies. 

What is Exposure Therapy?

What is Exposure Therapy?

(The following article comes from borrowed snippets from a conversation thread in the ACEs Connection community in response to my asking for guidance regarding Exposure Therapy)

“Prolonged Exposure (PE) is the most researched treatment for trauma related disorders around. It is also a “gold standard” treatment – meaning its efficacy is top of the line. Dropout rates for trauma treatments are statistically the same for all approaches. Part of the symptomatology of PTSD is avoidance. That is (the) basis for the prolonged exposure, to have the client face what they are avoiding, especially the more disturbing aspects of the traumatic event(s) as measure by subjective units of distress (SUDs). 

PE involves having the client relive the trauma over and over again until SUDs begin to go down. Your homework would include listening to recordings of your sessions outside the treatment room. You may also be assigned to expose yourself to anxiety provoking stimuli outside of sessions based on a hierarchy of fears and anxieties working on the most anxiety-provoking antecedent first.  As previously stated, the goal of therapy is to reduce your SUDs level to a manageable point. Even though SUDs were developed by a behavior therapist (the “B” in CBT which is the general classification of PE), the late psychiatrist, Josepf Wolpe, SUDs are also used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). 

The research indicates there is no statistically significant (difference) in any of the approaches with the exception of EFT, which doesn’t have a significant research base, though the relatively fewer studies indicate EFT yields promising results.

If you would like more information on PE, you might want to get a hold of a copy of Edna Foa’s, the creator of PE workbook, that is written for PE clients titled Reclaiming Your Life From a Traumatic Experience (2007).”


Please remember: Healing is possible and you are so very worthy of that gift! 

What is ART?


What is ART?
ART is the acronym for accelerated resolution therapy . . . and, wow, do I wish I could find a therapist in the Cincinnati area practicing this newfound approach to healing trauma. My research thus far indicates there are currently no practicing ART practitioners in Ohio.
However, the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute is currently engaged in a study involving the comparison of accelerated resolution therapy (ART) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).
According to The Rosenzweig Center for Rapid Recovery, accelerated resolution therapy is a form of psychotherapy involving the use of eye movement using a technique called Voluntary Memory/Image Replacement.
During this process, a licensed practitioner guides the client through a series of steps in order to change the way negative images are stored in the brain, by waving a hand in front of the client in order to stimulate eye movement. Old negative images are replaced with new positive images, sometimes resulting in instantaneous results. 

 

Similar to EMDR, which I utilized over a four year period, this methodology uses eye movements, but allows the client to replace images of traumatic events with positive images. It is being used primarily with veterans as a way to combat their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

 

I am optimistic that as we learn more about the brain’s plasticity, meaning its ability to change and rewire itself, these healing modalities will continue to flourish and provide much needed relief for those who have experienced traumatic events. Particularly if those events have resulted in stressful symptoms such as panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and codependency. 

The idea of replacing negative images storied in my memories with positive ones, to be able to “unsee” what haunts me, is a dream come true. EMDR certainly provided me an avenue for processing the pent up negative energy associated with my traumas. However, we became stuck at my highway and bridge phobias. After revisiting all of my traumatic events repeatedly, we still could not identify the trigger for the driving-induced panic symptoms. This ART therapy seems as if it just might be the perfect fit for replacing any negative images associated to highways and bridges with positive images instead. Amazing!

Please remember:Healing is possible and you are so very worthy of that gift! 

Coming next month: What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?
Excerpt from my monthly Hope for Healing Newsletter. Subscribe here! Thank you!

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Following is an excerpt from my upcoming September newsletter. This month I cover: Step 3 in the Defining Resilience series – Utilize Self-Care Strategies; a video on anxiety and panic attack coping skills; information on EMDR therapy; and creating a safe space as a coping mechanism. I would love to have you (or anyone you know who could benefit from my insights) subscribe to this and future newsletters at Hope for Healing Newsletter, as I work to grow my audience.
What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy has been life-altering for me. In 2013 I experienced what I reference in my presentations as a “shift”. I was struggling in a toxic relationship, trying to come to terms with my trauma history, and attempting to juggle various personal issues. It was within the confines of Dr. Barb Hensley’s office, at Cincinnati Trauma Connection, where I finally confronted the dark spaces of my traumas and learned to process them, releasing the stored up energy which had been surfacing as severe panic attacks for the previous twenty-five years.

So, what is EMDR Therapy? EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It was initially developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro as a method for helping soldiers, returning from war, combat their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. However, it has since been utilized to help hundreds of thousands of patients process traumatic experiences.

More information about the therapeutic technique can be found at the American Psychological Association’s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My personal experience during sessions included the following:

Sometimes I would use a light bar in my therapist’s office, keeping my head still and allowing my eyes to move back and forth, following a flowing green light stream from left to right and back again. Other times, I would close my eyes (as I was being distracted peripherally) and focus on the vibrating paddles I held in my hands. Those would alternate vibrations, left, right, left, right, left, right, and so on. My eye movements would naturally fall into a rhythmic back and forth movement, similar to the movement experienced during REM sleep.

While following the light bar or hand vibration pattern, I would be prompted to return to one of my traumatic experiences. The vast majority of the time something would instantaneously surface. A body memory. A flashback. A sensation. Something would appear. Sometimes it would be a snippet I had remembered outside of therapy, other times a memory would appear from an unconscious space. It would be filled with specifics I had long forgotten (such as the blue oval-shaped rug, sprawled across the floor next to my black metal-framed bunk beds, in my bedroom in our home in Park Hills, Kentucky- a memory from age four).

Sobbing, shaking, overwhelming emotions, and sometimes the symptoms of a panic attack would arise. The soothing voice of my counselor would be there to assure me that I was safe. It was there I would first learn to “just notice”.

I became aware of my triggers and realized the body memories were there to help me instead of scare me. I started to look forward to the sessions so I could dive headfirst into the chaos in order to find more answers. There was light within the darkness.

We touched upon every known traumatic experience, sometimes returning to an event repeatedly as something would surface later down the road. At first these visits into the past were seen as if I was watching a movie, from a dissociated space. I was watching someone do horrific things to a little girl from outside of myself.

I knew the day I returned to a trauma and saw it happening from within my body, through my own eyes, that I had reached a place of healing. To feel safe within my body as I relived a moment of terror during an EMDR therapy session was truly empowering.

EMDR allowed me the opportunity to process a massively complex history of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to violent crimes, and addiction in my family. I am now panic attack free. While I still experience heightened anxiety in certain situations, I am better equipped to calm my physiological responses, being mindful of my needs and triggers and the coping skills I can utilize to help myself overcome the fear.

Coming next month: What is PTSD?