Monday, December 22, 2008

Psychology of Preparedness--Article 2: Dealing With Change

Most of us have heard the adage that the only constant in life is change. It happens every day personally, socially, nationally and more. Most of us, however, do not adjust well to change, whether positive or negative. That has nothing to do with our character, but more with our personalities and how we were raised. I’m going to give a few pointers on how to deal with change and adjust to it.
As with any difficulty that someone may have, I would suggest that you train yourself to become aware of your own response to change. Think of what it may have been like for you if you recently moved, had a child, lost someone important to you, lost a job, lost a home or valued possession, etc. Bring to your remembrance your emotions, thoughts, and even physical problems that surfaced after the change. Did you feel anxiety, sadness, or did you feel numb from your emotions? Did you find yourself feeling sick, experiencing headaches, neck or back pain? Did you start having thoughts of self-doubt, doubting others, doubting your faith? Did your sleeping patterns or appetite change? It’s important to know (for the sake of knowledge, not to judge yourself or the situation) how you responded or reacted. These reactions are indicators of what your body and mind are doing in response to the change. There are techniques and therapeutic methods that can be used to decrease these responses and help as a future prevention, however, that will not be discussed in this article.
Once you are aware of your reactions, then you can look at the actual change itself. What happened and which parts of change did you have direct control or power over? What part of the change can you influence? Most of the time, we do not have power over the actual event of change. At that point, we have to train ourselves to give up our attempt at trying to control the uncontrollable. We can do that by falling back on our foundation (see article 1) and focusing on what we have power over. The truth is, we have power over ourselves, only. There is very little that we can control in this world. That does not render us powerless. We can control ourselves, learn from the past, and prepare for the future. We can only do our best, and our best will change from day to day.
If you have further interest on change, review my blog site for more information.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Psychology of Preparedness

This topic will include several articles that address current concerns regarding the emotional and mental state of people in regards to the current economy. It will be a definite work in progress. Check back for more information as time goes on. If you have specific requests, put them in the comments section and I will research and write what is needed.

Part I—Safety Needs Are Paramount

The news, whether TV or internet can appear daunting and foreboding with the economic crisis, wars, and other global problems. We learn about the financial industry, the struggling domestic car industry and the government proposals to bail them out. It certainly can raise concerns about individual and business rights and responsibilities, as well as possible constitutional compromises. Such news, I have witnessed, increases anxieties, can induce a sense of future hopelessness, and on the extremes, cause paranoia and zealotous activities. The paramount idea of being prepared for what is going on and what could vs what will happen is safety.
Being prepared is a level of establishing safety for yourself and your family. Abraham Maslow presented a theory of basic needs requisite for human development and enjoyment. In order of importance, those needs are: 1) Physiological, 2) Safety, 3) Love/Belonging, 4) Esteem, and 5) Self-actualization. Self –actualization being the final stage means fulfillment in your life’s pursuits or purpose, which is individual and personal. It cannot be met without the others being met first. In preparing yourself and family, first and foremost prepare for your physiological needs (thus, the purpose of this website). Those physical needs are as follows: breathing, water, food, shelter, warmth, protection from the elements, sleep, sex (believe it or not), homeostasis (a sense of stability and predictability), excretion, physical health, etc. Much of this blog focuses on procedures, ideas, and suggestions to meet these needs. Once physical needs are met, safety is important. Safety is an umbrella term that describes many levels of needs. Those safety needs can include (though this list is not exhaustive) emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. If your physiological needs are being met, then many of the physical safety needs will inadvertently be met as well. However, what do you do with a sense of impending doom, anxiety, hopelessness, etc.? Well, first and foremost I would recommend (as I do to clients) evaluating your core beliefs and values. What kind of foundation of values, beliefs, standards, spirituality, etc. do you base your life on? Whether religious or not (in Utah we all know what the main religion is), everyone has beliefs. Even atheists have beliefs. What you need to do is see if those beliefs help you maintain a sense of emotional and mental safety. If they don’t, then you haven’t gone deep enough to discover what the unshakeable truths are upon which you build everything. If they are shakable, I would recommend figuring something else out that will not be shaken even WTSHTF! Foundation is the key to your sense of safety. Next, is your emotional and mental safety. Often, if your sense of physical and spiritual safety is well established, the mental and emotional safety will automatically follow suit. However, other things help. Ask yourself these questions: Am I a pessimist or an optimist? Do I call pessimism being a realist? What is the first thing I notice in a situation? Is it the negative or the positive? Do I hold on to grudges or do I forgive easily? Do I complain a lot? Do I focus on the fears of what can happen, or do I look at it as a possibility rather than inevitability? Do I stay awake at night worrying about things over which I have no power or control? Do I really have enough information or knowledge of the issues I worry about to merit the time and effort of worrying? The questions could truly go on and on. The point is ask yourself honest and revealing questions to evaluate what kind of anxiety you are creating yourself. If you find yourself worrying about current news, trends, or rumors, I recommend educating yourself from “reliable sources” to learn what you can. If there is truly disturbing news, which is possible, remember what your foundation is and fall back on that. Realize, also, that many of the current issues in the world are not influenced by your day-to-day choices, but by others who may or may not be good or wholesome people. The best we can do is be well-informed and educated and vote for who we can when that time comes. If someone is voted or called into office that you do not agree with, what more can you personally do to change the situation? Most likely, nothing. Remember your foundation and ALWAYS fall back on that. Men and women aren’t in office forever, whether good or bad. Learn to let go of things that you can’t change or control. You have better things to do with your time.
Remember that in these times we are not by ourselves. There are many out there just as concerned as you are. Be proactive in seeking them out. Most of them are probably your neighbors. Be positive in your discussions and avoid the negative “what-if’s.” Always fall back on your foundation to maintain your sense of safety and prepare what you can with your physical needs.

