Getting Your Life Back After Trauma
Trauma has a profound effect on one’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Life after trauma is a complex yet necessary issue to tackle.
Joining this episode of Calm, Cool and Connected is April Lightsey, PhD and Licensed Professional Counselor. She is here to give hope and shed some light on getting help after trauma!
Key Takeaways from Liz’s chat with April:
• Hear about Dr. Lightsey’s background
• Find out what a trauma experience can look like
• Learn how trauma can effect witnesses and bystanders as well as the victim
• Hear how trauma can impact someone’s daily functioning
• Find out the link between anxiety disorders, depression and unprocessed trauma
• Hear how treatment for trauma goes in a professional setting
All of this and more, on this episode of Calm, Cool and Connected.
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DISCLAIMER: THE CONSULTATIONS OR INTERACTIONS OFFERED ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH THERAPY. THE CONSULTATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND NOT STRUCTURED IN A WAY TO PROVIDE MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING/PSYCHOTHERAPY/THERAPY/ DIAGNOSING OF ANY KIND. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT CALM COOL AND CONNECTED IS NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION AS YOUR TREATING MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR, PHYSICIAN, ATTORNEY, LEGAL COUNSEL, EMPLOYER, MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. We offer no guarantees or promise of results from event nor assume liability for any information provided.
Dr. Fedrick: Hello, and welcome to calm. Cool and connected. I'm your host, Dr.
Elizabeth Fedrick trauma has a profound effect on one's physical, mental, emotional, and even social functioning trauma can be described as anything that shatters one one's worldview. So what they once thought to be true about themselves or others profoundly changes as a result of this traumatic experience.
And while this is incredibly tragic, the good news is [00:01:00] there is help for this. And there is hope joining us today is Dr. April. Lightsey a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in treating trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. April's here to help us to understand the impact of trauma as well as to provide hope regarding the treatments that are available to us and how to get your life back after.
I'm Dr. April, welcome to our show.
April Lightsey: Hi, it's really good to be here. Thank you for inviting me. It's really
Dr. Fedrick: good to have you, before we jump in, let's talk a little bit about yourself and the clinical work that you're doing right.
April Lightsey: Well, I'm a clinical psychologist right now. I'm working, doing online therapy out of watermark psychological services in Norfolk.
And I have a wide load. I see people with a variety of problems, but my specialty is really trauma and also related anxiety disorders like OCD and things like that. I started working in the military. And that really gave me my introduction to trauma. And I've done a lot of military trauma work as well.
Dr. Fedrick: I'm, I'm sure. I'm sure that is [00:02:00] definitely a very unique experience as a mental health professional. How would you define trauma? How do you explain that to your clients?
April Lightsey: You know, there's, there's a formal way and then there's reality, right? So the, the DSM, which is the diagnostic manual for psychology says basically that you, a trauma is something that affects your life.
Like I worry that I'm going to die. Or I'm going to get seriously hurt or sexually assaulted, and it can happen to you or almost happened to you. You can see it happen to someone else. It can happen to a close member of your family, or you can have a job where you're often present in the aftermath trauma, think of like an EMS worker or somebody like that.
But really trauma is anything that is Sears into your body. Life is not as controllable as I thought it was. And the things that I thought I could do and be able to do without questioning now are under question. And so in real life, trauma is often a very broad experience. It really depends on what that [00:03:00] experience meant to you out traumatic.
Dr. Fedrick: Right. And what a lot of people don't realize is the influence that it has as you're describing it, really being a part of the body. So it then influencing our relationships and our thoughts and our behaviors and profound effects and the vicarious trauma that you just mentioned. Can you touch on that a little bit?
Can you explain that a little bit further of, you know, people who have. The
April Lightsey: bystanders, so to speak. Yeah. I think a lot of times we think that trauma just is effecting the person who had the experience. Right. I was held up, I was sexually assaulted. I was in combat and I was the person injured, but a lot of times it's the person who's witnessing.
Or even who's not present. You know, when I was a teenager, I had a traumatic experience. I was held up at gunpoint when I was 16 years old or 17 years old. And I got a lot of attention and help, but my twin sister was equally traumatized. And she wasn't even there and she didn't [00:04:00] get the support. I think that she needed at the time.
