The Problem with Labeling Trauma

There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.

Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.

What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?

  • Manipulative
  • Oppositional
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Temperamental
  • Trouble makers
  • Bipolar
  • Narcissistic
  • Borderline
  • No conscience
  • Destructive
  • Stressed Out
  • and many more…

In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.

Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.

The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”. 

This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.

If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at rehuxley@gmail.com.

The Road to Resilience

June 2019 is PTSD Awareness Month and we are honoring all the victims of war and trauma with one of our TraumaToolbox videos on resilience and the history of PTSD. Get more at http://TraumaToolbox.com

The other side of toxic stress and trauma is resiliency. We can build resiliency skills in our homes, schools, and the community-at-large. Trauma-informed care asks us to make a paradigm shift in our approaches from asking survivors “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”. The latter creates safety and respect in our programs and procedures with traumatized children, women, and men.

Learn the six key principles of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration): Safety, Trustworthiness, Peer Support, Collaboration, Empowerment, and Cultural Awareness.

Individual strengths of the survivor should be build on, expanded, and celebrated. Together the individual, organization, and community can heal together.

We must move beyond cultural stereotypes and biases and recognize and addresses historical trauma.

These principles lead to the development of the 4 R’s: Realize the impact of trauma, Recognize the signs of trauma, Respond in policies, practices and procedures, and ultimately, to Resist retraumatization.

What does this look like in your organization or business? Get helpful quizzes, handouts, checklists more at TraumaToolbox.com

June Is PTSD Awareness Month – Take the Pledge

https://content.govdelivery.com/landing_pages/10180/9839c2bc4840115d408f04cc183a0400

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.

Who Develops PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.

Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

Although there are a core set of PTSD symptoms that are required for the diagnosis, PTSD does not look the same in everyone. In addition symptoms may come and go and may change over time from childhood to later adulthood.

  • Avoidance
    Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions about a stressful event. But when avoidance is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.
  • Trauma Reminders: Anniversaries
    On the anniversary of a traumatic event, some survivors have an increase in distress. These “anniversary reactions” can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction with more severe mental health or medical symptoms.
  • Trauma Reminders: Triggers
    People respond to traumatic events in a number of ways, such as feelings of concern, anger, fear, or helplessness. Research shows that people who have been through trauma, loss, or hardship in the past may be even more likely than others to be affected by new, potentially traumatic events.
  • Aging Veterans and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms
    For many Veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat. Even if they served many years ago, military experience can still affect the lives of Veterans today.
  • Very Young Trauma Survivors
    Trauma and abuse can have grave impact on the very young. The attachment or bond between a child and parent matters as a young child grows. This bond can make a difference in how a child responds to trauma.
  • PTSD in Children and Teens
    Trauma affects school-aged children and teenagers differently than adults. If diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms in children and teens can also look different. For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years if they do not get treatment. There are many treatment options available including talk and play therapy.
  • History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5
    PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. Research about Veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis. So, the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history. * Source:

Trauma Toolbox Fall Conference

Join me as the speaker for San Luis Obispo, California’s Fall Conference. I will be featuring my online trauma-informed care training: The Trauma Toolbox. 

This conference is free for parents and professionals who want to know more about this project and learn practical tools for healing trauma.

Be sure to RSVP at the DSS Training Line at 805-781-1705. Childcare will be available at an alternative location. Please call to arrange.

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Just Like Me…

In a recent training on Trauma-Informed Care, I led the group through a mindfulness exercise that explored the nature of suffering. The goal was to bring a higher level of compassion for others in emotional pain.

Suffering refers to the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. We know, in our heads, that everyone goes through difficult times but in our hearts, we neglect to connect with others, in their pain. This is because we are in pain too!

Professionals, who work with hurt people, are double-agents. They provide trauma-informed care and services to others AND they have experienced trauma too. We can be triggered by others pain and this will result in a distancing of emotions in order to keep ourselves safe. We sometimes call this a “professional distance” or “objectivity.” It might help us feel safer but it will also disconnect us from the heart of what we are trying to do in serving others. How to maintain this balance is the subject for another discussion. In the meantime, try this mindfulness exercise called “Just Like Me…” Examine how you feel before and after reading through it. Use it weekly or as often as you need to reconnect you with others who have experienced trauma and loss.

