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How Our Occupational Therapists Help Trauma Patients

Most of us take for granted our ability to complete the most basic steps associated with self care and social engagement. We never really consider that brushing one’s teeth, taking a shower, or having even the briefest social interaction with a stranger may be an emotionally strenuous task for some individuals. Naturally, when a person suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tries to explain the difficulty they experience executing daily tasks, it is not uncommon for them to be met with objections or to have their issues dismissed and be told to simply “get over it.” This advice is in no way helpful to the firefighter who is triggered by the sound of their own children crying, after witnessing children dying in a fire while on the job. And this certainly does nothing to assist the war veteran who relives moments on the battlefield everytime they hear the sound of aircraft overhead. From the decades of research on PTSD, one thing is abundantly clear—avoidance is not a viable option. Enter occupational therapy.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a form of treatment for individual suffering from addiction or mental health disorders that interfere with their ability to perform daily tasks associated with living a normal, healthy. Occupational therapy focuses on three main areas:

Occupational therapists will often try to restore a patient’s self-confidence by breaking down big tasks into smaller, more manageable subtasks for the patient. This approach prevents the patient from feeling overwhelmed and gives them a sense of achievement by proving a series of small wins that bring them incrementally closer to achieving a big goal.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The biggest commonality among first responders, veterans, and survivors of abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that it impairs their abilities to move forward after the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms create severe psychological limitations that promote self-destructive behaviors. Through repetition, these behaviors become habits that an individual will feel unable to control, much less stop. PTSD symptoms are usually grouped into four categories:

In his book, The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, David J. Morris describes the aftermath of trauma as follows:

Trauma destroys the fabric of time. In normal time you move from one moment to the next, sunrise to sunset, birth to death. After trauma, you may move in circles, find yourself being sucked backwards into an eddy or bouncing like a rubber ball from now to then to back again. … In the traumatic universe the basic laws of matter are suspended: ceiling fans can be helicopters, car exhaust can be mustard gas. 

Understanding Your Emotions Helps Manage Symptoms

Our emotions are an important part of our individual growth and development. They can help us with everything from situational awareness to establishing healthy relationships. Distinguishing between an appropriate emotional response and a dysfunctional one can be a challenge for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our occupational therapists teach patients principles and skills to help them better understand their emotions:

The process of working with occupational therapists is both collaborative and goal oriented, making it easy for patients to track their progress.

The Wise Mind: Balancing Emotion and Reason

When we are in our emotional mind, our actions are predominately based on our emotions and how we are feeling. Our response to stress or triggering situations is extremely reactive as we abandon logic, fact, and reason when our emotional mind has taken over. An example of your emotional mind taking over is when you overreact to a situation because it triggers a negative memory of a similar situation; your fear that something similar to your memory may happen again drives your overreaction, even if it is actually extremely unlikely.

We would all like to believe that we operate from our reasonable mind, however this is not always the case. The reasonable mind is the part of us that is based solely on logic and rational information. It gathers and interprets empirical information from our observations and forms beliefs and opinions based on that information. If drives actions that are are cool, controlled, and strategic. The reasonable mind is very useful in crisis situations. Many military personnel and first responders can tell you, being able to access the reasonable mind when you need it can be the difference between life and death. The reasonable mind is excellent for planning and evaluating big life decisions, however, it is possible to overdo it and fail to recognize and consider the significance of our emotional signals. Overuse can create habits such as minimizing our feelings, and compartmentalizing events that could be pivotal to our development by diminishing our emotional connections to them. Such habits could lead to depression, burn out, or feeling numb.

The wise mind is the integration of the reasonable mind and the emotional mind. It is a functional blend of strategic thinking guided by healthy emotional awareness. It is the capacity to consider past experiences, current perceptions, and theoretical knowledge, to arrive at a constructive understanding of one’s present situation. Our occupational therapists teach our patients techniques to make the wise mind more easily accessible and available to help them manage their trauma symptoms.

Problem Solving: Barriers and Strategies

Problem solving can be difficult for the average person on any given day. It requires us to use all aspects of our mental capacity to analyze a particular set of circumstances and available choices, and then produce a solution. An ideal solution would not only satisfy our immediate need, but would also be consistent with our long-term goals. This process can be extremely difficult for individuals suffering from mental health or substance use disorders as they may not trust their own judgement and or accuracy in assessing a situation.

Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

The first step that our occupational therapists take with patients is to help them identify common barriers to solving problems quickly and effectively, including the following:

Strategies for Effective Problem Solving

Occupational therapist also teach patients a range of effective problem-solving strategies that can be used in different situations, including the following:

Subjective Unit of Distress Scale and Coping Strategies

It can be very difficult for those suffering from substance use and mental health disorders to clearly recognized and understand how they are feeling at any given time. Occupational therapists provide patients with tangible metrics to help them the recognize, isolate, and react appropriately to negative stimuli. The Subjective Unit of Distress Scale (SUDS) works as an emotional gauge, and is a crucial part of therapy. The SUDS protects patients from their more destructive emotions by teaching them practical ways to distract themselves from what they are feeling. The objective is to turn this distraction, which may be unusual to the patient in the beginning, into their habitual response to extreme stressors.  

Occupational Therapists Help Patients Get Back to Their Lives Faster and Better

Recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult process that requires hard work and commitment from the patient. Occupational therapists help facilitate this process and allow patients to return to their normal lives more quickly, with effective coping skills, useful habits, practical knowledge, and effective problem-solving strategies.

Call Us for More Information

If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Integrated Treatment of Substance Use Disorders and Concurrent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Is The Most Effective Approach

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event such as death, serious injury, or a threat of harm to themselves or to others. When exposed to such events, it is normal to feel intense fear, helplessness, and horror, but in most cases, these feelings are eventually resolved—but, unfortunately, not always. Some people experience long-lasting and intrusive symptoms such as disturbing flashbacks, heightened states of arousal, mood disturbances, and avoidance of memories about the event. These are the symptoms associated with PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common than you might think. An estimated 1-in-10 Canadians will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Certain populations are at higher risk of developing PTSD because they are more likely to experience traumatic events. Members of the military are often seriously injured, witness the death or injury of others, and have their lives seriously threatened. Many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report being targets of enemy gunfire, knowing someone who was injured or killed, or even having to handle dead bodies. Such experiences can have a lasting effect on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

There appears to be a bi-directional causal relationship between developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and developing a substance use disorder. People with PTSD experience persistent and disturbing psychological symptoms, which make them more likely to use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms. Conversely, people with substance use disorders are both more likely to experience traumatic events and less likely to be able to process them effectively.

Compared to either disorder alone, concurrent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders are associated with worse mental and physical functioning, and higher levels of psychological distress. When these two disorders are concurrent, the negative effects can be quite severe: they can impair a person’s ability to work, to maintain healthy relationships, and to maintain a positive outlook on life. As a result, people with concurrent PTSD and substance use disorders will often experience rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health, and should therefore get treatment as soon as possible.

There are several treatment options available for individuals with concurrent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders, including both medical therapy and psychotherapy. Historically, treatment focused on resolving the substance use disorder first, before proceeding to address the PTSD. However, the historical approach risks exacerbating a patient’s PTSD symptoms: when a patient with PTSD narrowly focuses on trying to resolve their substance use disorders, they are likely to be confronted with challenges and discomfort for which they are not yet adequately prepared. Today, however, most clinicians recognize that patients’ substance use is closely related to their PTSD symptoms. Hence, at EHN Canada, we believe that the most effective treatment approach is through integrated treatment programs that address both disorders together.

EHN Canada’s integrated treatment model acknowledges the fundamental interdependence between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders. Therefore, we address the two disorders at the same time, usually within the the same treatment program. Substance use disorders are conceptualized as tools—albeit highly dysfunctional ones—that people use to try to manage their PTSD symptoms. We educate patients and provide them with a new, healthier, and more effective set of tools, early on in their treatment programs. This reduces the likelihood that a patient’s PTSD will compromise their recovery from their substance use disorders. Our conviction that the integrated treatment model produces superior outcomes is also supported by patients’ attitudes: research has found that patients with concurrent PTSD and substance use disorders report an overwhelming preference for the integrated approach.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders have a complex interrelationship. EHN Canada treatment programs teach patients how to recognize and manage their symptoms and triggers. We also help patients create solid recovery plans that serve to guide their long-term behaviour changes. EHN Canada’s individualized treatment programs also push each patient to discover their own unique strengths and skills. We encourage and support our patients to further develop these abilities to support their successful recoveries and recovery maintenance. Patients complete EHN Canada treatment programs having developed functional and adaptive coping strategies, as well as assertiveness and effective communication skills. They walk out our doors ready to face the world, full of optimism, and eager to get back to their relationships, families, friends, and careers.

