COVID-19: Teletherapy & Resources

As a result of the COVID-19 virus, PCS is now providing teletherapy by phone or video for individuals, couples, and families. We want to continue supporting our current Arizona clients and welcome new clients who are looking for a safe alternative to in person therapy.
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Embrace the B.S.- Gift Yourself with a Lasting Change

… If the cynical in you rolls eyes and the desperate in you gets mad because you’re eager for change or even try –

I’d like to explain: IT’S ALL B.S.

Are you confused?

It might be because of your automatic interpretation of what B.S. is.

In this case: B.S. (Brain Science).

Let’s start from the beginning: Is change even possible?

B.S. (Brain Science) shows that we were all gifted with Brain Plasticity. Brain Plasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire and restructure connections in any age, at any given moment. It includes:

  • Adjustment in response to difficult situations
  • Compensation for emotional /mental hurt
  • Compensation for physical injury
  • Adaptation to novel experiences
  • Adaptation to any other changes in the environment
  • Adjustment of information regarding our negative or positive self-beliefs. 

In the documentary “What the Bleep do we know?” Joe Dispenza captures the idea behind Brain Plasticity: “Neurons that fire together wire together and neurons that fire out of sync- fail to link”.

That means that if we eat while watching T.V. daily it becomes a habit and more likely that every time we sit to watch we automatically feel hungry or crave food. Why? Our neuro cells are already engaged in a long-term relationship that produces a certain chemical response.

B.S. (Brain Science) means that:

If we repeatedly complain about our spouse, ex, kids, parents, mother-in-law, job, or life- it becomes a habit.

If we repeatedly identify ourselves as not-good-enough, not important, worthless, powerless, helpless, or hopeless- it becomes a habit.

If we repeatedly experience ourselves unsafe, lonely, angry, out-of-control, rejected, or any other feeling- it becomes a habit.

Got it. How can I make it stop?

B.S. (Brain Science) means that on the same token, if we interrupt those engagements, we won’t produce the same chemical response anymore and therefore break the habit and re-train our brain.

Moreover, B.S. shows that with creating new healthy habits we can wire and establish positive neural relationships in our brain. In addition, the mild stress that comes with stepping out of our comfort zone while learning- enhances cognitions, strengthens the protection against neural degenerate diseases such as Parkinson and Alzheimer, improves intelligence, and helps mitigate future adaptation.

Some ways to strengthen those desired connections are:

  1. Daily affirmations with an example for each affirmation (i.e.: I am smart. Example: I have the ability to analyze situations).
  2. Counting your blessings daily– writing at least five things you’re grateful for (i.e.: I am grateful for my intuition, for my son, and for the beautiful weather).
  3. Reminding yourself of success stories from your past. How did you feel? What was the message? What did YOU do to make it successful? (i.e.: I graduated college. Felt proud, accomplished, happy, satisfied, and content. I gave myself the messages that I am capable, I am an adult, and I’m successful. What I did to make it successful- worked hard, made the right choices, overcame obstacles, believed in myself, asked for help…)

Easy to say, hard to do

B.S. (Brain Science) acknowledges that the brain does not want to change. There might be resistance and challenges. It is uncomfortable. Specific well-informed partners, a sponsor, individual therapy and group therapy can be helpful for keeping us accountable.

Can therapy really help?

You may have heard about the Fibonacci sequence that describes an amazing variety of natural, mathematical, scientific, and artistic phenomena. The Fibonacci sequence is a pattern found in:

  • The golden ratio, highlighted in classical theories of beauty and proportion
  • Spirals
  • Self-similar curves.

Fibonacci sequence are found in petals, cones, seeds, tree branches, pineapples, broccoli, cauliflower, and other fruits and vegetables, faces, spiral galaxies, shells, hurricanes, animals’ bodies, animals’ fight patterns, DNA molecules, and so much more.

Each number (Fibonacci number) is the sum of the two preceding numbers, starting from 0 and 1. The series begins as follows: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. (0+1= 1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8 5+8=13 etc.) and so on forever.

If this simple astonishing pattern is truly a built-in numbering system in every aspect of the cosmos, that is good news. How wonderful it is that therapy sessions have the potential to grow the healing stronger and faster as time passes. All we need is to initiate, take the first step from 0 to 1, and stick with it. With baby steps we keep the momentum and by making it a ritual, we are likely to be surprised.

A couple points to keep in mind:

  • Make the practice fun.
  • Attach a lower desired behavior to a higher desired behavior. For example: if you hate to exercise but love listening to books, allow yourself to listen to books ONLY while exercising.
  • Trust B.S. (Brain Science)

Lasting change takes awareness, decision, stimuli, effort, time, and practice. Yet, it is POSSIBLE and almost INEVITABLE if we TRUST the PROCESS. After all, even you realize at this moment that B.S. has changed its nature to Brain Science, vs. whatever came to mind when you began reading this article.