To be continued…

Light and Dark

I had an interesting conversation with a young child the other day. Like most individuals at the clinic, this person had suffered a horrendous type of trauma. And like most, experiences life and their emotions as something dark and foreboding. We talked about light vs. darkness in order to find meaning and healing to the traumatic pain. I explained what darkness is, first. Darkness is not actually a thing, but rather a nothingness. It is what inevitably happens when there is an absence of light. Light, actually has a substance to it though possibly not mathematically measurable, but substance, nonetheless. When light is introduced into a dark space (space meaning an area where there is no light), then darkness is no longer there. Light takes up the space. We then compared it to the emotions that she experiences due to the trauma and how at times they feel dark and empty. I suggested to her that it may be that those "spaces" in her that have darkness and emptiness need to be filled up with something that is light. Something with substance, as light will dispel the darkness. We came up with a list (while doing art therapy) of things that are "light" to her. Light had to be defined as something (people, activities, etc.) that bring her joy and light. We talked about how light makes her feel. What does it feel like when you are frightened in the dark and a candle is lit, or a light is turned on? What does it feel like emotionally and physically? It is important to incorporate all senses. I am finding more and more that incorporating "light" (not just physical) into therapy is helpful as many depressed, anxious, and traumatized individual have a hard time experiencing light.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good Therapist and Good Client

There is something to be said about having a therapist who is well-versed in therapeutic inteventions and methods. You can have a therapist who is intelligent, emapathic, compassionate, etc...but, what about the client? Should a client also be a good client? I think so. What would that entail? Definitely someone who wants to be there. Someone who has the desire to change and that does not fight the therapist. Someone also who has a mind of their own and is willing to explore themselves and become more aware of their behaviors. That's my opinion.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Different Types of Trauma? It could be...

Abuse in its different forms can be identified as trauma caused by one person to another. Other traumas, such as those sustained from injury, war, accidents, etc. are also traumas NOT CAUSED by the victim. However, it appears that there are traumas that are self-inflicted. Some individuals, due to different issues or personality types or situations appear to inadvertently invite trauma. Such self-inflicted or invited trauma appears to be even more complex than others. Those kinds of traumas appear to result in a level of shame, guilt, and sometimes denial. Thus, those issues need to be addressed before the actual trauma can be resolved. Something to think about.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Complex Trauma

Working in the trauma field for nearly three years has taught me the complexities of the human experience. Many clients who come into the clinic not only have experienced severe trauma, but they have identified with it, made it part of their personality and identity, been a direct contributor to the trauma thus being responsible for the trauma itself, or they stay in denial of the trauma to avoid guilt, shame, and responsibility. What makes the situation complex is that there are many layers to the trauma. There is the actual traumatic event(s), the person's interpretation of the events, the person's sense of identity with the trauma, the sense of responsibility, the guilt/shame involved with the trauma, the relationship with the trauma (i.e. if it was caused by a familiar person or situation). Therefore, there is no cookie cutter way to get to the trauma core and resolve everything all at once. There is too much to each individual to take into account every aspect to the trauma experience. The treatment then requires an eclectic and pragmatic approach. Many times, reality therapy is required in order to aid the client to come to grips with what truly happened and normalizing the effects. Some remain in consistent denial and avoid the truth or even lie to themselves or others. Some may even be directly involved with the trauma and responsible for it happened in one form or another. Such a situation is even more complex due to the underlying guilt and shame. If there are negative coping skills used to avoid the feelings of guilt and responsibility, that is just another layer that MUST be addressed and resolved before the trauma is resolved. One layer at a time.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Healing Through Spirituality...