Dr. Fedrick: Oh. And that's such a great point because often with the vicarious trauma, there's not, it's often not recognized in the same way. And so that's, yeah, that's a great point. There's not a lot of support. So what is the impact when we talk about, when we talked about it, influencing relationships and behaviors, what are some of these symptoms of trauma that we might see impacts someone's daily
April Lightsey: functioning?
so part of trauma is withdrawing, right? It's particularly if we're looking at PTSD and people who are not recovering well from trauma, right? And so you get overstimulated things feel very intense. You get triggered, easily, become angry easily. And so often people will withdraw and withdraw from relationships.
Also, there can be a numbing where you don't feel as much feel as intensely. So even when you're with someone you love, because you've numbed out some of the trauma related. You might also not feel some of the loving feelings as intensely, and that can be [00:05:00] really troubling for people. Sure. And
Dr. Fedrick: then what about even the manifestation through depressive symptoms, through symptoms of anxiety, help us to understand the link between depression and anxiety and unprocessed trauma.
April Lightsey: So, you know, when we think about things, I need disorders, which I also treat, and I got into treating them because there's so much like trauma, right? So when you get an anxiety disorder PTSD and then depression. These are all disorders of what we could call our automatic, our autonomic nervous system.
Right? So we have a bonding system in our body that kind of just keeps running things, automatically things we don't think about. And part of that is the sympathetic nervous system, which helps us do. The problems on the outside, right? Parasympathetic is like my digestion kind of the way things run in my body sympathetic is the way I respond to the, the environment outside of me.
Right. And so all of these disorders are disorders where we're really hyper-local. To the problems that are going on out in the world, we get [00:06:00] more anxious. We get what they call aroused, which just means our sympathetic nervous system is aroused. We're more likely to get angry, right? Reactive and depression is really when that system gets overstressed.
And we're sort of in this chronically. State where we're very alert to negative things going on or environment and it's exhausting. So these things really relate to each other. People who have had PTSD for a long time post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time. Often also. Depression. I would say that's the rule rather than the exception.
Dr. Fedrick: And I was going to actually ask, if you could explain to our audience what post traumatic stress disorder is that that term gets thrown around a lot like OCD and, you know, it gets around and maybe rather inappropriate or just not correct manner to understand what it
April Lightsey: actually is. Yeah. So a lot of times people will have a bad experience and it still ticks them off or bothers them.
They're like, I still have PTSD from that boss. Right. [00:07:00] And that's understandable. We always use words and like in casual ways, as well as formal ones, but according to the diagnostic manual, there's really different components to that. So one of them is having a trauma, like I described, and then there's re-experiencing symptoms.
Right? So these are symptoms. Nightmares, intrusive memories, things that just pop up and kind of knock you off your feet. There's also things that are avoided symptoms. This is new in the most recent revision of the DSM where you're avoiding thinking about things avoiding going there. And we really think that avoidance drives a lot of symptoms.
The next thing is what we call changes in the way we look at the world and the way we feel. Right. So changes in thought and. And this has to do with, again, feelings of disconnection from people, feelings of self-blame that you really can't get over chronic negative states of emotion. And one of the things I want to really be clear though, as I talk about those things is you don't have to have every symptom that PTSD you just need from all of these [00:08:00] clusters.
So sometimes when someone will say, well, I heard people with PTSD, can't remember their. Which is true for some people, but not for everybody. If you can write me a trumpet, it doesn't mean you don't have that diagnosis. And then the last cluster is what they call the hyper arousal symptoms, right. Easily irritable getting, having poor sleep at night.
In fact, I find that one of the symptoms that lasts the longest for people is getting that sleep back anything where you just feel amped up, right. And you're not really in your skin. And that's again, getting back to that sympathetic arousal system, right. It's over-sensitive after.
Dr. Fedrick: Right. Right. And that's such an important distinction that you made, that, that someone doesn't have to be experiencing everything for it to still be a concern and for it to still be something that's necessary to, to seek some help for what are some of the treatment approaches that you use and that are effective for treating trauma as well as post-traumatic stress disorder
April Lightsey: specifically?
Well, so if you really want to get the best information, if [00:09:00] you're a consumer. Right for PTSD therapy, the best place to go is the. National center for post-traumatic stress. I think I got that just a little bit off, but it's the www.va PTSD that va.gov, right? They can all this information about the treatments that are out there is co-sponsored by the department of defense and the VA.
I don't work for either one anymore, although I've worked for both of the past, but what they do is they really review what is the best treatment that's out there. And right now they're recommending three is the most scientifically supported, right? So. Prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy and EMDR, and which used to be known as eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing, but they just shortened it to EMDR right now, because now they don't always use the eye movement.