Call Us For More Information About Our Programs

If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Treating Partners of Sex Addicts is a Must! Here’s Why.

Written By: Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager-EHN Vancouver

Just as the rise of patients identifying their own compulsive sexual behaviors is increasing, partners of people with compulsive sexual behaviors are also seeking treatment in greater numbers.  What type of treatment should partners receive? Why do partners need treatment if they aren’t the ones with the compulsive sexual behaviour? Experience and research tells me that partners are emotionally and psychologically affected by this disorder and they too, need therapy and support to heal from the damage that comes with compulsive sexual behaviour.

Partners, most of them women, struggle with the betrayal and accompanied unraveling of what might have appeared to be a satisfying relationship. Statistics on infidelity are difficult to compile but conservative estimates range between 30% to 60% of marriages in the U.S. feature infidelity.[1] These estimates do not include infidelity where partners are not married, nor do they account for same sex marriages, which only recently have become legal in the U.S. Still, let’s be clear. Partners of people with compulsive sexual behaviors include men and women of any sexual orientation and level of commitment. Depending on how ‘infidelity’ is defined, the figure would be greater if the myriad expressions of compulsive sexual behaviors, like problematic pornography use by a partner, are included.

 What is it like for a female partner of a ‘sex addict’?

Many women describe an experience as having their world flipped upside down. What was once a familiar person to you is now revealed to have a completely different life from the one you thought you shared. Even when there have been some indications of infidelity, confirmation carries with it an overwhelming shock to the relationship and all that surround it, including children, families, finances, sexuality and community. Questions that typically arise are:

– Many partners vacillate between shock, anger, denial and grief.

First Steps Towards Recovery

A useful first step is to seek the support of a non-judgmental and trusted confidante. Someone who need only listen and help the partner through the first hours and days to regain calm and a sense of self.

The next step would be to consider the immediate implications of the discovery:

 

Many partners will seek out the comfort of family and friends, others find help through a marriage or relationship counselor. It used to be common that partners would start marriage counseling, with an examination of the marital dynamics which ‘led’ to the infidelity. If the offending partner is acting out compulsively, it’s likely that an emphasis on what triggers the behavior, apart from the relationship, is a better place to start.

Addiction treatment, with its understanding of compulsively driven behavior, is the current standard for treatment of sex addiction.

What Help Is Available For The Partner?

Counseling help for the partner has gone through a dramatic shift in recent years. Some therapists treat partners of sex addicts as if they were partners of alcoholics or chemically addicted people. This included framing the problems and solutions, through a ‘co-dependency model. This model implies enabling, rescuing and efforts to control the addict by the co-dependent. While those behaviors are often present, the co-dependent model leaves out a critically important piece of the puzzle. That is, the trauma of the betrayal.

Research indicates that betrayed partners experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. These symptoms include heightened anxiety, intrusive thoughts about the addict and/or the behaviors, sleeplessness and avoidance of relevant stimuli.

Trauma therapy, along with the support of others in similar circumstances in self-help settings, helps the partner to work through the betrayal and regain empowerment. Trauma therapy also helps a partner to work through much of the lasting damage to self. These include sexual shame, broken trust, body image issues, rage and aversion to sex.

At the Edgewood Health Network Clinic in Vancouver, we provide sex addiction therapy to men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours. In addition, we provide support and therapy to partners who have been affected by this disorder. Our team consists of Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT), which who are qualified to help a partnership understand the behaviors and provide a roadmap for successful treatment.

If you’d like to learn more about our services offered at our Vancouver clinic, please call 604-734-1100 or call our toll free 1-800-683-0111 to learn more about the range of treatment programs we offer under the Edgewood Health Network across Canada.

Nelson_Vancouver_300pxNelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager of EHN Vancouver holds a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology as well as certification in substance abuse counseling. He has been working in the addictions field for 20 years. Nelson sees his role as helping our clients and their families to understand the nature of addictions, and to facilitate discovery of their inner strengths and integrity. As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, he is also available to help men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours

 

[1]

Facts and Statistics About Infidelity. Retrieved on July 2016 at https://www.truthaboutdeception.com/cheating-and-infidelity/stats-about-infidelity.html

Medicating Anxiety Symptoms With Alcohol or Drug Abuse

Written By: Dr. Mel Vincent, BASc, MSc, MD, FRCP(C ), ASAM Certified
Director Psychiatric Services at Edgewood Treatment Centre

There is clearly a very important relationship between anxiety symptoms, disorders and addiction. Research has repeatedly demonstrated an important relationship between anxiety disorders and substance use disorders in both directions.

Patientsman holding his face with his hands who suffer from an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks with or without agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have a higher rate of developing addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Conversely, patients who are identified with substance use disorders have an elevated risk of having an underlying anxiety disorder or significant anxiety symptoms, associated with their addiction.

The Trap
The implications of this relationship are important. There are clearly some patients who identify using alcohol or other substances as a means of coping with their anxiety disorders. This process has been described as “self-medication”. This is particularly true with substances that are sedating “downers” such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, marijuana and opioids as common examples. While these may initially appear to provide effective temporary relief from anxiety symptoms, the development of subsequent addiction, in vulnerable populations, inevitably leads to further problems and challenges. Tolerance frequently develops, requiring increasingly larger quantities of these drugs to reduce anxiety symptoms and withdrawal symptoms generate or exacerbate anxiety when the substances are not available. This leads to a very complicated “trap” where the addiction continues to progress and the initial benefits are no longer present.

Stress Vulnerability Hypothesis

Commonly, individuals will experience a high level of anxiety when undergoing withdrawal or intoxication from various substances, even though they do not have an actual anxiety disorder prior to the development of addiction. There is also considerable interest in the concept that there may be a shared genetic vulnerability to both disorders. One example is the “stress vulnerability hypothesis”, which states that when individuals experienced childhood neglect, abandonment, trauma or adversity, they are left with a vulnerability to a variety of mental health related conditions which may include anxiety disorders, mood disorders and substance use disorders.

 

How to Treat Anxiety Disorders and Addiction Together

 

The clinical tasks faced when confronted with co-morbid anxiety disorders and addictions include management of both disorders. This requires an in-depth assessment by a trained professional. On the basis of the assessment, appropriate referrals will then be made. This will involve assessment of withdrawal requirements from the various substances, the severity of the underlying mental health and medical issues, the level of supports and motivation of the patient and various other factors.

Depending on the severity of the two disorders, treatment may take place in an outpatient setting, a residential addiction treatment program or psychiatric hospital setting. Anxiety disorders are generally treated with medications such as antidepressants or with psycho therapy approaches, particularly cognitive behavioral or mindfulness-based.

Generally, the use of benzodiazepines is contraindicated in the management of anxiety disorders in patients with addiction. Withdrawing benzodiazepines from patients with anxiety disorders and benzodiazepine dependence can be particularly challenging due to the distressing withdrawal symptoms which can last for extended periods of time, as well as possible worsening of the underlying anxiety disorder for which benzodiazepines were initially prescribed.

It’s not uncommon to have patients in our treatment centres with mental health illnesses and addictions.  Approximately 20% of the Canadian population with mental health illnesses also have substance abuse problems. [1]Anxiety disorders often complicate integration of patients into group therapy, particularly if they have social anxiety disorder.

If you’d like to learn more about how we diagnose and treat clients with anxiety disorders and addiction- my book, Diagnosing and Treating Addictions: An Integrated Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Concurrent Disorders covers this topic along with other mental health illnesses.

To learn more about our addiction treatment and the therapies used at our treatment centres, please visit the Edgewoodhealthnetwork.com.

[1] Rush et al (2008). Prevalence of co-occurring substance use and other mental disorders in the Canadian population. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 53: 800-9.

Can Therapy Dogs Play a Role in Addiction Recovery?

Do therapy dogs have a place in addiction treatment? According to a 2015 research initiative by three Canadian universities (University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan, McMaster University) therapy dogs can help people with addiction and mental illness. The study had therapy dogs visit patients at various addictions and mental health treatment centres for six months.

The study found that therapy dogs can help people with mental health, addiction, and trauma concerns. According to this study, “in 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  identified six evidence- based principles for service providers to address the consequences of trauma in the individual and to facilitate healing.” These principles focus on supporting recovery, resilience, emotional regulation and relational connection.

