Offices in

Vancouver WA & Portland OR

Our mission is to provide integrative, creative care from a prism of honor, reverence, and optimism.

Month: June 2015

When Scary Things Happen – Part 2: 6 Ways to Help a Traumatized Child

Part 1 of this series covers the common symptoms/behavior children experience following a traumatic event. Knowing what to look for is important, and so is knowing what to do when parents and caregivers are faced with handling behavior and symptoms that do not respond to typical parenting approaches. Below are 6 key ways that parents and caregivers can help their children through difficult trauma-related symptoms and behaviors.

1. Take a deep breath.
Being more calm and composed will help your child cool down sooner. Children with trauma-related symptoms and behaviors usually exhibit them when they have been “triggered” (or reminded) of their trauma, starting a chain reaction in their mind and body that we call the “fight or flight” response. When this response occurs their actions are more controlled by fear than logic and reasoning. The quickest and most effective way to get them out of the fight or flight response is to cool down their anxiety. Children learn how to cool down by example. Keeping your cool models for your child that they can also cool down.

2. Give your child a positive physical outlet.
Once the fight or flight response is on, it produces a significant amount of energy (thanks to a massive dump of cortisol in their body). If children remain still, the energy will have no place to go and the difficult symptoms and behavior will persist. When symptoms arise do something physically active with your child that is fun and positive (running, outdoor games like hopscotch, jumping on a trampoline, swinging, Wii sports, etc.). It will help expel the energy and it provides positive bonding time (which a traumatized child needs in abundance). Provide daily exercise to help reduce the flight or fight response from becoming as intense.

3. Have a weekly schedule and build in bonding time.
Children who have been traumatized often feel that their world has become unpredictable and scary. One of the most beneficial tools for children is creating a sense of predictability through schedules (with plenty of built-in free time), and through strengthening the bond between child and parent/caregiver. Parents and caregivers are the anchor and compass in a child’s life, and trauma can cause some distance in this relationship (as well as in other relationships). Short and intensive bonding activities can help repair the damage trauma caused to relationships. Activities that focus on the child  in short spurts (5-15 minutes) every day can accomplish a great deal (check out these activities: family bonding activities, 150+ bonding activities).

4. Don’t ask “why?”
Asking children to reason through and rationalize their actions and symptoms is difficult for any child. The part of our brain that helps us reason through our actions as adults is not fully formed until our early 20’s. Children who are traumatized have even less of an understanding of their behavior and actions when they are triggered. When faced with difficult behavior or symptoms, adults naturally want to ask “why?”, however, this question can often escalate situations. Instead focus on using these three steps: cool down, calm down, and follow through.

5. Cool down, calm down, follow through.
Cooling down using physical exercise is effective, though some children cool down best when they can hide. When children have cooled down (identified by relaxed bodies) they then need time to calm down (having relaxed minds). This can take from 90 minutes to a few hours after they have cooled down, and sometimes can be weeks long. Don’t rush this process by discussing the behavior before they have calmed down, or it may restart the difficult behavior or symptoms. After they are calmed down, then follow through with a conversation about what to do differently next time. Make suggestions or have the child identify what would be more helpful ways to cope with difficult situations that trigger difficult behavior and symptoms.

6. Remember, every behavior meets a need.
If your child is having difficult behavior or symptoms it is their way of communicating to you that they have a need that isn’t being met. During follow-through conversations children will be more able to use words to express those needs (often by explaining how to get that need met), but in the heat of the moment their behavior is their primary way to express themselves and they often don’t have the capacity to do so with words. Reframing a child’s behavior as communication can help you stay calm and for your child to cool down sooner.

Parents and caregivers are powerful people in the lives of children, and are the first source in helping children learn how to cool down, connect, find stability, express their needs, and find more positive ways to handle triggers.

If you have tried all these steps and still have continued concerns (or unsure how to implement them), child therapy can help find alternative ways to help relieve trauma-related behavior and symptoms.

Live in the Vancouver/Portland area and want to discuss your child’s needs? Please contact me at kristin.ray.lmhc@gmail.com, and we can set up a free 30-minute phone consultation.