I attended the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference for the LDS church a few days ago. During the session, the apostle, Elder Richard G. Scott gave a fabulous talk that is right up my alley. He talked about healing from abuse. Currently, it is in mp3 format on the LDS website. The link is as follows:,5239,23-1-851,00.html
I found it extremely powerful to hear a man of God to speak on mental health and healing from it. He talked about the importance of not delving into the past, forgiveness, and healing through the atonement of Jesus Christ. I find the principles helpful not only for mental health counselors, but for anyone. How helpful would it be to feel that any pain you experience could be released through an All Powerful God? So many therapists, psychologists, theorists, and professionals alike claim that God is "made up" to give meaning, hope, or purpose. What's wrong with that? What else could give greater purpose, hope, or meaning than an all knowing, all powerful, all loving God who gave his life so that His followers might be healed and live? It only makes perfect sense to me for people to exercise hope through such a Being.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


One of the difficulties of working in the trauma field, and I suppose in the general counseling field is personal burnout. I'm experiencing that myself these days. I can honestly say that it does not come from the actual client work in which I am constantly engaged. Naturally, there are many challenging situations that get me thinking and studying in order to meet individual needs; but that does not wear me down. It is other aspects of working on the "front line." It seems that working with children in this realm puts one in a position of scrutiny and question. A disgruntled client will subpoena me to court, or make accusations against therapeutic choices or consultations. It is these outside sources that leave me with a sense of vulnerability--as if my very character is being questioned. This is an obvious issue that needs to be dealt with as it can lead to unethical choices and compromising situations. That is definitely not my intention as a professional! However, despite my educated and consulted choices, it seems that there will always be someone to scrutinize, point a finger, sling mud, and blame when working on the front lines. There will always be ethical guidelines meant to protect, but that can be interpreted in several ways. And though some may say, when scrutiny is present, "oh don't worry, it'll pass...use this as a learning experience...just weather the storm..." there is still the gnawing voice in the recesses saying, "what would you do differently if faced with it again? you really want to work on the front lines anymore?... are you really an effective professional?..." It's those final two that bother me. It seems that my own perfectionistic qualities and errors lead me to BURN myself, which is not healthy, but alas, only human.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I struggle with an issue in the trauma realm. Most of the clients I work with fit in the "victim" category. Many victims struggle with "learned helplessness." On top of that they experience intrusive symptoms that result in avoidant behaviors. Some of them experience so much emotional, physical, and mental pain that they can become nearly incapacitated (that is an overgeneralized statement, but I used it for discussion only). Many of them begin to "become" their disorder or symptoms, thus completing their journey to learned helplessness. Once they get to that point it seems that their accountability and responsibility is out the window. When does pain resolution in trauma work and responsibility meet?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

You are what you are what you think

We have all heard the term, "you are what you eat..." More or less, it means that your body becomes what it absorbs through your diet. If you eat high fat diets the body has a tendency to hold on to more fat and you become obese. That's a no-brainer. Let's take that a bit further and look at "you are what you think." The law of attraction, according to The Secret and other similar beliefs is that you become what your focus is. If you focus on wealth and that you are obtaining it, you will have it. I have actually heard of a man with terminal cancer who treated with with humor and taking vitamin C. He surrounded himself with positive aspects of life and lived. It works the opposite way. If someone is surrounded by negative influences or allows them to be in their presence they are more likely to adapt and become negative themselves. Then, they actually will create a negative environment, change their thinking schema, and continue in their misery and negativity without outside help. I see this every day in my job. People who have become victims believe they are victims and helpless to it. Therefore, they become more and more helpless and cannot change. They give up their will to change to victim stance. This process is called learned helplessness.
To look at the other end of the spectrum, some people who focus on more positive things can also end out getting hurt. These aren't individuals who have been through traumatic experiences, necessarily; but, rather they have been afforded strong characteristics that end out hurting them. I have met people in both my personal and professional life who fall into this category. Individuals who are so confident in their ability to work with people that it ends out hurting them. They know their capacity to communicate with others and use their leadership skills that they end out focusing on it too much...and it hurts them. For example: some individuals (guys or girls) believe so strongly that they can attract someone of the opposite sex (and they can--even if they're not all that attractive), and get them to fall for them that they end out making moral mistakes that result in pain, heartache, and broken relationships. In talking with one such individual about this once, they realized that they had always known that they could "get anyone they wanted" to follow them, and it lead them down prideful paths and destroyed their relationship with their spouse and children. Another example even falls in the category of spirituality. I have met many people who present themselves as being spiritually powerful; with gifts from God to help others. However, that sense of authority lead them to make moral mistakes that resulted in negative consequences. These individuals could be called zealots. Another great example of zealots comes from the valley of Salt Lake City. Several years ago a group of young teenage boys who belonged to a local church decided they were going to try to promote strong resistance to drinking, smoking, using drugs, and abstinence. They started out with the hope to help others to not fall into bad habits. Their dedication became so strong, however, that it lead them to physically attack youth they found engaging in these activities that they opposed. All of it, to them, was in the pursuit of the common good. But, kids got hurt. These examples show, that too much of even a good thing can become destructive.
Now, returning to the initial topic...the negative effects of learned helplessness and focusing on the victim stance; some people take their mental health position and begin to focus so much on it that it exacerbates their circumstances and interferes with their progress. Some, as an attempt to understand their situation or condition better seek to study, read, and ponder on everything they can in the hopes that understanding will bring relief. Then, they share their information with others to help others understand their condition. It starts out as an educational experience, which is positive, but then they become a zealot of their own condition. Delving deeper and deeper into it and refusing to let go of it due to the sense of purpose it gives them. Their condition, which was usually forced upon them is accepted, embraced, and used to give them purpose in continue being sick. Why is that? We are creatures of habit. Sometimes, even if a behavior is negative, we don't wish to let go of it due to its familiarity. We find comfort even in the things that cause us pain. Abused children wish to return to their parents, because it is familiar. They seek to find the desired love they feel is necessary in order to give further purpose to their condition. It has been my experience that the positive attention and love that they feel is necessary will not be attained through the abuser or through constant focus on their difficult circumstances. Deep down inside, the suffering person probably knows this, but refuses to acknowledge it and take the appropriate steps to continue progressing. If the individual continues to return to focusing on their condition and the causes of it, progress is halted and the pain will continue. Growth is stunted.
My focus on this article has been to educate readers (all 2 of them) that if your main focus is something that is negative, you will exude negativity and attract it as well. It will stunt growth and create unhappiness. If you find yourself stuck in behaviors that are familiar and comfortable, but have negative results...STOP! It will be hard at first, just as breaking any habit is. It will be similar to the chain smoker stopping cold turkey. The nicotine that served as an anti-anxiolytic will cause withdrawals, but will subside. The security blanket of negativity will dissipate and make room for growth. Remember, you are what you think...and you become what you focus on most.

Oil and Water--Legal System and Mental Health System

It has become apparent that the legal system and the mental health system don't exactly mix. At times they can work together well, but most times it is water and oil mixing together. Most of the attorneys and even some of the judges do not have a full understanding of the purpose of the mental health system--specifically psychological evaluations. We provide parenting and psychological evaluations for the court systems. They are in depth and comprehensive. the results of the evaluations are difficult for others not trained in it and can be misinterpreted. That can cause problems in the court system. I would recommend that attorneys have training in human development and psychological testing as it would be a positive service to clients.

Another aspect of the legal system and the mental health system is even simpler...cover your own butt. Even if you're providing services for another agency, care for yourself. Remember that no other attorneys other than your own can provide legal advice or representation. Representing yourself in legal matters can get harry, especially when you have not had legal training. Trust your own judgment, though. If you feel that you should not get involved in a legal case, then don't. It has been my experience that there are attorneys that will do what is necessary (no matter how dirty, dishonest, or immoral) to defend their client. Do not expect an attorney to understand the goings on in a therapy session, the techniques used, the modalities followed, etc. Many of them might not want to understand. If you find yourself on the stand in a court room, be confident and sure of yourself and your therapeutic judgment and process. You are trained to do this work. This is what you are. Be the therapist in the office and on the stand. Also, continue your studies to ameliorate your therapeutic position. Do not be surprised that your modalities will change as time goes on. Be open to various forms of therapy and not just on Western thought-based modalities. I've found that to be extremely helpful with my therapeutic repertoire.
Enough for now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I know that I have hit safety several times in past blogs. I continually run into further problems with it, which thus makes it difficult for trauma resolution to occur. Many of my clients are in constant emotional turmoil, and much of it is caused by family members or other close people. These situations increase their stress and sense of helplessness. They all seem to be trapped. The legal system does not seem to be able to help these clients, as there is no actual "physical evidence" presentable to protect them. Oh well, back to the drawing board.