It was discovered at the end of the study that the dog’s instincts and “effortless interactions” with participants were in accord with those principles. These principles are:

 

One of the researchers from the University of Regina states that dogs can help patients focus and feel more comfortable to open up during counselling sessions. The interaction with man’s best friend “initiates the release of the hormone oxytocin in humans, which makes us feel good.” Edgewood Health Network last year introduced a therapy dog at each of our addiction treatment centres.

Findlay- therapy dogFindlay, a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback trained therapy dog, owned by Cara Heitmann- therapist at Bellwood Health Services introduced him to Bellwood’s inpatient community last December and so far the feedback has been positive. Cara says that clients and staff love having Findlay at Bellwood. “Clients comment on how much they love him, how it brightens their day to see him, and how it helps clients who are missing their pets while they are here.”

Cara believes having a therapy dog like Findlay provides many benefits for clients and clinical staff during therapy sessions and for overall mental health. “Findlay attends group therapy and individual therapy sessions with me because with his mere presence he can calm the room. As for staff, we have a job that can be highly stressful and I have heard many staff members share that seeing Findlay’s face brightens their day and their interaction with him is very soothing.”

Cara remembers a time where Findlay helped a new client entering treatment feel welcomed, “Introducing Findlay certainly has made a difference. An example that immediately springs to mind is a first day client who came to group late due to an orientation of sorts, knocked on the door before entering and was immediately greeted by a smiling face with a wagging tail. I can’t imagine that didn’t ease some discomfort! I have had many, many clients share how Fin has helped them while in treatment and they are shocked that anyone would not just automatically know that. It’s a no brainer.”

According to the Executive Director of National Service Dogs (NSD) in Canada, they’ve received a ton of praise from their clients about the benefits of using service dogs in the treatment of PTSD. Last year, Wounded Warriors Canada donated $50,000 to help fund more certification of service dogs for Canadian Forces members, Veterans and First Responders with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in BC and Alberta.

In addition, NSD believes animals can lower anxiety, reduce the cost of medication, provide comfort and security for a client and their loved ones. Cara believes therapy dogs work because the connection is different than that with other humans, “It’s less threatening and highly comforting. A dog’s instinct to sense when a person is struggling or having a difficult moment and seeing how they are comforted has no words.”

Colleen Dell one of the researchers that was part of the study last year was amazed to see how consistent the outcomes were from all the centres they had considered. It didn’t matter if they were youth, seniors or groups of people. In their study, therapy dogs had a positive impact on each person’s “healing journey in a multitude of ways, from providing comfort through to increasing therapeutic alliances with service providers.”

Chalmers, research from the University of Regina believes there are still other animals that need to be studied, such as horses to better understand the benefits of service animals. The three universities released their study’s findings during Addictions Awareness Week last year on purpose, “The theme of Addictions Awareness Week this year is ‘Addiction Matters.’ And it is precisely for this reason that our team has stepped outside the box, so to speak, to research an intervention that can potentially support long-term recovery.”

As more research is conducted and more testimonies are accrued, it seems therapy dogs can play a role in helping clients who are in rehab by providing comfort, security and non- judgmental love.  Cara shares, “I am honoured to have Findley work for a number of years. Every time I see that interaction it warms my heart, puts a smile on my face, and makes me proud to be his mom.” At Bellwood it seems Findlay’s natural instincts and interactions continues to have a positive effect on our clients and team.

In our next issue of the Phoenix magazine we discuss in further detail EHN’s valuable experience introducing therapy dogs at our treatment centres. To subscribe to our magazine, please click here.

Want to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and what they include email us or give us a call at 1-800-387-6198.

 

Sources:

Colleen Anne Dell, Nancy Poole, (2015). Taking a PAWS to Reflect on How the Work of a Therapy Dog Supports a Trauma-Informed Approach to Prisoner Health. Journal of Forensic Nursing, Volume 11, Issue 3.

