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Media and Trauma

Do you feel more anxious or on edge? Does the ever-pounding news cycle weigh you down? The pressures and expectations of day to day life can feel compounded by the endless chaos of current events; which can lead to an uncertain future further aggravating our deepest anxieties. Feeling this way might not seem like the norm to you, but in recent years, anxiety driven by social and political news has risen.

Dr. Blasey Ford testifying on her alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh was widely covered in the media and social media. Powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Crosby and Dr. Larry Nassar of Michigan State have been challenged, publicly accused, and later prosecuted and sentenced for committing various sexual assault offenses. The bombardment of updates, social media responses, and “breaking news” can trigger emotions and pent up anxiety to rise.

These occurrences only further remind us that we live in a traumatic society more than ever before. The #MeToo movement was able to provide a sense of empowerment and validation for survivors to share their stories, many for the very first time. While sharing can be overwhelming and paralyzing, especially for sexual assault survivors who deal with acute stress and PTSD symptoms as a result of their trauma. However, hearing and sharing our stories is crucial, it can bring about many reminders of our own sexual assaults which can be exhausting and even retraumatizing.

It is important to acknowledge the differences of how we respond to trauma, which can manifest in physical, mental, or emotional ways. Some of these characteristics may include: intrusive thoughts, flashbacks to events that are triggering, increased awareness of your surroundings, changes in mood and managing emotional reactions. It is essential to be aware that everyone responds to assault differently which can be challenging to recognize initially. Once aware of these emotions, it can be very easy to fall into a sense of isolation, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Trauma is a physical and psychological experience, therefore, one is very likely to also experience physical ailments of trauma and trauma memories. Recurrent smells, body aches and pains, fatigue, nausea, headaches, as well as sensitivity to noise. Our body and mind react to trauma and will be triggered whenever one comes in contact with reminders of the traumatic event/experiences. But there is hope!

Therapy can be a place to explore these painful or traumatic memories and emotions. Therapy provides a safe environment to process events that are triggering and stressful. It is important to find a good therapist that you feel comfortable and safe with. While you are searching for a therapist that matches your needs, here are additional resources that are available to you (please see below).

Additional Resources:

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: http://www.ncdsv.org/

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network):1- 800-656-4673 http://www.rainn.org/

RTC (Rape Treatment Center) 310-451-0042 http://therapefoundation.org/programs/rape-treatment-center/

Loveisrespect (National Dating Abuse Helpline): 1-866-331-9474 http://www.loveisrespect.org

LGBT National Help Center 1-888-843-4564 http://www.glbthotline.org/

Written by Dr. Sourena Haj-Mohamadi, Psychological Assistant and Associate Therapist to Dr. Katja Pohl and Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC

How are you doing with all of the media attention on sexual assaults?

Written by Dr. Christopher Marquart, Psychological Assistant supervised by Dr. Katja Pohl

While sexual harassment, battery, and assault undoubtedly take place all over the country and the rest of the world, it doesn’t seem too surprising that Los Angeles is at the epicenter of the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others. I don’t pretend to fully understand what causes people to perpetrate such acts, but narcissism, self-aggrandizement, omnipotence, and wealth surely play a part. Los Angeles is home to Hollywood as well as significant music and fashion/molding industries; all of which perpetuate those same qualities.
The #MeToo campaign that emerged as a result of the recent allegations has sparked strong feelings about sexual harassment, battery, and assault, and how or when people should share their experiences. As a therapist who has worked with men and women who have experienced sexual harassment, battery, and assault it makes me wonder how the campaign effects those who have already begun talking about and processing their trauma, as well as those who feel unable to or have chosen to not yet share their story. The #MeToo campaign has the potential to bring up lots of questions and feelings for people who have experienced those types of traumas.
What is it like to choose to acknowledge my experience through writing #MeToo, or to choose not too even if I have had such an experience? Is the campaign an encouragement or obligation to confront a part of my life I just want to move on from, or thought I already had? Is the campaign a safe way for me to voice my experience and find solidarity with others or does it minimize my own unique experience? Is what happened to me really important or severe enough for me to be part of the campaign? Is this a part of my life I want to acknowledge and process right now? If so, how do I start?
These are just some of the questions and feelings that might come up for someone who has experienced sexual harassment, battery, or assault, but there are undoubtedly thousands more. Making the choice to acknowledge and share an experience of sexual harassment, battery, or assault is intensely personal, and beginning to heal from such trauma is a complicated, unique and painful process. Therefore, a hashtag should serve as a beginning, and not the end of the conversation. Support and guidance for many people who have such experiences is essential to their healing process. Whether that is having an open conversation with those you feel loved and supported by about what you have been through, attending a support group, or seeking individual therapy, taking the time to acknowledge and process the complex emotional, psychological, and physical impact that sexual assault can have is essential to healthy recovery and building resilience.
If you are looking for support processing your experience of sexual harassment, battery, or assault; or know someone who is looking for help you are welcome to call me (262) 607-2226

