Healing From Trauma

I have extensive experience working with victims of trauma and I am skilled in a variety of therapeutic approaches to trauma counseling and recovery. Victims of trauma are not at fault for the traumas they have gone through, but remaining in a victim role in not helpful or healthy for recovery.

As a psychotherapist and psychologist, I help victims of trauma take back the power to control their own lives, make healthy choices, and heal emotionally and psychologically. I have worked extensively with individuals traumatized by injuries, accidents, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, sexual assault, the suicide of a loved one, life-threatening illnesses and situations, and other traumatic events.

I use a variety of techniques to help people move from being victims to being survivors and even to levels of thriving in their lives. Insight oriented approaches, working through difficult emotions, putting events into solvable perspectives, and cognitive and behavioral approaches to trauma recovery are all methods I use to help people. I am also a Level II trained EMDR therapist.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a remarkable effective approach to trauma desensitization and recovery. EMDR is a non-invasive, effective method of utilizing rhythmic bilateral stimulation of the left and right hemispheres of the brain to facilitate the brain’s own healing abilities. EMDR facilitates the “reprocessing” of traumatic information held in memory which is reworked in ways that reduce the symptoms and emotional distress associated with trauma. Please contact the office of Dr. Firestein to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.

Dr. Firestein writes a monthly Q & A column for the Healthline magazine which is a separate magazine inserted into the Reporter Herald on the 3rd Thursday of each month.  It is called Uncommon Sense.  Here are some sample questions and answers from previous columns addressing topics of psychological interest to many of the clients she sees in her practice.

Question: I am a 28 year old married woman and I live a pretty normal, stable life.  While listening to news on television usually never bothers me, I find that now I am feeling very upset and anxious when I hear stories about sexual assault by athletes and other date-rape stories on the news.  I was date-raped by a boy I had gone out with a few times in high school when I was 16. I never told anybody and it seemed like I had put it in the past.  I don’t like feeling so sensitive to these stories. For some reason, they just recently started bringing back memories of my own past experience. What do I do?

Answer: Your experience is not unique and you are certainly not alone in being strongly affected by coverage of violent crimes in the news.  It sounds like you dealt with the sexual assault you went through as a teenager in the way many teens do–by trying to set it aside and not disclosing the rape to anyone.  This is an understandable response to being raped.

In spite of the progress we have made in psychological research and in the overall culture in realizing that rape is not the woman’s fault, most women still feel that they will be judged and blamed for a rape.  Some women also struggle with blaming themselves and wonder if they could have stopped it at the time.  Other women realize that it is the perpetrator who was at fault, not them, and  just try to move forward in their lives, usually quite successfully.

What many people don’t know is that it is very common for these issues to arise into our awareness at a later time in life and need to be addressed. Sometimes there is a clear trigger for the memories and the sensitivity to reminders of sexual violence and sometimes there isn’t a clearly defined trigger. The return of distress related to a past trauma is usually a signal from our unconscious mind that we are mature enough and ready now to deal with something we could not have handled facing in the past when we were younger.

At these times, it is important to get some professional counseling to deal with the emotions that are coming up and to work through the pain and anger connected to this very traumatic experience from your past.  Often women choose to disclose their past assault to others–a spouse, a close friend, or possibly a family member. Even though it happened a long time ago, the reactions and feelings are happening now and it can be valuable to let others support you and share the emotional burden.  Naturally, you want to be selective about with whom you share this very personal information.

I strongly recommend using the services of a rape crisis center or counseling center that has a support group in addition to individual counseling. You do not have to adopt a life-long identity around your victimization, but for a time it can be quite valuable to be around other individuals who have been through similar experiences and know that you are not alone.  It takes time to work through feelings of anger, shame, sadness, and loss connected to being the victim of a violent crime, but it is definitely possible.  While you may not ever feel unaffected by news about violent crime, it is certainly possible to decrease the emotionally distress you are currently experiencing and put this traumatic experience into the past within your mind and heart, which is where it belongs.

Question: I know holidays are supposed to be fun and special times but I absolutely hate holidays.  I came from a family where Dad was drunk every Thanksgiving and Christmas and my mother screamed at him non-stop.  Aunts and uncles also drank themselves into a stupor and stupid fights would erupt between family members.  Now I have a girlfriend with a “normal” family and she wants me to be part of her family’s holidays but I really don’t want to participate at all. Even the word holiday puts a bad taste in my mouth. What do I do?

Answer: It sounds like your growing up experience with holidays was truly a nightmare.  Holidays bring out the best and worst in people.  In alcoholic families or families with other serious emotional dysfunction holidays can be especially rough.  Expectations are high and inhibitions are low.  People “cut loose” and the results are often disastrous. Naturally, even the word “holiday” conjures up bad feelings and memories.

Now you are faced with a totally foreign situation—it sounds like your girlfriend has a fairly functional family that likes to celebrate the holidays and is really into them.   You, on the other hand, are probably still suffering a lot of PTSD (post-traumatic stress) from your long history of traumatic family holiday experiences.  These automatic reactions do not go away overnight just because you are now presented with the possibility of a better family situation.

You have a few options.  First, it is important to talk with your girlfriend (if you haven’t already) about your history and experiences with holidays.  If her experiences have been quite different from yours, she may have trouble understanding exactly how painful your experiences have been. However, even the healthiest of families have tension during the holidays from time to time.  Uncle Derek isn’t talking to his son and his son refuses to attend Christmas if his father is going to be there.  Someone feels slighted because they want to host the Christmas Eve celebration but the in-laws are getting to do it this year.  So-and-so is going to get more time with the grandchildren than someone else in the family. As trivial as these issues may seem to you, they might give your girlfriend a point of reference for how unpleasant holidays can be.

The two of you need to have a frank discussion about your feelings of not wanting to participate in her family’s holiday celebrations.  You have the right not to participate in anything you don’t want to do, but the real question may be what you really want out of your relationships with your girlfriend and her family in the long-run.  If you think the relationship has real promise you may wish to participate at least to a minimal degree with an eye toward building up a new, more positive set of associations with the holidays.

It’s probably not wise to spend endless hours or days being with her family.  You will need time to step back and process the complicated feelings that are likely to arise as you have new holiday experiences.  Getting to know someone else’s extended family can be a challenge in and of itself.  Hopefully your partner will understand what you are trying to do and be as understanding and accepting of your pace and needs as possible.  It isn’t necessary for her to limit the time she chooses to spend with her family, only that she also be sensitive to the fact that your needs and your history are different from hers and patience is necessary for your experience of the holidays to change in a positive direction.

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