Trauma Stewardship

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Trauma Stewardship.


Trauma Stewardship

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How can there be laughter,
How can there be pleasure,
When the whole world
Is burning? When you
Are deep in darkness,
Will you not ask for a lamp?
-The Dhammapada

I have been mulling this quote over for two weeks, but found that it had a very profound effect on me in relation to a workshop that I recently attending about secondary trauma. Secondary trauma, sometimes called compassion fatigue or suvivor’s guilt or vicarious trauma, is often reserved for people within the helping profession, but the workshop asserted that this view is limited, that everyone, by virtue of living on this planet, witnesses trauma. The presenter, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (author of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self while Caring For Others) was dynamic, informative and challening (in a delightfully empathetic way).

 I am reading her book with three minds, or so it seems, as I process how do these ideas affect me (both in my personal and professional lives), how do, or could, these ideas affect my colleagues in the helping profession, and how do, or could, these ideas affect my clients?

I am often struck by the magnitude of trauma (in this case, secondary trauma) that our society experiences on a daily basis. How many of you have read the news of the Egyptian uprising this weekend and had a glimmer of concern for the people involved in the protests? How many have heard of local news, like car accidents, or joggers being attacked in parks, or the budget cuts hitting our state and local governement? Just this week I have specifically read a story about a whale with a broken back, a dog escaping his abusive owner only to get hung up on the fence by his chain and strangling to death, and a woman guard killed while doing her job. And these are just stories I read, what about all of the people that we come into contact with during the week who are struggling financially, emotionally, relationally, etc.? How do these stories, these experiences impact our lives? Perhaps there are some who are immune to these experiences of trauma, but I imagine that, more often than not, they affect us in profound ways, ways in which me may not even be aware of on a conscious level.

In thinking about my worth with clients, this line “I had absorbed and accumulated trauma to the point that it had become part of me, and my view of the world had changed” stuck out to me. For those who have sat in sessions with me, you might recognize my go-to phrase, “where did that come from?” as we explore our belief systems and the origins for much of our behavior (which I believe comes from our early life experiences and how they shape our worldview now).

I feel as though we often wait too long to address the affects of accumulated trauma in our lives. How often do we get to the point where we severely identify with the Dhammapada quote above? Where we wonder “how in the hell can anyone be enjoying this tv show about crime?” or “how can I even get out of bed today with all of the crap going on in the world?”

van Dernoot Lipsky creates a framework for working with, what she coins trauma stewardship, and while I won’t regurgitate the whole book here, what stuck with me was this mindfulness approach with the idea that “nothing has to change int he world for us to transform our own life experience.”

This transformation of our own life experience can be profound, and I am humbled to get to experience a profession where I can bear witness to other people transforming their own experience. But this book also inspires me to continually exploring and transforming my OWN experience, as a healing professional and as a person living on this planet. That despite the darkness that I might experience, it is important to ask for a lamp to light my way.

Fall Back…into old habits?

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This weekend the country (or most of it) celebrated the return to Standard time, which for many SADders, is a blessing, because moving our clocks back and hour translates to more sunshine (in theory of course) in the wee morning hours. Of course with this change also comes darkness before the workday is done and perhaps a desire to sit on the couch as soon as one comes home from a long day of work…and stay there for the next 6 hours until it’s most certainly bedtime. I do not speak from experience…nooo, not me. I have never been guilty of sitting around in the dark winter months, I am a therapist after all, we don’t make such mistakes, right?

So, in continuing my series on what to do in the dark winter months, I am signing us (you and me dear reader) for a challenge. And that challenge is to NOT fall back into old habits, but to forge ahead and combat SAD with another tried and true ‘trick’ for easing the winter blues. After all, my dawn simulator won’t be needed for another couple of weeks thanks to this new hour of daylight in the morning.

And this challenge is: activity.