Article by Hadas Ron Zarki, MA, LAC

References:

1. Cascio, C. N., O’donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(4), 621-629.

2. Emmons, R.A., and McCullough, M.E. (2004). The Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford University Press.

3. Based on David Cooperrider and colleagues appreciative inquiry approach to change. See https://www.davidcooperrider.com/ai-process/.  

* TED Talk- How brain plasticity can change your life with Michael Merzenich

Approaching 2020 with Open Arms and Hearts

Do you ever wonder what you can tangibly do to get ahead for the New Year? As I reflect on 2019, I think back to many moments during the year that included positive growth, hardship, connection, and loss. I started a life changing internship (Thank you PCS!), while continuing to take classes and work on my Master’s program at ASU. I moved to a new state away from my family and friends. I lost and gained friendships. I felt homesick and leaned on others. With all of this, I will be the first to tell you that I was not prepared for much of what 2019 threw at me! While being unprepared might have served a wonderful purpose (as I grew immensely as a person), I continue to embrace the importance of being present, grounded and mindful when looking forward and taking on new challenges and A NEW YEAR!

Here are some tips for starting your New Year on the right foot:

  1. Reflect (with Self-Compassion): It is important to begin with self-reflection about how you showed up in the last year for yourself and for others. What went well? What could be better? If 2019 felt like a hard year, this is especially important. Giving yourself compassion for the hardships endured or where things fell short allows you to open the door to change for the coming year.
  2. Compassion for others: As you grow your compassion for self, extend this to others.
  3. Get Grounded and Set Intentions: What do you wish to be different for your New Year? This could look like creating a mental or physical list of what you want to accomplish or change. Even if you had a spectacular year, we can always push ourselves!
  4. Get Specific: How will you act on these intentions?
  5. Seek Support and Connection: We are not meant to do this all alone. There are people who will support you in your efforts to create change in your life. Seek these people out and watch the team effort unravel positive growth.
  6. Appreciation and Gratitude: Studies have shown that showing gratitude positively effects one’s social and psychological well-being. Showing your gratitude will also allow your connections to grow.

From all of us at PCS, we wish you a joyful and prosperous New Year!

Article by Kaitlyn Beckham, BA, Intern

Kaitlyn is a Master of Counseling student at Arizona State University graduating in May 2020. She enjoys working with adults who have experienced trauma, as well as those who struggle with anxiety, depression, relationship issues and self-esteem issues.

Hey man, don’t apologize (Cry if you need to. Or don’t.)

When a man tells me he feels weak when he cries, I understand. It makes sense based on the social norms and expectations out there, often perpetuated by us as men.

There are times I have cried and have felt weak. But in those same moments (sometimes after) I felt relief and surprisingly in touch with a younger part of me that often feels lost or distant. It is that same part I see in my kids. And I acknowledge I am still far from confident about emoting in public.

For me the fear of judgement from others has been part of what has made me hesitant at times to share my story. It is that same fear that tells me not to let others see me in my feelings. However, I found through sharing my story with trusted people, I understand myself better and I feel more accepted. Also my difficult experiences are often normalized in hearing others’ stories who have gone through something similar.

I have noticed how infrequently many fathers and sons appear to share their stories and feelings with each other. Often in the therapy room, they are able to break down these long standing walls and reach out to each other. Sometimes fathers refuse to talk about anything outside of work and chores. I found this more likely to be true the older a man is. This speaks to the ongoing change in prevailing culture as you look back through the generations. It is such a miss when a man does not ask his kids about what they feel, about what they think, about who they are. Then there is the apology I get sometimes, from a man tearing up or trying to choke back tears. My response is don’t cry if you don’t want to. But that might be part of the problem. I say if you are a human go ahead and emote if you need to. As long as you are not hurting anyone go ahead and let it out. Your story, your tears, anger fear, grief etc. And really more than if a tear rolls down your cheek, it is your attitude with yourself. Can you allow, whatever feeling is there to be there, without pushing it down? We become changed for the better when we can practice being with ourselves and others in emotional expression and telling our stories.

Article by Elijah Bedrosian, MC, LPC

The Time I Fell Into All the Thinking Traps in the Whole World

Do you remember the children’s book (later turned movie that I never saw), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?  I had a day like that recently.  A day when it felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  My family and I were travelling to the opposite side of the world to do some service work and I was well prepared for anything that could come our way!  I had thought through all of the details meticulously, packed everything but the kitchen sink, chosen an itinerary that would help us all adjust to the jet lag that accompanies a 15 hour time difference, carefully selected the most exciting countries where we would have layovers, chosen great seats on the flights, arranged for special meals to accommodate dietary restrictions, and even had cute little matching outfits for my young children.  It was going to be smooth sailing, except that before our first plane even took off, things started unraveling.  My husband lost his wallet that contained all the cash for our trip, our plane had mechanical issues, our flight was cancelled, we had to change airlines and get a whole new (far from ideal) itinerary and layovers, we no longer had seats together, there was no food for us, we lost a night of sleep and a day of our trip, and our luggage was lost.  Before we even left our own city a day later, when a flight became available, we were discouraged, sleep deprived, and unsure where in the world all of our bags were and if/when we would get them back.