“Think of someone you like or dislike that you want to expect positive feelings and forgive. It help to think of that person who is similar to you. Take deep breaths and repeat after me…

This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
This person has in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person has at some point been sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, just like me. This person has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.
This person worries and is frightened sometimes, just like me.
This person has longed for friendship, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
This person wants to be caring and kind to others, just like me.
This person wants to be content with what life has given, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be safe and healthy, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
This person wishes to be loved, just like me.
Now, allow some wishes for well-being to arise:
I wish that this person have the strength, resources, and social support to navigate the difficulties in life with ease.
I wish that this person be free from pain and suffering.
I wish that this person be peaceful and happy.
I wish that this person be loved.
Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.”

Need a therapist or trainer on healing from the hurt of trauma? Contact Ron Huxley today at rehuxley@gmail.com.

Take an online course on Trauma-Informed Care dealing with Trauma, Anxiety, Parenting, and more at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

 

H.U.R.T. = Healing “Un’s” and Releasing Trauma

A key element of the healing strategies for individuals who have experienced trauma is to “ReWriting Our Narratives.”  These are the stories that we believe about ourselves as a result of the negative, hurt-full things in our life. But these stories are not all true even if they feel so, so, true. They are also not the end of the story. We can be the authors of our own lives and choose the plot lines of your future story. 

Children and Trauma

Children are “ego-centric”. These means that they believe the world revolves around them. Therefore, when bad things happen, they believe it is their fault. This is due to an immature nervous system and executive functioning skills that are supposed to help them see things rationally. They are not rational creatures. Consequently, if something bad happens traumatized children believe that they are bad! This is a false narrative based on painful/shameful memories.

This is a hallmark of trauma-informed care that is revolutionizing the programs and services across the nation. We are learning to shift our paradigms from asking “what is wrong with a person?” to “what happened to a person?” This allows us to concentrate on the story. But this must go deeper. We have to ask the healing questions: “where does it hurt?”

We can use the acronym for HURT to help us explore our stories:

H.U.R.T. = Healing Un’s and Releasing Trauma

HURT children carry around a lot of Un’s (a prefix meaning “not”): Unworthy, unwanted, unloved, unsafe, unstable, unkind, untrustworthy, etc”.

What UN’s do you or your child believe?

1.

2.

We could also ask ourselves this question. What UN’s do I believe about myself. Everyone goes through some level of trauma. The challenges and hassles of everyday life can be quite severe. Many caregivers suffer compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma as a result of working/living with a traumatized child.

Fortunately, healing is possible for children and adults. We can look at where the HURT is and find strategies that change our life stories with positive, resilient endings!

Get more help from Ron Huxley by scheduling a session today or taking one of an online Trauma-Informed training at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

Healing the Special Needs Child

Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”

Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!

Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).

Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)

One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.

play1

It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.

Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.

School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.

It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.

Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.

Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.

Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.

Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.

Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.

None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.

calm

Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.

Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!

Grounding Exercises

Grounding exercises are short, simple techniques that focus attention and distract from intense emotions.

They often involve focusing on environmental stimuli or pleasant, calming topics or objects.

They can usually be done with minimal equipment, such as a pen and paper, or nothing at all except one’s thoughts and imaginations.

Therefore they are versatile exercises that can be performed anywhere.

Grounding exercises quiet down extreme emotions and help survivors of trauma shift to a more rational form of thinking.

People with trauma will, from time to time, experience high stress or emotional overload.

This is true for people with acute trauma, complex trauma, even traumatic grief.

The goal is not to eradicate feelings of intense anxiety, sadness, or anger. Instead, learning how to respond to those emotions, in the moment, is key to our healing.

In the video above you will learn 5 powerful Grounding Exercises:

Item Listing

The 54321 Game

Task Visualization

The Method of Loci

The 5 Senses Technique

It’s always best to have multiple grounding techniques in your toolbox.

What works best for one stressful situation (a trauma flashback, for example) might not work best in another (such as prior to a job interview).

A technique that you use frequently may become less effective over time. It is best to use a variety of techniques to avoid becoming acclimated to them.

Some grounding exercises may not be a good fit for your temperament.

For example, some people find the Ice Cream Technique frustrating because they get stuck and can’t remember any additional flavor examples.

Other people find the 54321 Game unhelpful because it can draw attention toward unpleasant feelings or sights in their environment.

For each technique, there are modifications to help expand their usefulness. But some techniques might just not be for you.

Get more tools for your Trauma Toolbox at http://www.TraumaToolbox.com/

Looking for a speaker on Trauma-Informed care for your next workshop, conference, or event? Contact Ron Huxley for more information at rehuxley@gmail.com