There, I said it. Activity. Sure I can hear the groaning now (did I really just groan aloud?). Everyone knows that getting some exercise combats the winter (or any time of the year) blues of depression, but for many, the word exercise conjures up traumatizing images of 8th grade volleyball/basketball/soccer/cross country/insert your least favorite sport here, where you were forced to run lines until you felt like you might die, and after the 1st day of tryouts you had that distinct gait of someone whose quads would never be quite loose enough again to walk normally. Yes friend, I too have been there. And the couch seems much more appealing than that drill seargant history teacher who had surely never run a day in her life yelling at you to MOVE IT as you ran the campus mile. I get it. I am not asking you to subject yourself to such torture. What I am suggesting, is that of those 6 hours spent on the couch after work…that maybe, just maybe, there is time for a little bit of movement…a little bit of activity. And I promise you will be able to walk tomorrow (though I cannot guarantee anything and will not be responsible if you do try to run bleachers and find yourself sore. I am a therapist, not a personal trainer).

Not to get too scientific or anything (because there are websites for that), but activity makes you feel good. It does something in your brain, with all of those neurotransmitter dealy bobs, and you will feel better. Again, I can’t promise anything, but I know that it’s been tested in reasearchy settings and has worked. And what can this activity look like? Well, anything to get your heart pumping a little bit. Perhaps it’s walking your small fluffy dog around the block (or if that’s too ambitious, simply walking him to the end of the driveway), or vacuuming your living room, or dancing to holiday music. Maybe it’s doing some jumping jacks in between marathon episodes of your favorite television show or cleaning your bathroom. Or parking a little bit further away when you get groceries. Just getting some of this activity will help elevate your mood.

But, if it were so easy we would all be doing it, right? That’s the problem with things like depression or SAD…our brains start to say “but, I’m tiiiiiired, and sitting on the couch is conserving energy and it will make me feel better and you can’t possible want me to go outside in THAT weather, are you crazy?” Contrary to what our depressed minds say…sitting on the couch will not actually make us less tired, it will make us more tired, and then it becomes a spiral where we are tired so we sit and we sit because we’re even more tired, so we sit some more and if we aren’t careful we could sit on our couch and never leave.

So, do you accept the challenge? Could you find 20 or 30 minutes a day to be more active?

If you can, share how it’s going for you…

Hanging on to sunlight…


It’s getting darker and darker every day, and we haven’t hit daylight savings time yet, and I am wondering how many of you Northwesterners are having difficulty getting up in the morning. I’ve been hearing more and more people lately talking about the darkness, and for many, the lack of quality exposure to sunlight has left them feeling down, depressed, blue, tired and longing for springtime…or a free ticke to Phoenix or Maui.

While  I certainly woudn’t turn down a free trip to a sunny state, in the meantime I’ll let you in on a secret that helps me through the winter months. A dawn simulator.

Light therapy is often used to help individuals suffering from SAD, and while a dawn simulator won’t substitute for sitting by a full spectrum lightbox, but the magic is in helping you get out of bed in the morning, AND it also helps you go to bed at night, as it works on the gradual lightening or gradual darkening to mimic dawn or twilight, respectively.

The beauty of the dawn simulator is that it wakes you up gradually over a half an hour (or half time if you want to do it in 15 minutes). This allows the body to gradually wake up, rather than BEEP BEEP BEEP, flying straight out of bed, stumbling to the bathroom in the dark, squinting your eyes as you stare blurrily into the mirror and wonder ‘wow, is it monday already?’ (or, it beats pressing snooze 14 times before it is actually light outside and you are 92 minutes late to work).  I have found that I don’t even need the full 30 minutes to wake up, and my mood is certainly brighter! I suggest that you invest in one of these if waking up is hard for you in the dark Seattle months.

Now if only I could get the weather outside to be less rainy…

Grey Skies

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Grey skies have once again come to Seattle, and while hopefully these days will be outnumbered by our traditional Indian Summer, we might want to get a jump start on preparing for the gloomy winter months that are in the near future.  Inhabitants of Seattle tend to err on the Seasonal Affective Disorder side, and even those who don’t carry a full diagnosis often find themselves a little more subdued during the gray rainy months that settle between October and March. So what can we be doing to prepare for the  inevitable gray that is creeping upon us?