I am naturally pretty level headed and even tempered.  It takes a lot to get me worked up and one of the things I like about myself is my ability to maintain a sense of peace in the midst of chaos.  This day, however, was different.  I took the first few incidents in stride and then at some point, I just broke.  In addition to the many tears that I shed, my thinking became distorted.  The main thought bouncing around my mind was, “It is not supposed to be this way!”  I also had thoughts along the lines of, “We aren’t going to have what we need.”  “This is going to impact our entire trip.”  “I can’t do this.”  Once I started down this line of thinking, it was hard to course correct.  I also beat myself up for struggling so much and for not being able to maintain composure.  In addition to the distress from the situation itself, I heaped judgment and shame onto myself for not handling it all with more grace. 

Everyone falls into thinking traps and experiences cognitive distortions (and that statement is not all-or-nothing thinking or overgeneralizing).  It is part of our human condition.  We don’t always see things clearly.  There are times when we are especially vulnerable to losing perspective and having distorted thoughts.  The acronym HALT is often used to bring attention to this phenomenon by positing that when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we are less in control and are more susceptible to impulsive or self-destructive behavior.  This acronym also serves to remind us what to do when that is the case, halt! 

When I noticed I was responding in an exaggerated way, I halted and checked in with myself.  With some space to think and journal (there was no shortage of that for me during the 28 hours in flight), I realized I was overestimating the negative aspects of the situation and underestimating my ability to cope.  I recognized several distortions with my thinking.  I was not accepting the reality of the situation by spending all my energy brooding over the unfortunate circumstances rather than accepting what was going on and putting my energy into figuring out how to best deal with it.  I was fortune telling by looking ahead into the unknown future and telling myself things were definitely going to go terribly and we wouldn’t have what we needed.  I was succumbing to negative filtering and overgeneralizing by only acknowledging the things we did not have and allowing that to color my expectations of the trip overall.  I was catastrophizing by blowing things out of proportion and I fell into the trap of should/must thinking by pressuring myself to immediately identify some deep and meaningful life lesson from the experience and maneuver the situation and my emotions around it perfectly. 

Changing our distorted thinking is not just pretending everything is wonderful or ignoring things that are difficult.  Instead, it is having an accurate perspective and seeing things as they truly are.  If I held onto my distorted thoughts on the first days of our trip, I would have missed so many beautiful things around me.  I wouldn’t have acknowledged or been grateful for the abundance of snacks we had in our carry on luggage, how relaxing it was to play games, read books, and watch movies on the flights, how although we ended up not getting our luggage for several days, we were able to buy or borrow some things we needed once we got to our destination, that our kids were absolute troopers and had the time of their lives, and what a privilege it was to go on this adventure in the first place.

Just like Alexander said, some days can feel terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad.  His day truly was hard, as was mine; however, that is not the full picture.  There can be beauty in the midst of struggle; there can be peace in the midst of chaos, and there can be gratitude in the midst of disappointment.  Let’s allow ourselves to embrace the frustrating and the wonderful at the same time and give ourselves grace in the journey, no matter how many thinking traps we fall into along the way. 

Article by Shelly M. Reed, PsyD, S-PSB

Art Therapy for the Anxious Adolescent

“Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented – which is what fear and anxiety do to a person – into something whole.”

– Louise Bourgeois

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. However, anxiety can become overwhelming to the point of it being problematic. Pre-teens and teens are faced with many challenges in adolescence including changing schools, increased pressure around academic performance, and social and physical changes.

According to a 2017 report on children’s mental health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in children and adolescents. Nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18. Anxiety takes on many forms and may show up differently in individuals.

What anxiety may look like in adolescents:

  • excessive worry or fears
  • feelings of inner restlessness
  • high levels of stress
  • irritability
  • poor school performance
  • physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches or fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • isolation from social interactions
  • mood changes

Art therapy can help adolescents learn more about their anxiety and how to cope. Benefits of Art Therapy for adolescents include:

  • Non-Verbal Communication – Art Therapy promotes nonverbal communication of thoughts, feelings and unconscious images and symbols.
  • Safe Expression of Internal Conflict – Art therapy acts as a mirror of one’s internal state, providing an external representation and a physical record of one’s experience. Artwork can create a safe container to hold the client’s feelings while processing.
  • Fosters Self Awareness – Art therapy promotes creativity, self-discovery, insight, problem solving, and conflict resolution.

Increased Emotional and Sensory Intelligence – Art therapy challenges distress tolerance and impulse control. It builds emotional and sensory intelligence and promotes relaxation and sensory integration.

“The fact that we can recall adolescence better than other periods and that this is a time of change in many brain regions are two pieces of evidence that the brain is likely to be especially plastic at this time. Another indication comes from statistics on the average age of onset of serious psychological disorders. The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to stress.” – Laurence Steinberg

What is an Art Therapist?

Art therapists are trained in both art and therapy. The process isn’t an art lesson – it is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories and counseling techniques. Art therapists are trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. It is through this process that the individual really begins to see the effects of art therapy and the discoveries that can be made.

“Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”   – American Art Therapy Association

Article by Katie Thies, LAC, Art Therapist

Katie Thies is a Licensed Associate Counselor and Art Therapist specializing in work with art therapy for anxiety and trauma. Katie works with children, adolescents, and adults. Learn more about how Katie can help you or your family by calling PCS at 480-947-5739 to schedule an initial consultation.

We Are Infinite

Let us be brave. Let us feel so deeply that we are afraid of what we will discover.

We are not finite. We are tied to the idea that who we are is connected to what we do. We believe our worth is rooted in the perception of others; that our life narrative is prewritten and decides who we are going to be forever. But, we are not finite. We are human beings. We change with the seasons. We are courageous in how we defy the gravity of conformity and live as our authentic self; confronting the identity others have created for us. We are not finite. With bravery we carry ourselves through the complexity of life. In that we are infinite.

As an infinite, brave being we do not seek answers. We release the forces pulling us toward achievement to secure meaning in this unpredictable life.  Remember the moments that frightened you, took your breath away, which surprised you, the moments you would do over and over. Choose uncertainty, choose discomfort. Choose the freedom to make mistakes. Choose to discover with childlike wonder your genuine desires that lead you to your ideal self. Be and remain deeply curious with your life; be infinite.

Be brave and take time to feel the wind on your face and find what truly moves you. Never stop acknowledging the changing seasons. Embrace the force of Mother Nature and make it your own. Be brave, we are not finite.

We are infinite.

Article by Jessica Lamar, Psy.D.

Don’t Blame Your Parents Just Yet

To some people, therapy is a “blame your parents” exercise. Once you have thoroughly dragged your parents through the dirt, you pay your money, and politely leave the office. By blaming your parents in this way, you effectively abdicate responsibility for your own life and feel better. 

In reality, effective therapy is just the opposite. It is important to look at your decisions as well as the impact of things that occurred beyond your control. In doing so, you have a better understanding of your past, which is very helpful in your efforts to get where you want to be in your life. A better understanding of your past includes knowing more about how your environment influenced you.

I believe that we internalize our external environments. The amount that this happens depends on different factors, two are age and disposition. Children are often seeing and experiencing things for the first time, and their developing minds are much more malleable compared to adults. Disposition refers to how naturally sensitive we are to environmental influence. To some degree, we are all influenced continuously by our environments throughout our lives, even when we are no longer in those environments.

If the environment you grew up in was turbulent and you did not feel protected, there is a good chance that without some helpful intervention (caregiver, friend, mentor, therapy etc.), your internal world will mirror this, and be chaotic as well. When a person’s internal world is chaotic much, or most of the time, there is a desperate need and striving/drive for internal regulation– to find the calm among the chaos. 

People utilize what they know and what is present in their environments to internally regulate. So, if this is a parent, or mentor: you go to this person; if it is drugs and alcohol: you use that; if you have friends who do yoga: you do that, etc. Each of these interventions either contribute to more long lasting internal regulation, or more long lasting internal dysregulation.

One of the most important things we internalize from our environments as kids, is our experiences with our caregivers. If the vast majority of the time we are tended to with care and love, reassurance, explanation etc., a large part of our internal experience tends to reflect that. If not, a large part of our internal experience tends to reflect how we were otherwise tended to by our caregivers. 

However, our internal experience is not only influenced by our caregivers. It is the whole of our experiences then and now, how we understood these experiences and how we responded. Understanding more about these dynamics contribute to having a better understanding of yourself, your relationships today, how your needs are met, underlying beliefs about life, and how to begin bringing about changes you would like to make.

Your parents are only a piece of your story, and only an aspect of your therapy. A big part of making positive changes in your life is increasing internal regulation. 

Here are some factors that, when practiced consistently, tend to increase one’s internal regulation: 

  • healthy and supportive relationships
  • quality eating and sleeping habits, moderate exercise
  • work/life balance, as needed medication
  • access to resources (medical and otherwise)
  • owning your full story
  • telling your full story with a trusted person(s)
  • allowing others to share feedback about your narrative of yourself
  • having a sense of purpose
  • healing from trauma as needed.

Article by Elijah Bedrosian, LPC, SEP

What is the PCS Intensive Treatment Program?

“Participating in a PCS Intensive Treatment Program is an opportunity each of us have longed for, yet avoided. In 8 days and 68 hours your story has time to unfold and be received by a team of compassionate professionals whose primary purpose is to create a safe and equally challenging environment. The treatment process involving 35 hours of individual therapy brings an appreciation and understanding for the journey you have lived, including the detours, and offers the discovery of the journey awaiting you.”