Resilience

Many of my previous writings have been focused on loss and trauma and the recent fires in Northern California are certainly relevant to these topics. However, just as it can be important to acknowledge and identify trauma or understand the processes many people go through after experiencing or re-experiencing a traumatic event, it can be equally important to acknowledge that with time, support, and work people can and overcome trauma, and can become stronger because of it.

Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from difficult experiences. During or in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event it can be difficult to imagine ever regaining a sense of control or normalcy again, but as the American Psychological Association points out, “research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.” People have an amazing capacity to adapt to change, even when that change is horrific and devastating. Every year in the United States hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires affect the lives of families and communities causing pain, loss, and disruption to their lives. Yet with enough time, compassion, and support people and communities rebuild themselves.

The American Psychological Association published The Road to Resilience, which includes a discussion of what resilience is, how to build it, and resources for help. Whether this help comes in the form of friends and family, religious and spiritual support, support groups, or individual or group therapy, it is essential to remember that while everyone is capable of overcoming trauma and building resilience, it does not happen on its own. It does require effort to seek out help.

If you are looking for support processing your experience of a traumatic event, or know someone who is looking for help, you are welcome to call me (262) 607-2226. I would like to offer free individual therapy services to those immediately affected by the California Wildfires.

SUPPORT AFTER A MAJOR TRAUMA

Between devastating natural disasters, events like the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and reports of an active shooter on the USC campus yesterday (which now may have been based on a false report), it can seem like traumatic events are becoming frequently more present in our news feeds, public discussion, and our own lives. Recognizing signs of natural responses to trauma, and when these responses might indicate more severe problems, can be important for victims of trauma as they go through the healing process. This can also be equally important for those who are attempting to support and care for a loved one who has experienced trauma, as being an effective caretaker to someone who has experienced trauma presents its own challenges.

RESPONDING TO TRAUMA:

Everyone responds to trauma in their own unique way. However, there are several patterns of behavior and thinking where these responses are most evident. For example, many people might become preoccupied with thinking about their trauma or events related to the trauma to the point where it is difficult for them to thinking of anything else. Reoccurring dreams or nightmares where the person “re-lives” their trauma are also common. This can often lead to people having a hard time falling asleep or being able to easily sleep through the night.

People who experience trauma might experience “emotional numbing” where their normal responses of positive or negative emotions is significantly reduced to the point where they might appear indifferent to activities that brought them a great deal of joy, comfort, and excitement in the past. On the other hand, people might also experience heightened negative emotions such as becoming increasingly irritable, short-tempered, or even hostile. They might be constantly on the lookout for danger, be easily startled, or appear anxious or on-edge.

One of the most common responses to trauma involves avoidance. People who experience trauma often seek to avoid anything associated with their traumatic event including people, locations, and activities. They also might become more avoidant in general such as staying away from large crowds or even small groups of people, and become hypersensitive to loud noises. They may even become more avoidant of friends and family and attempt to remain increasingly isolated. This can result both from an attempt to protect themselves from perceived further danger, as well as not wanting to burden those they care about with the pain they are experiencing.