CBC News Saskatchewan

National Service Dogs

CBC News British Columbia

CTV News

5 Things you need to know about EMDR, Trauma and Addiction

By Nicole Makin, MACP, RCC

Having found my place in the rooms of Al-anon in my 20’s, I was blessed to find an incredible therapist who was 20 years sober in AA and highly trained in the treatment of trauma. With her support, I processed events from childhood that still overwhelmed me and contributed greatly to my codependent behaviors as an adult. With a sense of safety and trust established we moved on to EMDR therapy, a powerful form of trauma processing, and I rapidly moved from chronic anger, depression and insecurity to a sense of personal freedom and purpose in life that is still with me today. I learned how to inhabit and listen to my body’s messages through prayer, meditation, yoga, diet, exercise and daily affirmations. I reset my nervous system from stressed to calm and confident and was able to develop skills in areas I was deficient in due to traumatic childhood experiences. I went from feeling as though isolation was my only relationship skill to developing a sense of community and trusting myself with a variety of relationships. Now that we offer EMDR therapy in both our Vancouver and Victoria clinics, here are 5 things you need to know about EMDR, trauma and addiction:

1) Growth and development are stunted in addiction.

In treatment we say that a person’s mental and emotional age typically reflects the age when substance use begins. This is also true if you were raised in a home where substances were being abused and poor role modeling was mixed with the stress of living amidst addiction. In either case, the result is that we have a lot of people in recovery with adult bodies who have the emotional intelligence of 12-15 year olds. And like any 15 year old, they are often lacking in interpersonal communication, boundary setting, self-care, managing stress and problem solving. If we want to be healthy and reach our full potential in life, it is our job to become our own loving parent and help ourselves grow up!

2) Addiction and trauma often go hand in hand.

Addiction and trauma are often correlated. Amongst individuals with addiction disorders, many have experienced trauma while many trauma survivors struggle with addiction. What folks with addiction and trauma issues have in common is that we often arrive into adulthood lacking in the personal growth and development skills we talked about in number one. In fact, some people view addiction as a misguided attempt to gain a sense of control over the enormous stress that people experience when they lack the emotional maturity and healthy supports or coping skills to meet normal life challenges in resourceful ways.

3) Trauma effects the functioning of the brain and the nervous system.

Mental health researchers and neuroscientists are widely in agreement that emotional trauma impacts the brain and the nervous system, particularly when it takes place during critical child developmental years. Children and adults who experience trauma often become more sensitive to external stimuli and it is believed that this is due to several factors happening in the brain and nervous systems.  This means that people who have experienced trauma are not as resilient as those who haven’t; they often feel unsafe when others don’t, and their brain can “shut down” during times of high stress.  This means that their brains are more vulnerable to the risks of addiction, and less able to deal with triggers when in recovery.

4) You can learn to be more resilient to life challenges.

The notion of resiliency is commonly discussed in the psychology field and it is believed that regardless of the nature or severity of trauma an individual experiences, certain individuals have the ability to overcome challenges and emerge stronger and wiser. Can we learn to be more resilient? According to the American Psychological Association website (2015), “resiliency is not a trait people either have or don’t have” but rather it is a skill set made up of “behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”  Bottom line: trauma doesn’t have to stand in your way forever because you can learn the skills you need.

5) EMDR can help!

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy designed to help treat the symptoms of trauma.  It allows a client to to address a traumatic experience that has overwhelmed the natural resilience and coping mechanisms of the brain. The painful memory is reprocessed through an eight-phased technique until it is no longer psychologically disturbing. By working with a skilled clinician, individuals can learn to understand their body’s stress response and how to achieve a sense of calm in the nervous system so that the brain can do the processing needed in order to integrate past experiences and move on with healthy living in the present. EMDR has been shown to be particularly effective in overcoming trauma by assisting individuals to develop the tools to change their state from stressed to calm and to fully process traumatic events so that they are no longer disturbed or triggered by them in the present moment.

If you`re interested in speaking to a clinician about EMDR, please contact 1-250-590-3168 in Victoria or 1-604-734-1100 in Vancouver.

Seeking Treatment for PTSD: The Recovery Process

Depositphotos_10489838_xsPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is by definition a set of symptoms resulting from a traumatic experience of “death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury or actual or threatened sexual violence. “ More broadly, PTSD can also be defined as having experienced an overwhelming situation where your normal coping strategies are not adequate. Symptoms of PTSD can vary, but most people with the disorder experience sleep disturbances, hyper-arousal, flashbacks and mood disturbances.

 At Bellwood, we see clients who have experienced such traumas and are struggling with the symptoms of PTSD. Our program for hazardous employment groups includes members of the Canadian Forces, the RCMP, the police, EMS and fire services and would potentially be open to other work related traumas. We added the term of operational stress injury (OSI) to our program description since it is something first responders would often experience.