– Dr. Marcus Earle, PCS Clinical Director

How it all begins…The Murray Method

Preparatory Workshop

The preparatory workshop begins your PCS Intensive Treatment Program.  Each group member shares their reason for participating in the intensive, is introduced to our treatment model, and begins constructing a few key elements of their treatment process.  Once the ice is broken, the workshop facilitator presents a framework from Marilyn’s Murray’s work called the Scindo Syndrome.  The presentation sets the stage for much of the work to come, offering a way of understanding how the difficult and disturbing experiences in our early life shapes how we think, feel, and behave.  It outlines what we strive for at PCS:  to become a Healthy Balanced Person intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  The Scindo Syndrome, along with the Circles of Intimacy, Responsibility, and Impact, provide the foundational scaffolding that the coming work can build.  Not only does it help a person organize and understand their own story, but it also illustrates how we are similar to the others in the group (and in the world).  This preparatory workshop is where the first homework assignments are given.  The assignments include exercises such as the Trauma Egg, Genogram and Scindo Syndrome drawings to encourage clients to explore and identify what has shaped their thoughts, their feelings — their lives. These exercises guide clients to discover what is underneath even if they are uncertain what motivates their behaviors that ultimately led them to PCS.

Concluding Group

The Concluding Workshop on Saturday mornings is the final piece of the intensive program; a space to celebrate the integration of the Healthy Balanced Adult with the client’s Original Feeling Child (the “child” they are at the core).  Clients share with one another their strongest “ah-hah” moments of the week, along with their Trauma Eggs, and their “Child” drawings.  In their final moment, clients reaffirm their gratitude for the group work and the gains they achieved during their time at PCS.

Not Just Mental Health

As part of the intake process, Dr. Rick Isenberg completes a comprehensive medical history to identify significant symptoms and illnesses, along with self-care practices, substance use, and compulsive behaviors which may impact the treatment process.  Our physical well being is entwined with our emotional and relational health.

The PCS Intensive Treatment Program is not just about mental health

Interestingly, for some, the medical history may even identify symptoms, or ailments that point toward an underlying emotional issue that may be unknown to the client. We look for these clues and follow them backwards to see what we find. We also look for medical conditions that may contribute to the client’s emotional issues (like diabetes, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism) that are either not yet diagnosed, or neglected and need to be treated. 

As part of the initial assessment, Dr. Isenberg also reviews the ACE Questionnaire with the client.  This tool looks at adverse childhood experiences and allows PCS to help the client put psychological and medical problems in a family/historical perspective. Dr. Isenberg also administers a neurocognitive screening assessment that helps to identify brain skills that may be lagging. It is important to have our brains working at their best, so we provide tools to allow our clients to buff up brain performance. When our brains work better, life is better. 

How Your Team is Assembled

After the client has filled out the registration materials for the intensive program, they will be required participate in a phone prescreen session with one of our team members. Not only does the prescreen ensure that PCS will be an appropriate fit for the client, but it also assists in selecting the individual and/or couple’s therapists assigned to each program with the background information provided. Every schedule includes at least one EMDR therapist. However, clients who are coming to work on trauma or other related concerns could find two or three therapists that utilize EMDR in their sessions. We also look at the other therapy modalities that would be beneficial for the client such as SE, CBT, DBT & EFT to help in the process of building a schedule for each individual or couple.

Clients who are interested in the intensive program but are on a strict budget can have the opportunity for interns, as well as licensed associate counselors (LAC) to be assigned to reduce the cost of their program. The advantage of having a large team of over 25 therapists allows flexibility in the selection of a client’s team and provides the ability to choose appropriate lower cost therapists while still receiving the full benefits of the process. 


EMDR, SE, EFT, ETC. – What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a trauma therapy developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro.  Dr. Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts when she noticed her own stress reactions diminished when her eyes swept back and forth as she walked through a park.

EMDR involves recalling a stressful past event and “reprogramming” the memory in the light of a positive, self-chosen belief, while using rapid eye movements to facilitate the process.  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with bilateral eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation.  One of the key elements of EMDR is “dual stimulation.”  During treatment, a person is asked to think or talk about memories, triggers, and painful emotions while simultaneously focusing on his/her therapist’s moving finger or another form of bilateral stimuli.  Other forms of external stimuli that may be used in EMDR therapy include bilateral tactile sensations and sounds (e.g. alternating hand taps or a chime that pans back and forth from ear to ear).

How Does EDMR Therapy Work?

At the time of a traumatic event, strong emotions may interfere with our ability to completely process the experience and the moment becomes “frozen in time.”  Recalling the traumatic event may feel as though the person is reliving the event all over again because the images, smells, sounds, and feelings still exist and can be triggered in the present.  When activated, these memories cause a negative impact on our daily functioning and interfere with the way we see ourselves and our world, and how we relate to others.