Its important to note that these responses are not exclusive to people who have experienced trauma themselves. Witnessing or hearing about particularly traumatic events might also trigger many of the same responses either as a result of imagining yourself in the role of the victim, or simply by being confronted by the weight of the event.

All of the above responses are common reactions to trauma and are how we attempt to cope with stress and danger, and keep ourselves safe from further harm. However, when these patterns persist for a significant amount of time after the danger has past, or are negatively affecting our relationships, responsibilities, or our ability to feel like our old selves, it might be an indication that someone is struggling and in pain.

WHAT CAN I DO?:

Taking the time to acknowledge and process the impact that a traumatic event has had can be essential to the long-term healing process. While becoming focused and dedicated to another project or task following trauma can sometimes be a helpful distraction for people to regain a sense of normalcy, refusing to acknowledge or minimizing the impact of a traumatic event will delay the healing process. Sometimes, significant steps need to be taken such as taking off time from work or school and seeking out intensive professional help. Other times, incorporating healthy positive activities into your existing routine can provide you with the support needed to feel safe, grounded, and moving towards being your old self.

Dedicating small chunks of time during the day and week that are set-aside exclusively for positive self-care activities can help people regain a sense of control and structure after the helplessness and chaos that result from trauma. This might include journaling for 20 minutes every morning, taking 10 minutes of your lunch break to practice some brief yoga or meditation, or making an agreement with a friend or group of people to get together for an activity at a set time every week. Becoming engaged in a cause or organization following a traumatic event can also be positive ways to connect with other survivors of trauma and feel empowered. The American Trauma Society is a great resources for survivors of trauma, their loved ones, and those who want to make a difference

HELP AND SUPPORT:

Its important that when you are coping with trauma you are not going through it alone. Having a support system of people who you know you can rely on is often essential to healthy recovery from trauma. After experiencing a trauma it is not uncommon to feel vulnerable, isolated, alone, and that others will not understand what you have been through. Even if you have a good support system of friends and family, seeking out help through group or individual therapy can provide a safe and validating place to objectively and empathically process what you have been through. Even a short period of therapy following trauma can have a powerful effect on help individuals process and adapt to the unavoidable changes that often follow it.

If you are looking for support processing your experience of a traumatic event, or know someone who is looking for help, you are welcome to call me (262) 607-2226

Change

The passing of Labor Day, and the weather beginning to cool off (as much as it does in Los Angeles) mark the transition from Summer into Fall. This transition naturally leads to many necessary changes in the daily routines of most people. Whether you are a parent organizing how to get your child to and from school and their extracurricular activities, a student moving up to the next grade or making a bigger transition into high school or college, or simply adjusting to increased traffic on the freeway on your way to work, the changing of the seasons leads to an adjustment in one way or another for everybody. For various reasons, most people may not take the time to reflect on the impact of these changes on their mood and attitude. However, while people react to change in a variety of different ways, it impacts all of us.

For some people, adapting to change comes easy and they can cope with transitions with limited stress. For others, change can be difficult or distressing. For many people, change can evoke feelings of vulnerability, being unprepared, or the fear of potential failure. As a result, these feelings may lead to anxiety or depression, or make the chronic anxiety and depression someone has been coping with much more difficult. When this happens people may act out by becoming more irritable, aggressive, or controlling, or become more distant and avoidant of any potentially stressful situation; even situations involving work or family. These attempts at coping tend to be unsuccessful as they can be potentially damaging for relationships with family, friends, and school or work.

Being able to process and work through change, whether it is with your existing support network or with a therapist is essential when you notice the change leading feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. For some, working with a therapist for even a short period of time can help people transition through seemingly small changes such as the beginning of a new school year, to more significant changes such as the death of a loved one or other trauma. For others, therapy can help people remain grounded and focused on their goals when faced with the anxiety or depression which they might see as an unavoidable consequence of change. In either case, therapy can help as a reliable and consistent source of support when faced with large and small transitions at any point in life.

