On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough

Today I was talking with two different clients about the research done at the VA in Minneapolis in veterans experiencing PTSD – finding in brain scans that traumatic memory seems to “reside” in the right hemisphere of the brain, right above the ear. So happy to have located a story on this research, and want to pin it here 🙂

Thanks to Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos for his continuing research!

On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough

When To Get Marriage Therapy

Most couples come to therapy when they have completely run out of steam. While there is a great deal that MFTs can do to help, it’s not a time in the family when people feel resilient, optimistic or energized. In order to create permanent change, one needs a good deal of hope and energy. And so does one’s partner.

I’ve observed that for many couples (especially those who have had a less-than smooth relationship history, full of stops and re-starts, difficult emotional turmoil, previous long-term partners and/or huge life stress) there are much better times to come to couples therapy and have a much bigger chance for successful growth.

They are:

1. Before marriage. PLEASE consider pre-marital counseling, whoever you are. There are fabulous tools available to me as a therapist to assess your relationship as it is now, help you understand your unique partnership in basic system and personality terms, and help you enter the marriage more awake to your strengths and weaknesses.

2. After the FIRST really big, painful, emotionally threatening argument. Happier couples, those whose likes and dislikes, personality styles, family of origin patterns and conflict themes are more similar to each other may never even have one of these blow outs. Ever. That would be ideal. The moment a frightening, threatening, abusive fight happens, think: Help. We need help.

3. When one of you feels as if you are drifting away from your partner and couplehood in a big way : a job that takes you away from home for days or weeks at a time; when new parenthood strains the closeness; a crisis of faith or health or employment. Couple relationships are always managing their own sense of healthy emotional distance from one another. But the marriage should always feel quietly, confidently connected. If it doesn’t, don’t let it drift without comment and professional support.

These are the times I have noticed in marriages of change and opportunity, when both partners may be open to learning new things about each other and themselves, and still see the relationship as positive, life-affirming, permanent. These are the points at which relationships can be strengthened, renewed, matured. Don’t wait until you can’t stand it any more to reach out for counseling. Chances are, your chances of recovery get lower with every week you wait.

Hope and Help for Your NervesHope and Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I help people with their thinking, emotions, relationships and beliefs every day. This little gem, written back in 1969 by an Australian physician/psychiatrist should be in the hands of every person who has ever suffered with a full-on panic/anxiety disorder. We call that general diagnosis “GAD” or Generalized Anxiety Disorder today. There are a lot of great resources out there to help. This book is quite personal, clear and wonderful. It’s not perfect; she suggests leaving the family for up to several months to recover, which is not something I would easily advise to anyone. And all the advice will probably not be enough without therapy, but it’s a helpful adjunct.

Her principles of treatment, and they are right:

1. facing fear as a normal emotion running too high in your life
2. accepting that it is doing that at the moment, and it WONT KILL YOU
3. learning to rise, or float above or behind the annoying physical sensations
4. giving your body time to heal itself from the super-tuned-in experience of fear sensation that has you knotted up

This, along with EMDR, talk therapy, exercise and a lot of self reflection can and will help most anyone recover.

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What I’ve Been Talking About This Week

I find it interesting to notice that sometimes my conversations in therapy, with vastly different people and circumstances, seem to circle around themes on occasion. This week, I’ve noticed two topics that I am repeatedly seeing in session:

1. Men who have become “awake” to their own conflicts, problem behaviors and thinking and have made radical steps to be fuller, more peaceful people. Some have partners that are whole enough people themselves who rejoice in the change, and despite years of distance, hurt and resentments, fight along with their men to restore and renew their partnership. Others have partners who are too fragile, conflicted or hurt that the reversal appears like an “act” and feel the need to flee. Whatever the result, their is great Joy in the awakening, and it’s a pleasure to keep giving these new men feedback on their personal discoveries.

2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If there is a personality style that kills a marriage slowly and with deep pain, this is it. Whether the partner is male or female, the chronic lack of empathy on the part of the partner leaves the hurt, bewildered and worn-out one talking to me about how empty they feel when their partner, despite all evidence to the contrary, blames the spouse for all the pain, ignores the needs of their children, and never seems to connect with them. Worse still is the adult child who begins to recognize what growing up with a narcissistic mother or father has done to their sense of self, their confidence in relationships, or their ability to trust the empathy and care of another.

(I’m looking forward to the publication of the newest edition of the DSM-V. In it is a new model of personality disorders that I think will be helpful to the therapist as they come into regular contact with these persistent personality types.)

It’s been a long winter here in MN and the snow won’t quit. Once again, we will probably go from winter to summer in 24 hours. Hope that, wherever you are, you get all 4 of the earth’s seasons.

Peace,
L

We Can’t Choose our Parents

It’s true; we can’t choose our parents.

Whatever skills or deficits they possess as people: their readiness or disinterest at caring for us, their physical and mental health, and their ability to meet basic needs for food, shelter and safety have an immediate and lasting effect on our own development. The human brain is shaped every day by the way we are cared for by those closest to us, and grows fastest during the first two years of life.

If a child is born to a parent who neglects their needs, is addicted, or who is violent, abusive or mentally ill, the effects are devastating. A human mind can be ruined if not helped and supported to develop in a healthier, more stable and flexible way.

It’s also true that in America the first time a failing family may come into contact with an institution that could help it recover is with the justice system or the public schools.

In this wonderful episode of This American Life radio show, stories are told of educational and therapeutic systems that work to re-parent our cultures disordered parent-child relationships.  If you’ve ever wondered how schools cope, or how family and in-home therapy works, take a listen. It’s great.

The American Life : Back To School, Episode 474

Willing to Risk Again

Several times this week I have found myself talking to new couple clients about their relationships, and how hurt has caused them to feel withdrawn from their partners. Sometimes this distance has lasted for years, the human need for support, connection and understanding no longer expected from their spouse. 

One of the most important aspects of relationship repair is the willingness to risk being open to a partner who has been months or years at odds with our needs and hopes. Couple therapy at its best keeps both people focused on their individual efforts, while being confident, through actions and words in the therapy room and out, that the partner is doing the same hard work. 

It can feel like being open to injury. Like you are just asking for your partner to hurt you again. Many people resist, and for every right reason! But repairing such pain means turning toward your partner and feeling what you feel, expressing your hurt and disappointment, asking for what you need again, and being willing to see if your openness can be met with a similar effort of apology, repair, and affection by your partner. That’s what a good couple therapist does every day with couples, with compassion, encouragement and patience. It’s not a free-for-all in therapy sessions. If it is, run in the other direction. 

When deciding whether to go to couples therapy, this is one question you will need to answer: am I willing to be open again to this person, this one I once loved, and see what I feel, what they have to say, what they have experienced, and work together for new, common ground?