EMDR therapy appears to directly affect the brain by “unfreezing” the traumatic memories, allowing them to be resolved.  Over time, the disturbing memory and associated beliefs, feelings, sensations become “digested” or processed until the event is able to be thought about without reliving it.  The memory is still available, but it is less upsetting. 

The exact mechanism for the effectiveness of EMDR is unknown.  It appears that using rapid eye movement relieves the anxiety associated with the trauma so that the original event can be examined for a more detached perspective. This is somewhat like watching a movie of what happened.  This enables a person to access positive ways of reframing the original trauma (reprocessing), and to release the body’s stored negative emotional charges around it (desensitization).  Some experts have noted that the eye movements during EMDR might be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  It may be thought of as a physiologically-based therapy that allows a person to see material in a new and less distressing way.  Others believe it reactivates parts of the brain that were “shut down” as a coping mechanism.  In this way, cognitive reorganizing takes place, allowing the negative, painful emotions to give way to more resolved, empowered feelings.


What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)?

Somatic Experiencing was developed by Dr. Peter Levine and is practiced all over the world as an intervention to resolve trauma. Dr. Levine theorized that trauma is not necessarily about an event, but about what happens after the event, at the physiological and biological level. How our nervous system responds, how those around us respond, how we recall the incident and the ultimate meaning we give to the experience will determine our chance of resolving trauma in the moment or increase the likelihood of experiencing PTSD in the future.

SE recognizes that trauma is a natural part of life. Trauma is not a disease or an anomaly. Its effects do not mean a life sentence or permanent incapacitation. Instead, trauma can be viewed as an injury to the autonomic nervous system with the understanding that our bodies have an innate capacity to return to a regulated state of being.  

SE is a short term, holistic and naturalistic approach that encourages mastery, empowerment, self-direction and resiliency. SE focuses on “sensate” or “felt sense” of the body by recognizing and accessing physical sensations, imagery and motor patterns to renegotiate trauma through physiological channels of the autonomic nervous system – from brain stem to limbic system. The body remembers everything even if the brain cannot access certain experiences and unlike traditional therapies, SE brings sensory experience to the foreground while supporting thought, feeling and emotion in the background.  

How Does Somatic Experiencing Work?

SE is a body oriented approach to renegotiate trauma. It involves grounding, orienting, noticing the felt sense of the body and tracking with curiosity how it experiences activation and then de-activation. With the support of a trained therapist, we can touch into the nervous system, mind and body and prepare for a reparative action. This “pendulation” of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations increases our range of resiliency and facilitates nervous system regulation. We enter the “here and now” instead of being stuck in the “there and then.” We become able to recognize and express instinctive responses to threat. Expanding a person’s tolerance of bodily sensations facilitates their trust in the body’s wisdom and capacity to heal itself by uncoupling incomplete and undischarged bio-electric circuits. Symptoms diminish in strength and frequency when the cycle of discharge that have been fueling the symptoms of unresolved trauma are released. Discharge my take the form of flushing, muscle contraction/release, yawning, deep breathing, sweating, tears as well as other somatic responses.

Humans often thwart the natural mammalian instinct for fight, flight, freeze or collapse because we filter our experiences through the frontal cortex, thereby minimizing our “animal” instinct.  For example, if a child cries we often attempt to sooth by telling them “Don’t cry, everything is fine.” This shuts down energetic discharge. Patients often experience shaking coming out of surgery. Instead of allowing an individual to discharge energy caused by a traumatic experience (cutting, being tied down, having a mask over one’s face) they are often given warm blankets or medications to dull the sympathetic nervous system. When individuals fidget, we tell them to stop. We manage to stop energetic discharge throughout our day. Our sedentary lifestyles and cultural beliefs disconnect us from the body. If our natural, self-protective responses are not completed, this energy does not discharge and we are at risk of our nervous system getting “stuck on” or “stuck off.” We may not feel safe in our own bodies and so we “numb” with substance addictions (using alcohol or drugs) or with process addictions (gambling, sex, shopping, work, etc.) By bypassing the thinking brain and accessing the nervous system we can reclaim the body’s ability self-regulate.

Mindfulness

Living Without Awareness = Impulsiveness and Mood Dependent Behaviors.

What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness is the practice of being completely aware of what you are doing in the moment, when you are doing it. It is you being in control of your mind, instead of your mind being in control of you.

Mindfulness is about: learning to maintain awareness of your mind, body, and surroundings. It is about staying in the present moment and noticing when your mind drifts into the past or future. It is learning to enjoy life in the here and now. Finally, it is about finding and connecting with one’s sense of self. When you are aware of what you are experiencing, you can make the choice to change or accept it, thus decreasing your suffering.

Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindfulness increases awareness. It allows us to be completely connected to our environment, reduce stress, and improve our overall well-being. Studies show that practicing mindfulness can reduce blood pressure, increase the immune system function, relax muscles, improve quality of sleep, and increase focus and concentration.

Why Learn Mindfulness?

Mindfulness skills help you to tolerate distress, that is, tolerating emotions and situations that feel intolerable; riding your intense emotions (urge surfing) rather than doing things to shut them off or distract from them, OR from engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

Mindfulness skills help you to regulate your emotions. The more skilled you are at noticing and identifying your emotions, the better chance you have of being able to adjust their intensity. If you are aware of what you are feeling you can change emotions you want to change, OR you can choose to stay with the feelings, knowing you are in control.

Mindfulness skills help you to be more effective in interpersonal situations. Increased awareness helps you decide when and how to make decisions about dealing with people and setting boundaries and limits, i.e. “asking for what you want” and “saying no”. Maintaining healthy relationships (or ending destructive ones!) requires the ability to be able to connect with your emotions and to be able to keep them in check if you want to.

Relapse Prevention: (e.g. relapse to undesirable mood states–depression, anxiety, anger, etc.–or impulsive/unwanted/self-destructive behaviors). Mindfulness teaches you how to recognize and disengage from emotion mind at times of potential relapse. Inability to do so may result in a downward spiral, and eventually, the onset of relapse. To avoid this, you must be able to disengage from emotion mind, bring in reasonable mind, and find wise mind. This will allow you to process mood related information in ways that are less likely to provoke relapse. Awareness of the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that characterize relapse-related mind states is an essential first step in recognizing the need for corrective action.

Nutrition Makes A Difference

Taylor Aasand, MPH, RDN, our registered dietitian (RDN), conducts nutritional assessments of the complete diet of clients; including foods, beverages, supplements and medications that could influence medical status.  The dietitian also takes note for any special dietary patterns, food allergies, and religious beliefs that affect intake.

The RDN provides education around the link between nutrition and mental health, emphasizing that the brain and body must be adequately nourished and hydrated to do intensive therapy.    Some clients benefit from additional dietary services depending on a medical diagnosis or an eating disorder or disordered eating history.  The client and dietitian work together to develop a more structured dietary plan for their programming that may include planned meals, grocery lists, challenging food fears and rules, and body attunement exercises to help clients meet their individual nutrition goals.

All this allows PCS to help the team assigned to understand the client more comprehensively and provides additional avenues for intervention. The complete Wellness Assessment allows us to recommend changes in bad habits and lifestyle that may lead to a healthier life, better brain performance, and easier recovery from the addiction, depression, trauma (etc.).

Working Together

We enjoy talking about you. The PCS Intensive Treatment Program is a team approach model.  During your intensive over 7 professionals focus their attention on how best to facilitate discovering those issues inhibiting personal and relationship growth.  The case manager assigned to you communicates with your primary therapist before, during, and after your program while monitoring treatment process.  Through notes, emails, and conversations your individual and group therapists continue to update one another of how best to promote change and growth.  The Wednesday staffing offers a unique opportunity for reviewing your process, with you present, by our entire team of over 25 therapists. 

To learn more about the PCS Intensive Treatment Program, please contact our office at 480-947-5739 where our Intensive Coordinators can supply more information and start you on the journey to discovering a better you.

Finding Your T-Spot: Trauma Isn’t Sexy, but We Need to Talk About It

There are a lot of hot topics in the mental health arena right now. People love to talk about self-empowerment, ending toxic relationships, and mindful meditation practices. These are valuable talking points with plenty of helpful information to be gleaned. But there is another, less “hot” topic that we need to discuss. The T word. The Big T. Trauma.

You might think, “I don’t have trauma!” As a therapist, I’ve heard this proclamation countless times from clients who come to my office to talk about their anxiety or depression symptoms. “I had a great childhood,” they tell me. “I have a great life. There’s no reason for me to feel this way.” These are the kind of statements people make to minimize their undesired feelings and attribute their struggles to nothing more than their own innate defectiveness. This theme became so repetitive in my practice, that I started my Instagram account, @drheidigreen, to educate people on common mental health misconceptions and provide tools for living a happier life.

So, let’s get real. We are all the product of our life experiences, and trauma is part of the human experience. Your traumatic experiences, big or small, create an imprint on your brain and your heart and become a part of who you are. Trauma impacts the way you see yourself and the world. It dictates the way you respond to conflict, adversity, and stress. Whether or not you want to acknowledge it, you too, have a T-Spot. You might not know where it is, you might not know how to find it, but it’s there, and it’s time to talk about how to access it so you can clean out your old wounds and be the healthiest, happiest version of you possible.

What is Trauma Anyway?

Let’s define the word trauma. Most people who think they don’t have trauma, say that because they define trauma as catastrophic events like physical or sexual abuse, the death of a parent or child, rape, or near-death experiences. While these overt experiences certainly are trauma, I define trauma as any painful experience that has a negative impact. With that definition in mind, we open the door to a variety of experiences from childhood bullying, emotionally unavailable parents, learning difficulties, poverty, rejection, significant life changes like moving or romantic break-ups, job losses and more. We are all impacted by our painful life experiences. These traumas change us, and if we aren’t mindfully aware of the ways our trauma impacts us, those experiences can color the way we interact with the world in profoundly unhelpful ways.