If you are going through a period of change or a difficult transition and are looking for support, or know someone who is looking for help, you are welcome to call me at (262) 607-2226

Traumatic Ripple Effects Of Hurricane Harvey

Written by Dr. Christopher Marquart, PSB 94022615

A mentor of mine used to say that, “life will mess with your mental health.” Hearing about the recent event of Hurricane Harvey is a perfect example of life events that can even give pause to people who might never have experienced significant trauma. The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey might naturally evoke a range of feelings including anger, confusion, fear, and helplessness. However, for those who have already experienced trauma in their personal lives, events like this can trigger old feelings and compound the pain they are in.

For people who have experienced past trauma, hearing about current traumatic events might cause them to slip back into old behaviors. People might become hypervigilant about earthquakes, illness, or other potential threats to their safety or the safety of their loved ones. Additionally they might become more irritable or even hostile, or become more avoidant of others and isolate themselves. While these are all natural responses people use to protect themselves in a crisis, they sometimes persist after a traumatic event or can be triggered after learning about another traumatic event. After a crisis has past, these behaviors can make it difficult to feel like your old self again, can disrupt your ability to work or study, and damage your relationships with those you love.

Resilience is defined as, “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” Seeking help after experiencing trauma can be an essential part of the healing process and building resilience. Being able to talk with a therapist can help you process what you have been through or what might be triggering your past trauma, and can help to create a sense of closure, build resilience, and help you get back to your old self.

If you are looking for support processing your experience of a traumatic event, or know someone who is looking for help, you are welcome to call me (262) 607-2226

Grief, Loss and the Holidays

The approaching holiday season is often a time of celebration, but for those who are grieving the death of a loved one it can intensify the many complex feelings they are having as they go through the grieving process. Even if the loss took place years in the past, holidays and special occasions sometimes have a way of making the loss feel fresh again. As a psychotherapist working with children, adolescents, and adults in the Santa Monica and greater Los Angeles area who have experienced the death of a loved one, I have empathy for just how difficult it can be to discuss the topic of grief and loss.

Difficulty processing feelings about the death of a loved one doesn’t happen just during the holidays. I find the following quote to ring true for many people, “When a person is born we rejoice, and when they’re married we jubilate, but when the die we try to pretend nothing has happened.” Death is not something that is always talked about openly in our culture, and when it happens people may not know how to respond. This can cause people to try to convince themselves or those around them that they are “okay” and “fine” when they are still deeply affected by their grief process. In other cases, some people might even refrain from sharing their loss with others for fear that will make others uncomfortable or that no one will be able to understand what they are going through. Often, this only adds the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression that are a typical part of grief and loss.

Seeking help with your grieving process, no matter how long ago it began can be an essential part of the healing process. There are many opportunities for support groups in the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles areas for bereavement and loss, and often finding a therapist or psychologist to help you process your unique experience with grief can decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Processing your grief in therapy can create a sense of closure allowing you to hold onto the many positive memories of a loved one without becoming overwhelmed by their absence.

If you need support in your grieving process or if you know someone who has recently suffered a loss and is looking for help, you are always welcome to call my office at (262) 607-2226 or my supervisor Dr. Katja Pohl at (310) 709-4582.

Written by Christopher Marquart, Psy.D. – PSB49022615, supervised by Katja Pohl, Psy.D. – PSY25919

Is this election triggering sexual trauma memories?

This election is like no other and is stirring up concerns all over. Just this morning, at Starbucks, I overheard a woman talking on the phone about last night’s debate and how offended she felt about Donald Trump’s comments about women. Understandably everyone has a strong opinion about each candidate and their remarks. However, as a psychologist who has treated hundreds of sexual trauma victims, I find myself feeling particularly protective of all the women, men, and children that are victim’s of sexual abuse.

As a UCLA Rape Treatment Center on-call therapist I have met with hundreds of children, men and women who recently experienced a sexual assault. They often present with symptoms of acute stress, shame, denial, guilt, fear, sadness, and anxiety. As raw and vulnerable as they are after an assault, they come to the Rape Treatment Center to get support; however, that support includes very personal questions and a medical exam. These children, men and women are incredibly strong and brave to embark on their journey of healing. It is a hard and long journey and the memories will always be part of their story. These memories can be triggered by physical sensations, smells, reminders, places, people, and words such as the ones everyone is exchanging about the Clinton/Trump presidential election.

