It has been three months since the North Bay firestorm. I hope you have settled into the new rhythm of daily living.
The land and the houses in Petaluma were mostly untouched by the fire itself, but its effects are still deeply felt. Many of us feel the pain, sometimes more than we realize.
My body tightens a bit seeing fallen leaves blown around by a strong wind. The smell of burnt toast means something different to me now. These are called triggers. Triggers remind us of an event on either a conscious or unconscious level. The body is on alert whether we are aware of it or not.
I find it helpful to learn the science of why my body is reacting a certain way, and to develop skills to calm myself down. When I get triggered, I use the skills and in less than a minute, I feel calm and okay.
If you are unsure whether you will be okay again, or if it takes you a long time to feel calm after being triggered, please reach out to helpers. Your feelings are normal reactions to highly stressful events.
There are psychotherapists who are trained specifically to help people who have been through a traumatic experience. Trauma-focused psychotherapy is different from “just talking about it.” You will understand what is happening on both psychological and physiological levels. You will learn skills to calm your mind and body. Through practicing the skills, you can live with more ease and joy again.
Are therapists affected by traumas? Yes, as none of us are emotion-proof.
Many of us have learned to believe we are “bullet-proof” from emotions, or that we ought to be. You may wear emotion-proof armor 24/7 so you can do your job or be the rock in your family. Some jobs require this armor. I thank the helpers who sign up to do these jobs, such as our military persons, first responders, doctors, and dispatchers. Our society needs them. For many others in high-stress environments, emotion-proof armor is necessary to survive chaos. This often occurs in homes. If you are in this type of environment, I thank you, too, for putting one foot in front of another every day. I am here for you.
Thank goodness we are able to wear armor so we can survive. However, It can be pretty lonely inside the armor. It’s impossible to give or receive a warm hug. At the same time, it may appear too risky to take it off and be vulnerable. It’s a tough call. But if you are losing an important relationship because of your armor, it is worth thinking about.
As much as you may feel that you are the armor, you are not–- you are a warm-blooded human with emotions. You may fear that if you take it off you will crumble. It’s a scary thought. But, if you and I were to work together, I would not let you crumble. Instead, we would start with how the armor has protected you so long, and find out what the armor is protecting you from. Then, we would talk about your ideal armor. Maybe you want an upgrade to something more sophisticated or malleable. Whatever you would like to do about the armor, I will help you do that at comfortable pace.
If you’ve never been in therapy, you might be surprised to find how much therapists charge for “just talking.” Even if you have had good therapy experiences in the past, it may still seem too expensive. Or maybe you feel that things don’t happen quickly enough for you for the money you pay.
I’ve been in these situations myself and I understand how personal money-matters can be. While the benefits of therapy are well established, the cost can inhibit many people from seeking it. So, here are a few suggestions to cut down the therapy expense.
If you choose, you can do some preparation work before starting with a therapist by familiarizing yourself in the methods that the therapist uses. I have listed some resources here about how I work. Learning about my methods will shorten the time we work face-to-face easily by a few sessions. If you find my methods to be reasonable or you are at least curious about them, it increases the chance that we are a good match.
Most importantly, choose your therapist well. While credentials give some level of quality assurance, what matters is your personal preference and comfort. Trust your gut and work only with someone you feel good about. If you like your therapist but don’t see some results within a couple of months, be sure to discuss it with her/him.
Lastly, some therapists offer a “sliding scale” which is a lowered fee based on your financial situation. Call around and ask. Community mental health clinics often have therapists in training who will see clients for a low fee and they can be just as effective as a seasoned therapist.
What makes psychotherapy different from talking to a friend? It is wonderful to have caring friends. We can benefit greatly from them. At the same time, psychotherapists offer something unique – privacy, dedication, and expertise.
Psychotherapists provide a high level of privacy and confidentiality so you won’t have to worry about others overhearing or sharing your most inner life details that you wish to keep private.
Psychotherapy is a time that is dedicated to only you, uninterrupted by phones calls or other daily life events. You can talk about anything that is on your mind without worrying about whether you are making any sense. There are no taboo topics.
What separates psychotherapists from the most caring friends is their expertise to understand and help you work through your challenges. Trauma, in particular, is difficult to resolve solely by empathy and talking. It benefits greatly from trauma specific approaches, such as those that I included on my Trauma Therapy page.