There's other techniques. Those three treatments are the best support. For making you get over your PTSD. Now there's other good treatments out there, the unified protocol, narrative therapy, but these ones have the best support. And if [00:10:00] you find someone who does that you know, that that's where I would go.
And I can talk a little bit about my own. General approach if you, if you, yeah. So for me, when I look at these things, what they have in common, there's really four pieces to getting over trauma. The first one is learning how to relax, right? Learning, how to physically relax your body and take care of your.
People who have trauma are in this elevated, very anxious state, too much of where's your body out. And the truth is trauma treatment usually makes you a little bit worse before you get better. So we start with in your skin, how do you take care of yourself as we go into this? Right? The next part is remembering your traumatic experience.
Really exploring the memory in a safe environment after trauma, your body treats the mental. Of the traumatic experience as if it's happening right now. Yes. And that happens through conditioning through emotional memory [00:11:00] processing. Right. It's not a logical process. It's something that we share with other advanced animals like your dog or, you know, wildlife, things like that.
Right. And that's an emotional response to. Either the memory itself or to reminders, like places that you might go, right. It's treating those things as if. They're the traumatic experience. And so you need to be in a safe place and remember that and help your body not react to the memory like it's happening again.
Same. Thing's true with just going out into the world and doing things, this idea of remembering the memory and then going out and doing the things that are scary going to Walmart when it's busy, right. Is the actual risky things. But that. Uncomfortable to the average person with PTSD, maybe going and talking to certain people that were associated with the trauma, but I'm not dangerous people.
When you do those in a safe environment, your body learns to [00:12:00] calm down your shoulders, learn to drop. Okay. We
Dr. Fedrick: did a rewrite the narrative at that point. That's, I mean, it's putting, exposing them to this situation that was once scary and now it's not as scary. And then they get to start to reframe. And look up differently.
April Lightsey: Yeah. And the thing is I often find, and there's one little piece that I want to get to after this, but this is the exposure core, right? Blond exposure therapy. Exposure is a part of EMDR. How, how that works is controversial between providers, but it's definitely a part of EMDR. All of these treatments have some bit of the exposure component, right?
That's just training your body, not to read. Right. It makes people very angry. They'll say, well, I know that this is safe, but it still scares me. And they're frustrated. But the part that learns this is how it feels to be there. That kind of processing goes through the amygdala. It's conditioned response is emotional memory, right?
It's emotional memory. It's going to happen [00:13:00] fast and you've got to train your body not to do that. Just like you train a dog that had been mistreated to calm down. You don't talk it out. Right. You have to teach it that it's safe. Right?
Dr. Fedrick: These, these new, these, these safe experiences that, that they get to replace it with one, maybe piece of hope that you would give to someone listening who's experienced trauma.
Maybe they recognize they have unprocessed trauma. What would be that takeaway you would give them to.
April Lightsey: Yeah. Well and the other thing I wanted to say just briefly is that you also need to reprocess some of the things you learned in the trauma that may or may not be helping you today. The most important piece of that is that there'll be really work.
I mean, therapy is helpful. You can do some of these things yourself. There are self-help books out there and they don't have as much testing behind them, but the principles are there. And you can try that, but if you get in and you do EMDR or [00:14:00] CPT, or are prolonged exposure, those things have very high success rates.
And if one doesn't work, do the next one. The other piece of it is that getting over. Trauma is very scary and hard work, but it's not as hard as living with it, but, you know, dive in, have the courage. It's going to be tough, but if you do that, you're, you can get control of your life and hold those reins again.
And it's a great feeling. It's why I do trauma work because it's great to see people grab the reins of their life and say, this trauma is no longer going to define the way I live or how I feel about. Absolutely.
Dr. Fedrick: So empowering. Where can our viewers find out more about
April Lightsey: you? So right now I'm working for watermark psychological services.
It's a great practice out of Norfolk, Virginia. We're on the web. We have a website there. I work there and there are a number of other great clinicians that work. They're not just doing trauma work, but depression and family therapy and couples work, all kinds of things. So if you want to find me, you can find me [00:15:00] at watermark site.
Dr. Fedrick: Great. Thank you so much, Dr. April. I appreciate you joining us
April Lightsey: today. Thank you for the invitation
Dr. Fedrick: and thank you all for tuning into this episode of calm, cooling, connected. Please make sure to find us on Facebook and Instagram and also make sure to rate and subscribe to our podcast so that others can discover our content as well.
Thank you again for joining us in this episode of Collin cooling, connected .