There are many different things that have helped boost people’s moods during the gray winter months. Over the next few weeks I’m going to explore with you some of the options that may alleviate some of the grey blahs you might begin to feel as the colors of autumn turn to grey.

How about an experiment?

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Many of us start off the year with the greatest intentions of working out more, eating healthier, making new friends or taking that community college class that would enrich our lives. For many people these resolutions flop within the first few weeks of the new year and many are left feeling discouraged, like failures. Have you ever heard yourself say “well, I guess I’ll try again next year,” and immediately shelf the intention to lose weight/eat healthier/make new friends/etc. until December 31st.

But does it have to be that way? Is this yearly pattern necessary, or is there a way to get out of this rut?

This month’s Shambhala Sun magazine features an article called “Getting Started,” and though it is about beginning a meditation routine, I challenge you to see how it can be useful for any life change that you want to make.

The principles:

What do you want to change or add into your life? Ask yourself this question. Then ask yourself “Am I really going to xyz today/tomorrow.” Answer yourself truthully. If the answer is “yes.,” then ask yourself again: “are you really going to do xyz today/tomorrow?” Think some more and answer yourself again. Perhaps the answer is no, AND THAT IS OKAY!  The intention of this is to really assess where you truly are and not just where you wish you were. Ambivalence is a normal part of the decision making process. Do I really want to change…yes…do want to put in the hard work…hmm, maybe not.

The second principle is, once you have decided that yes you do want to make a change, is to do a two week experiment. It’s a lot easier to commit to two weeks than it is to commit to exercising every day FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, right? It’s even daunting to think of eating healthily FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR. So cut yourself some slack. An experiment…what do you have to lose? Two weeks. Try it.

Then comes the evaluation piece. Look back at the last two weeks of exercise/eating right/calling people that you want to be friends with/whatever thing you want to change and see: how do I feel now after 2 weeks?

The author then boldy declares: stop. give yourself a break. then do it again…an experiment. maybe 2 weeks again, or a month if that’s manageable. Then ask yourself those same questions: how do I feel now after I’ve made this change?

Reminds me of the old adage: “the best way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time”

So, what is it that you’ve been wanting to try?

Featured Healer

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Imagine yourself stepping into your own little sanctuary: the calm green walls are warmed by sunshine, the walls adorned with original artwork, and the room is filled with the scent of passionflower or jasmine or your own preference of aromatherapy. This is a place for healing, where you can rest, relax, and receive a thoughtful healing massage. Not only does this place exist, but it is just a few blocks away from Fox Counseling Seattle!

I want to introduce you to the talented, multidimensional Courtney Putnam, a licensed massage therapist, Reiki Master, artist, writer and teacher over at Rising Bird Healing Arts.

I have had the pleasure of experiencing healing massages from Courtney, as well as experiencing the creativity found in both her art and writing workshops. If you are trying to light your creative fire, then check out her upcoming workshop listings, they are certainly a treat! There is something magical about creating intentional art in a community led by such a talented (and humble!) artist as Courtney. She also sells her work online in an Etsy store, as well as at various Art shows…if you’re lucky you can take home a Putnam original!

Quarterly Courtney offers a special healing treat in the form of a 2 hour massage special, which often features guided writing exercises, a foot soak, a body scrub or the use of hot stones, depending on the theme for that season! I obviously could go on and on about the services that Courtney provides, but what I find to be the most healing is her quiet spirit that allows the space for clients to bring whatever they are going through into the session. As a therapist I admire her ability to bring a true holistic approach into her work, as she soothes the aches of the body and allows space for the healing of emotions in a beautiful way.

To keep updated on what Courtney’s up to, check out her blog The Healing Nest!

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