Your Therapy

Why this therapist needed help with recent trauma

A few weeks ago I experienced  a very personal reminder about the causes and effects of trauma, and why it’s important to deal with the resulting issues. My recent experience was fairly brief, and contained to a single situation. However it still demonstrates much about trauma, the mind-body connection and how we can get healthier.

Just before Christmas, I was on the way to visit family in Pennsylvania with my husband, and two children. This is usually a fairly easy drive from Toronto. But this time, we ran into a major blizzard in Buffalo, N.Y., that arrived much sooner than forecast. In a short time, and without much warning, the driving went from challenging, to difficult, to impossible. Eventually, we had to abandon our car on the shoulder, and walk 20 minutes in low visibility and windy conditions, to a nearby hotel that, fortunately, still had a room. Arriving at the hotel, we were absolutely elated to be warm, safe and together. We were snowed in for several days, and missed Christmas with our family. It was disappointing, but mostly we felt lucky, especially since authorities later reported that almost 40 people had died in the storm.

However, just a few days later, I began waking up in the night, having nightmares and ruminating about the experience. Over and over I thought about how—if we’d had bad luck, or made some poor decisions in the moment—my family could have ended up as one of those tragic storm statistics. After a week or so of this, I realized I was having a trauma reaction to experiences that had been too overwhelming to properly process. I also knew that, even though I’ve been a trauma therapist for over 25 years, I needed help.

Soon after, I met with one of my colleagues at Your Therapy to have help in processing this scary experience. To begin, she had me share my story, in particular the moments that were the scariest and most overwhelming. My husband had an injured arm at the time, so I was behind the wheel, trying to get us closer to safety in near-zero visibility, terrified that I might literally drive my family to their deaths. While describing this, we did what’s called exposure therapy, talking about where in my body I felt the stress, and then reliving the experience, but less intensely.

We also used narrative therapy, during which she helped me shift the story I was telling myself about that day, to focus on the positive outcome. We were addressed some of the negative messages I was giving myself, with the simple fact that My family and I did what we needed to do, and that’s why we all made it out safely. Finally, we went through some emotionally focussed therapy for trauma (known as EFTT), where I acknowledged, validated and then expressed my difficult emotions. The next night, my sleep improved, and it has been steadily improving ever since. Because the trauma I experienced was short-lived and had a positive outcome, working through it was fairly straightforward. More complex trauma requires longer and more complex care. It is hard work, and in most cases requires a therapist who knows how to provide trauma treatment. However the process is basically the same, and usually leads to a similarly positive outcome.

Finally, it may sound odd that I needed help with this issue. But a trauma therapist who needs help to process her own trauma is no different than a dentist realizing she has a cavity, but needing someone else to do the filling. This is life, and difficult things can happen to anyone. It’s also a reminder that mental health issues are health issues, and things happening in our mind, can have a significant effect on our body, and our overall health.

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