 As a therapist in the Addiction & PTSD/ OSI program at Bellwood, I’ve found that the traumatic experiences at work change how a person functions and relates at home. Clients often experience alienation. For example, they report “not knowing where to put their keys in their own homes” and don’t know how to relate to normal life or perform day-to-day tasks, including shopping or driving in traffic. Everything feels too mundane to be of interest compared to active duty.  In their deployments, they experienced high arousal and adrenaline-inducing activities.

 As a result of their alienation, people with PTSD might resort to drugs or alcohol to find relief from the emotional pain, loneliness and the feeling of “going crazy.”  They might find themselves covering up anger and pretending that things are alright.  Using also becomes a way of dealing with the irritability, intrusive memories, and nightmares. Sometimes, the only time an individual with PTSD feels “normal” is when intoxicated or when involved with work. When at work or deployed, job tasks are predetermined and the soldier or officer focuses only on work tasks – something at which they believe they excel.

25-ARRABITO-image02Clients that I see often express the feeling that no one outside of work could possibly understand what they are going through and that no one is as “messed up” as they are.  Many express the wish to either have been killed (because then, “at least my kids would think of me as a hero”) or physically injured because then they would receive support from the whole community upon their return home. With something physical, the nature of the injury is apparent and no one would think they are making it up. The problem with PTSD is that it is invisible and remains that way until the person realizes that they are not alone and accepts that their experiences have changed their feelings.

One of our goals in treatment is to reduce or eliminate the emotional disturbances related to the traumatic work experiences by learning grounding techniques and self- regulation tools. Our treatment approach is the establishment of safety and stabilization. Through this process, trust is built. This work is enhanced by successfully identifying and continuously managing environmental and emotional triggers. By employing the emotional regulation and grounding techniques, clients can ultimately master their triggers, lessening their impact on their mental health. Other key features of our program include: stress management techniques, anger management, sleep hygiene, resilience identification and recovery planning.

As a result, major PTSD /OSI symptoms are reduced and clients can begin to realize that when triggered the traumatic experience is not happening anymore and that they are able to deal with their feelings in more constructive ways.  However PTSD/ OSI symptoms need long-term care and management. Treatment does not “cure” the individual but with ongoing support, the client can more successfully deal with life’s problems without the use of drugs and alcohol and can learn to put their traumatic experiences into a better perspective. At times people may learn to refer to their symptoms as post traumatic growth or post traumatic success and can appreciate their experiences as important.

https://www.bellwood.ca/post-traumatic-stress/

A peek into – The Many Faces of Addiction Symposium

In a few weeks, Bellwood will be hosting a very special event, and we are quite excited.

We are excited with the breadth, depth and freshness of this year’s The Many Faces of Addiction Symposium and can’t wait to see everything unfold in Toronto on October 16th and 17th.

Now in it’s fourth year, the goal of the Symposium has always been to bring together experts in the field of addiction and mental health to discuss and gain new insights; to learn what’s new and the best practices on helping those struggling at home, in the workplace, and in our communities overcome addictions.

This year we are expecting nearly 200 delegates from across North America to learn from the best, share first hand knowledge and examine the illness of addiction. We are looking forward to the delegates exploring the latest and proven treatment options, workplace management techniques, recovery best practices and much more.

Based on emerging new areas in addiction and delegate feedback, this year we have carefully designed sessions to focus on the areas of concurrent trauma/PTSD and substance abuse, Internet and gaming addiction, best practices for managing employees with addiction, and clinical techniques for achieving excellent results. Each session has been structured to delve into the depths of addiction in a dynamic and interactive framework.

Over the year, the organizing team has worked hard to bring together leading experts, clinicians, and academics from Canada and the United States to seek out answers to the tough questions surrounding addiction and mental health.

This year’s expert keynote presenters include:

and many more.

Yes, there is no doubt we are excited!

We would like to invite you to join us and take advantage of this opportunity to hear from leaders in the addiction and mental health field; and gain new insights into how to help those who are struggling at home, in the workplace, and in our communities.

Whether you are a healthcare or corporate professional, or an individual whose life has been touched by addiction, we are confident that this year’s Symposium will provide education, training and information about new tools and emerging practices to help people heal from addiction.

Mark your calendars; registration is open and space is limited.

See you on October 16th and 17th at the Ontario Science Centre.