When Something Scary Happens – Part 1: How to Know When to Seek Therapy For Your Child

It is likely that most people will experience at least one scary situation in their lifetime. For some, these events roll off their back and they continue on with their life with few to no effects. For others, they will have a hard time moving past it – for those in this category such events are no longer scary but traumatic. They often experience a variety of unsettling symptoms that can pop up immediately after or months/years later.

Children can experience trauma like adults, but children do not often have the words to tell adults about it or the skills that adults have to cope with it. Child therapy is a safe and effective way for children to work through their trauma and move on with their lives.
As parents/caregivers, it is helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms that a child may exhibit after a traumatic event. If these symptoms go untreated by a child therapist they can become exacerbated. The following is a list of common symptoms, but is by no means exhaustive or exclusive to trauma symptoms:

• a change in how your child handles everyday life (i.e. Things no longer roll off their back, every change/stressor is difficult to navigate and may cause crying outbursts or angry outbursts)
• easily frightened, when previously showed fearlessness
• difficulty falling asleep, refusal to sleep by themselves, and waking up in the night
•wetting/soiling themselves though they were previously and successfully potty-trained (NOTE: parents should always seek medical help for children if this start occurring before seeking counseling for their child)
• increased frequency of nightmares
• more angry, aggressive, whiny, argumentative, or increased lying behavior

It is important to note that some children cannot remember their trauma event, even though the parent is aware that it happened, but still experience these and other symptoms.

If your child has experienced a scary event and you are concerned about new behaviors or symptoms, therapy can help relieve those symptoms and get your child back on track.

Therapists with experience working with children and have a trauma-informed practice can provide the best care for your child.
If you are unsure whether you should seek out therapy for your child, consider having a conversation with a pediatrician.

Live in the Vancouver/Portland area and want to discuss your child’s needs? Please contact me at kristin.ray.lmhc@gmail.com, and we can set up a free 30-minute phone consultation.

4 Myths About Child Therapy

There can be a lot of mystery surrounding child therapy, as well as fear and apprehension for parents and/or caregivers. Below, are 4 myths about child therapy that cause concern for parents/caregivers, and the truth about them:

1. Child therapy is only for children who get in trouble all the time.

Children from ages 3 and up (though some therapists work with younger ages) can benefit from therapy when the following concerns arise:
• referrals, FYI’s, and suspensions from school
•ADD/ADHD symptoms, having a hard time with transitions or a new change in their life, having a hard time making friends
• tantrums, meltdowns, fits, or outbursts that occur one or more times a day (for ages 3 and 4 the tantrums, etc. last longer than 10 minutes), especially if they tend to be aggressive.
•experienced trauma (prolonged separation from parent(s), medical trauma, abuse, witness of a terrifying event, etc.) and is experiencing nightmares, frequent worries, easily cries, and/or physical symptoms of anxiety (stomach aches, headaches, wetting or soiling themselves, etc.).
•Has a hard time being apart from parent(s) or primary caregiver(s) at night and during the day.
•making negative statements about themselves a few times a week or more (“I’m stupid,” “I can’t do anything,” “no one wants to be my friend,” etc.)
•and most importantly if they have any of the follow symptoms or behavior: stating they wish they were dead, hurting themselves (head-banging, hitting or slapping themselves), rapid changes in mood that are extreme (i.e. happy to deeply sad to very angry), and seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not there.

2. Children meet with the therapist alone.

Children make the best progress when their parents/caregivers are involved in therapy sessions, learning and practicing with their child, and then guiding their child in practicing at home. Children learn best when surrounded and supported by family. That isn’t to say that there are not times that children may benefit from a few minutes one-on-one with a therapist, but children also need family involvement.

3. Child therapy is all talk.

Children naturally communicate through movement, art, and stories, and struggle with expressing their inner world and thoughts through talk. Child therapy meets children where they are at, using movement, art, stories, and sometimes even song, to help children express themselves and learn tools and skills.

4. Child therapy is all about parenting.

Most of child therapy is working with the child, though parents and caregivers may also need some support in how to approach their child’s needs differently. Typical parenting approaches do not work with all children and a child therapist may have some different approaches. However, focus is always on the child’s needs in therapy.

Live in the Vancouver/Portland area and want to discuss your child’s needs? Please contact me at kristin.ray.lmhc@gmail.com, and we can set up a free 30-minute phone consultation.

Finding purpose in our pain: What keeps us moving?

I am offering a four part blog series on finding purpose in pain and invite you to use as it prompts to journal or chat about during the week. It’s great food for thought about what makes up keep moving through pain, how do we think of pain, process and indicators of healing, and can provide you some insight on internal strengths and capabilities you may have overlooked.

 

Therapy is often hard work and to some degree painful. The healing process often challenges us to a depth that requires us to focus on internal reserves and supports to sustain the discomfort in the beginning phases. While we can identify safe ways to explore sensitive areas of life, feelings that emerge may incite us to hesitate or question the process at one time or another. In my practice, we open this dialogue to be careful not to internalize doubt as a reflection of self or competence, but frame it as a normal response when challenged.

 

When we reflect about our life, we can likely identify numerous times wherein skepticism about our capacity felt like a giant rock blocking the entry to somewhere we wanted to be. Thoughts such as, “can I really do this” may have entered your mind when faced with a job opportunity, a leadership role, a performance sport, or physical rehabilitation. The act of challenging self often runs parallel to feelings of angst and uncertainty.

 

In terms of emotional healing, we may contemplate our abilities somewhat longer as we are engaging in work that challenges us to move inward toward emotional discomfort rather than out of it. Like a physical injury that requires a degree of pain to foster healing, in therapy we are asking ourselves to move toward what has hurt us. Naturally, that is uneasy to sit with and contradictory to our automatic responses to avoid pain as well as certain cultural messages of “fast fixes.” It is in those moments when we may begin to question, though with any process, we know that feelings of uncertainty does not determine outcome, they just mean you’re human.

 

So, if we go back and remember a time when doubt crept in, we may also remember when we continued to move to get beyond where we were standing. Carefully, and maybe with the help of other trusted hands you moved beyond your edge. Maybe you moved because you had hope, determination, bravery, resilience, or maybe another purpose, but you moved despite discomfort. The human condition though bent for caution is also very much discernable with the ability to do hard things.

 

In entering the recovery process I encourage you not to minimize feelings of apprehension, but rather normalize and expect them with the work. But, may you also be mindful of the values and beliefs that can sustain your capacity to heal. When we can identify these, or even one, we can utilize them to keep moving in the moments of pause and contemplation. In this interaction we not only extend ourselves from what we thought we could do, but also enter the experience healing from our pain.

 

Things to think (or chat) about:

-Take a personal peek at how you perceive pain; is it bad, can I sit with it, when I feel it what do I do?

– Think of that last time you healed from an injury; were there stages, was there a process, did getting better involve moving toward the injury, how may that be related to emotional healing?

– What helped you keep moving when you last faced a challenge; what values and beliefs helped me keep going; what was the self-talk attached to my vales and beliefs, do I have more examples of this; are there other things that helped me?

-How did you feel when you moved beyond through feelings of hesitation; stronger, empowered, capable, braver, curious, hopeful etc. Remember to celebrate every small victory so even if you felt “a little relieved” or “safer than I was” it still counts!

-Moving is hard work. How are you engaging in daily self-care to make sure you’re providing yourself a recharge and don’t forget to be creative; exercise, taking a drive, watching the river, adequate sleep, art, being mindful of eating habits, giving yourself a compliment, reading, music, a 10 minute stretch session at work, eating with loved ones, swinging with your kiddos, taking your full lunch break at work, hugs, hikes, practicing deep breathing, getting a massage, saying “yes” to me, silence and meditation, sitting in sunshine, or being around a good friend….. I digress.

 

Next monday I will continue to discuss the subject of finding purpose in pain using creative modalities and build upon this weeks topic, we will chat then:)