So how do you find your T-Spot? Well for starters, you need to recognize that none of your adult struggles are random. You aren’t in distress “for no reason.” Your upsetting emotional states exist for a reason, and one of those reasons is trauma. You might think, “Well I have a family history of [insert mental health diagnosis here], so I’m just destined to feel this way.” Your biology plays a role, but it isn’t the only factor in your mental health. Genetics predispose us to certain traits, but it’s our life experiences that activate those traits.

You are a culmination of every life experience you’ve ever had. Those experiences instilled messages about who you are, how others perceive you, and how to behave to protect yourself, your relationships, and your sense of self-worth. You can identify your T-Spot with another T word: Triggers. What situations activate a strong emotional response inside you? We aren’t born with triggers. They develop in response to situations that make us feel physically or emotionally unsafe. So, when your internal alarms start sounding, you know you’ve hit your T-Spot. Once you identify a trigger, ask yourself, “What does this remind me of?” Your answer will be an unresolved trauma.

How Early Life Trauma Impacts Adults

Let’s say you grew up in a home with a parent struggling with a mental or physical illness. You may have learned that your parent was fragile, that you needed to be strong and take care of them. You also might have learned that when you had needs, it was overwhelming for them and they were unable to attune to you. As a result, you learned to ignore your needs and be a “good child” who was helpful, accommodating and attuned to the needs of your parent. While these responses were adaptive in childhood and helped you earn connection and affection from a compromised parent, these qualities probably interfere in your adult relationships. You may be overly accommodating of others, have trouble setting boundaries or saying no, and harbor unspoken resentments because you feel taken advantage of and disrespected by the people closest to you.

“I don’t know why I’m so angry and resentful,” you might say. The answer is trauma. Your unique trauma history causes you to ignore your needs, but it doesn’t eliminate those needs. As such, your unmet human needs lead to feelings of resentment towards those for whom you pour all your energy. Because you do not express your needs or your dissatisfaction, those close to you might not have any idea why you are upset or even know that there is anything wrong. You may hold them accountable, but ultimately, it is your responsibility to make your needs known.

This is just one example of the countless ways our early life trauma impacts our adult functioning and overall wellness. If we want to be the best versions of ourselves, we need to identify and resolve our past trauma, so we don’t continue reacting to our lives from a triggered state. If you recognize that your early experiences are interfering with your ability to be your best self in the present, it could be time to seek the help of a therapist. A therapist can walk you through your traumatic experiences and help connect the dots between adaptive childhood thoughts and behaviors that have transformed into unhelpful adult thoughts and behaviors. With that knowledge, you can set yourself on course to change your unhelpful ways of being and shift into your healthiest, happiest self.

Article by Heidi Greene, Psy.D

When Trauma Happens

In the movie Karate Kid we fondly recall the “Kid” seeking karate lessons from Mr. Miyagi, who has the Kid doing a number of house chores until he’s thoroughly annoyed and announces, “I learned plenty!? I learned how to sand your decks, wax your car, paint your house, paint your fence. I learned plenty!” Finally, Mr. Miyagi begins waving his fists and knees at the Kid, who has quickly learned to defend himself. His hands make the “wax on” motion and deflect a hit, “wax off” and deflects another. It appears the Kid’s body and muscles have secretly learned the practice of karate. I’m no sensei, but my work with trauma has me believing this method would actually work.

Trauma creates the same paradigm- secretly teaching us how to respond to future events. In times of trauma our brain and body learn instantaneously. Our brain is set up in such a way during this “fight, flight, freeze” state that we assimilate information we aren’t even consciously aware of. This information is meant to protect us in the moment; however, it often leads to learnings that aren’t always adaptive in our day to day lives. While people often feel the fear of their initial trauma dissipate with time, they can experience other events later in life where they curiously find themselves having strong reactions. We often find that what was once learned during trauma is creating barriers to living life in the present, and we work to redefine and reintegrate this information. When addressing trauma, my clients and I work to make conscious what unconscious messages they learned. Such messages can be around responsibility (ex. It’s my fault), safety (ex. I’m not safe), choice (ex. I’m powerless), or value (ex. I’m not good enough). If something once happened to us where we unconsciously learned, “I’m powerless,” for example, we may later find ourselves giving up control in areas in which we come to realize the outcome is not predetermined, and we can make different choices.

There are a number of ways to heal from trauma. In line with Mr. Miyagi again, we’ve often learned a number of ways in life to keep ourselves safe and empowered. In therapy we draw upon these resources as well, applying what we’ve secretly learned at other points in life towards taking better care of self in the present.

Article by Catherine Lowry, Psy.d

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