After a trauma, it is common to experience symptoms such as being on high alert, intrusive memories of the trauma, anxiety, depression, or avoiding things that you used to enjoy because they bring back memories of the trauma.
For many people, these symptoms resolve on their own after a relatively short time, although they may still be deeply affected - in terms of their relationships, parenting, or worldview. Therapy offers enormous benefits to those who are living with non-symptomatic effects of trauma, as it provides a safe place to make meaning out of what happened and a way to redefine yourself in terms of your strengths.
For other people, the symptoms they experience following the trauma stick around for the long-haul and become Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have completed training in Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy for PTSD at the University of Pennsylvania. Decades of rigorous research have shown PE to be highly effective in reducing PTSD symptoms.
Did you learn to ride a bike when you were a kid? At some point in the process, you probably fell off, skinned your knee, and cried. But then you faced your fear, got back on the bike, and were eventually flying around town with the wind in your hair. Imagine if you hadn’t gotten back on the bike - bicycles would have seemed really scary and you would have stayed the heck away from them. PTSD is similar. If because of something terrible that happened to you, you avoid objectively safe activities that remind you of the trauma, all of those things will remain scary. In PE, you will find the courage to “get back on the bike.”
PE provides a predictable structure in which you will emotionally face the trauma memory in the safe and comfortable space of my office, with my support and expertise to see you through. The process involves education about PTSD, learning calming breathing, and at the heart of the treatment, two kinds of exposure. In vivo exposure is something you will do in real life in between sessions: together we will plan small steps that may take you outside of your comfort zone but will definitely not take you outside of your safety zone, for example, visiting the grocery store you have been avoiding. In session, you will do imaginal exposure: recounting what happened to you while tapping into deep emotions. In the process, you will learn that the bad thing that happened to you no longer has the power to hurt you, and you will begin to take back control of your life.
An important side benefit of PE is that you are likely to see reductions in other trauma-related issues, such as anxiety, depression, and anger. You are also likely to come out the other side of treatment with a stronger sense of self.
I work with clients who have experienced a variety of traumas, such as:
- car accidents
- witnessing the sudden death of a loved one
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse