Trauma Focused Therapy
As a trauma therapist I specialize in helping clients overcome the pain of the past and move towards hope and healing for the future. I am skilled and experienced to treat all types of trauma from childhood wounding to adult experiences; childhood abuse to Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Trauma therapy is more like an archeological excavation than digging for treasure. Soft brushes, time and layers are needed, not a shovel, haste and brute force. While I can’t promise it will be easy to embark on a trauma-healing journey, I can promise to walk the road with you so we can forge the path forward together. Trauma can cause loneliness, a damaged sense of self-worth, and mistrust. All of these things usually walk in the door with my new clients and I’m sensitive to the fact that your attachment system has likely been wounded. The first goal of therapy is simply to begin to develop safety, attachment, and trust.
Psychological trauma is the result of an event or experience that overwhelms a person’s innate system of self-defense when escape is not an option, and then adequate support and safety is not provided in the aftermath. Trauma can result from a single incident or a complex layering of relational wounds and experiences
Experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car crash, doesn’t mean you will go on to develop PTSD. If you receive immediate care and safety followed by relational support, time to heal, and have people to talk to, in time, traumatic symptoms often subside and a person can return to their baseline and carry on with life.
Compare this to a person who experiences a car accident and is then blamed by their partner for causing the crash; if the person is also isolated from social support and goes back home to a partner who tells them to get over it, that experience may get stuck in a raw, unprocessed form and lead to going flashbacks, intrusive images, and avoidance strategies.
While trauma piles up and one is layered on top of another, complex trauma results.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the result of a person experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event and typically comes in a package of flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts/images, and avoidance of triggers that cause memories and symptoms to return. Most people think of rape and war as valid sources of PTSD so many people minimize their experiences because they “weren’t as bad” as that.
Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is distinguishable from PTSD and results from a longer duration and greater intensity of traumatic stress. It is marked by elevated disturbances in a personal self-organization, interpersonal problems, and emotional dysregulation, which is actually similar to the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
A history of childhood abuse/neglect often fits the criteria of C-PTSD, even if you were never hit or molested. Layers of traumatic experience such as witnessing domestic violence, never being sure if there will be food in the house, and a lack of love and physical affection can create the perfect storm of C-PTSD.
Dissociation exists on a continuum ranging from everyday, typical human experiences like daydreaming, zoning out, and fantasizing to Dissociative Identity Disorder with separate and distinct self-states that have developed to survive and protect. As you move up on the continuum everyday dissociative experiences you find things like anxiety disorders, PTSD, derealization/depersonalization, Borderline Personality Disorder, and finally, in the most extreme form, DID.
I screen all clients for dissociation because some aspects of this can block trauma therapy, which is sometimes why clients find that they don’t make the progress they had hoped with certain therapists.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
DID is a disorder which develops in childhood and often goes unrecognized and sometimes misdiagnosed in adulthood. It is a natural response to traumatic and terrifying circumstances beyond a child’s ability to cope or understand. While the literature considers this a rare disorder, it is my professional opinion that it is much more prevalent than the mental health community is ready to admit.
When overwhelms beyond capacity, the brain has the capacity to split into parts, each of whom may identify as having an individualized sense of self and separateness. The goal of a dissociative system is to keep the front part of self appearing normal while the parts operate in the background to keep the bad stuff out of the front part’s conscious awareness.
I love identifying and working with DID because there is a clear therapeutic path forward towards healing and integration (if this is chosen by the system).
Borderline Personality Disorder
What used to be a derogatory term to describe a set of symptoms that most people wrote off as untreatable, is something I believe is a natural solution to a problem that began very early in childhood and your earliest attachment relationships. BPD is an emotional dysregulation disorder in which someone will move rapidly from I’m okay, you’re okay mode to I’m not okay, you’re not okay. It is embedded with fears of abandonment and relationship instability. A person’s mood might shift rapidly from I hate you to don’t leave me.
Colin A. Ross, MD in his book, The Trauma Model (2007), says that, “self-destructive, addictive, inconsistent and self-defeating behaviors are the hallmark of borderline personality disorder” (p. 181). We both agree that BPD is a trauma disorder. He goes a step further than other professionals to state that BPD is a “trauma behavioral checklist” than a “discrete entity which one either has or does not have” (p. 182).
If you have been diagnosed with BPD, especially if you have also previously received other diagnoses such as Bipolar, I’d love to work with you using a different approach to therapy than you might have experienced before.
Suicidality & Self Harm
I founded Joshua Tree Counseling with a vision in mind – that no one should ever have to think that suicide is the only way to stop the pain. Suicidality is the result of intense psychological pain which you see no escape from. I use a relational listening approach to take in your story of pain. I won’t try to talk you out of it or shame your for it or prioritize a safety plan over true and meaningful connection. Let’s sit in the pain together – I can handle it. I will focus on helping you feel safe and validated and attached.
Self harm is the expression of psychological pain or the only way to feel anything at all. It can actually be a suicide prevention strategy. I understand self-harm on an emotional level and from a parts perspective; sometimes one part of self is inflicting harm on the body for punishment or relief.
I want to help you peel back the layers of pain and heal and sometimes the self-harm urges and behaviors no longer feel necessary.
Some many people believe that just because they were never hit or molested that they don’t have trauma. Would it surprise you to know that the wounds formed by childhood neglect is often more damaging than physical abuse? Neglect and the absence of love, touch, or connection cuts into a child in a deep and soul crushing way. Being raised by an alcoholic who is unpredictable in mood and behavior – never knowing which version of your parent you mind come home to – creates relational and attachment wounds. This can develop into hypervigilance as a form of protection against the “scary” version of the parent; clients will tell me they used to listen to the sound of the car door closing when their parent came home or the sound of the steps that came down the hall.
Wounding can also come in the form of nonintentional psychological absence of a parent, perhaps a parents consumed by depression, grief, illness or work. Having parents who never felt safe enough to tell about your sadness is a wound.
Childhood wounding comes in all shapes and sizes and lays the foundation for future relationships and experiences.
Do you feel like you were the problem in childhood, like you were a bad kid with good parents? Like if you just learn how to be quieter, sweeter, more pleasing, or meet more of your parent’s needs that things would be better or safer? Are you in a relationship with someone and you feel like you’re the crazy one and you just keep screwing up and you’re worthless and no good and deserve your partner’s mistreatment?
Narcissism is a term thrown around a lot these days, sometimes to label someone who isn’t willing to accept another’s point of view and appears self-focused. It’s one thing to encounter someone out in the world that seems to exhibit narsassistic traits, it’s an entirely different ball game to have been raised by a narcissist or someone with narsassistic tendencies and/or to be in a relationship with someone like this.
Whether you think you were raised by a narcissist or your in a relationship with one, I’d love to help you feel less crazy and adopt the belief that you’re not the problem.
Are you a Christian and want your faith integrated into counseling? I have been a believer my entire life, having been raised in a Christian home. While I consider myself a mature, strong believer I do not beat you over the head with the Bible. I am sensitive to the fact that you and I may have difference about certain aspects of Christianity so it’s common for me to ask you about your beliefs and help you explore those more while offering another perspective for you to receive and/or reject.
If you want your Christian beliefs part of counseling, I may point to a passage of the Bible as it applies to your situation or refer to Scripture to illustrate a point or challenge a negative core belief. I lean into the essence and context of the Bible as a cohesive story of God’s redemption and grace. Context matters; context matters when you share something about your life with me and context matters when sharing from God’s Word.
I don’t mind wrestling with the tough concepts like, why do bad things happen to good people, or where was God when I was being abused, or why would a good God allow people to go to hell?
I try to sense how much and to what extent it’s comfortable for you to receive faith-based counseling. If you would like me to pray with you or for you, I’m happy to ensure that happens.
And if you just like knowing we share a similar foundation of beliefs and prefer that I don’t bring too much faith-related material into counseling, that’s okay too. We’ll talk about this at the beginning of therapy so we are both on the same page.
Childhood sexual abuse is layered with shame and secrecy; pain, loneliness and isolation; and betrayal and attachment wounding. It is a violating experience for the mind, body, and soul. Intertwined with sexual abuse is often messages about your self-worth and human value. Children have no choice but to believe the lies they are told by their perpetrators, lies like you deserve it, you want it, it will happen to your sibling worse if you don’t comply, you are so special that you get to be treated this way, your body is my property. Children are sometimes told that they brought this on themselves and that others are in danger if they don’t do exactly as they’re told.
I believe healing from sexual abuse is possible in the context of a safe and secure attachment relationship – sometimes this happens when you have the loving support and secure attachment of an adult partner or spouse, and sometimes it comes from the attachment and attunement of a therapist.
I would like to help you disentangle from these early messages and rediscover your intrinsic value.
Alcohol numbs, enables you avoid, and successful – albeit temporarily – solves your problem. Alcohol is not the problem, it’s the solution to the problem. This is something I learned from Colin Ross.
If you’re struggling with excessive alcohol use, or if your loved one has told you have a problem – let’s work together to figure our what problem you’re solving with alcohol.
If you were raised in a known or suspected religious cult, you may feel confused about faith, God, and the things ‘religion’ taught you. You may be wondering how to make your faith your own in spite of how you were raised. Or, you may find yourself wanting nothing to do with religion and you’re skeptical about going to a Christian therapist because what if I’m just like them…
Cults can feel overwhelmingly safe and comfortable at first and then, slowly, the heat from certain elements is slowly turned up so you don’t even know you’re slowly boiling to death. If you were raised in a cult and finally broke free, you may still feel like you suffer from the effects of religious control. If you are a survivor of satanic ritual abuse, the layers of your trauma may be much more complex, confusing, and terrifying.
Cults and ritualistic abuse is damaging to the mind, body, and soul. It infects a person’s sense of self and their attachment relationships. Wherever you find yourself in your cult recovery, I’ll meet you on the path and we’ll walk it together – whether you want faith incorporated into counseling or not, this is your choice.