The recent election controversies can easily trigger a sexual assault victim to be reminded of their assault and how they have felt along the way. Feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and loneliness can surface and individuals can experience recurrences of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. In my Santa Monica psychotherapy office, where I provide long-term therapy for people who have experienced childhood or recent trauma, I am seeing just that. Women and men, who have endured a great deal of pain and fought for themselves to heal, are being reminded of how painful just words can be. It is so crucial that we as a community are respectful of one another and how we discuss sensitive topics. It can be so hurtful even damaging for a survivor to hear people making comments endorsing sexual assault and sexual battery, as well as questioning victim’s response to an assault. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a major trauma. It is a trauma, which will leave you speechless, confused, angry, ashamed, hurt, frightened and utterly shaken up. And it takes support to heal and recover.

If you need support in your healing process or if you know someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, feel free to reach out. You are always welcome to call my office at (310) 709-4582 or contact RAINN or the Santa Monica UCLA Rape Treatment Center.

Beating Addiction In The Industry

As a transplant to Los Angeles, it took some time to understand “The Industry” and the life associated with it. It looks glamorous to many but it is a very hard world, with lots of pressures, expectations, very high stress, and often drugs and alcohol. The amount of people struggling with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in our entertainment industry is concerning and explains why there are hundreds of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.

Intensive treatment can be necessary at first and help in getting clean/sober; however, the long-term involvement in AA or a non-spiritual program in conjunction with therapy is ultimately what keeps people clean. Therapy is an essential part in recovery. It provides a place to explore one’s drug, prescription drug and alcohol use, one’s resistance to giving it up, and managing sobriety. It is so hard to accept a drug problem and it is even harder to address it. Recovery takes time, is a very difficult process and often very painful.

Working with a therapist or a psychologist helps you manage the stress of the industry, anxiety of having to perform at such a high level, insecurities, and ways to socialize in the same circle of importance without needing to use.

Please feel free to call with questions or for support, (310) 709-4582! For information on how to find your Los Angeles Addiction Psychologist, please explore this website to see if I am a good fit for you.

 

 

Depressed in Santa Monica

Do you no longer find pleasure in life? Drive through traffic without noticing the world around you? Feel numb, hopeless and alone? Depression can make you feel like a stranger to yourself and make you do and think things that you never thought you would. It takes you over making you feel lost and alone.

You might notice yourself pulling away from those closest to you. Choosing to stay in and sleep rather then enjoy things that you love. Yet, at the same time longing to have someone understand what it feels like.

I have noticed that living in Los Angeles, these types of feelings can be even more common. Between, the hours being stuck alone in traffic, distance between friends and family members, high cost of living and social pressure to fit the “Hollywood” label of success, it can be a brutal world out there.

So many clients that I have worked with have come in feeling “worthless, not good enough, like a failure” the list goes on and on.  When surrounded by thousands of luxury cars, mansions, millionaires and models/actresses on a daily basis, it’s even harder to feel good about yourself. Many people move here in search of “the dream” only to realize it is a concrete jungle of broken dreams, credit card debt and plastic surgery.

This “image based” culture makes it THAT much harder for those going through depression. In a city that is so spread out it can be difficult to make new friendships and maintain connection. Isolation becomes normal and before you know it, you begin feeling like there is no way out.

In my work with clients, I have seen so many people overcome the darkness of their depression and realize that they are more then their pant size, brand of car or number in their bank account. It is in the moments when you feel alone, scared and uncertain that there is the most opportunity to get to know yourself. Being vulnerable and asking for support is so hard when everything inside of you is saying, “suck it up and deal with it on your own.”  The reality is that none of us can do it on our own and sometimes we need to ask for help. Depression is real and it can feel endless while going through it. Please know that you are not alone.

Written by: Sandra Kushnir, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern