Archive of ‘Trauma’ category

Once Upon A Year Into the Pandemic…

As we approach this harrowing year-long anniversary of the pandemic, or at least of the collective awareness and general quarantine period of it, it feels important to honor the horror we have witnessed. You might be experiencing the pandemic personally via loss of a loved one, shifting or lost work, social isolation, or perhaps your role has been more of a distant observer, or even seeing it through the lens of survivor’s guilt. Regardless of role or impact, we are currently living inside of an ongoing, slow-rolling, ever-unfolding collective trauma. Using imaginal tools can create some underworld and overworld understanding that is digestible while making personal meaning of this era. While many possible gifts have emerged, of note: the reconsideration of our shrine dedicated to “busy,” and a questioning of our ever-quickening pace; it is fair to say we are living in terrible times. Both Joseph Campbell and T.S. Eliot noted the world as a possible “wasteland,” yet used narrative and imaginal tools as a framework to withstand and even deepen psychological capacity. Campbell duly noted that by using myth we can vitalize ourselves, thereby creating vitality in the world around us (1988).

While there is medicine in creating a “normal” routine and buoyancy where possible, I wonder from a depth psychotherapeutic perspective, how healing it might be for us to incorporate the horror of this time more intentionally. This honors any upset and makes room for collective and personal grieving. Using the tools of the imagination is one way to incorporate the discomforting parts of the pandemic, both personally and clinically. Imagination can be used to meditate horror, or our reaction to horror, which is generally fear. Or it might be channeled to imagine and incorporate alternate endings, thus promoting hope. Equally, it can enable a deeper, storied processing of the events.

Trauma and Imaginal Healing

We know that trauma interrupts critical pathways in the brain that can impact, among many other things, the region that regulates negative emotionality. Through James Hollis’ analytic work and research in Houston, expressive arts were seen to “reactivate those portions of the brain and reinstate growth” (2000, p.9). Donald Kalsched, largely known in the depth psychoanalytic and trauma field, has cohered that the imagination “helps us integrate body and mind, affect and image, conscious and unconscious” (2020). And image is naturally the way we witness fantasy, creativity, and make meaning of the day-to-day world we encounter as a conscious species. 

“There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror.”

– Sir Arthur Conon Doyle

Children teach us that holding space for the horrific can be healing and normalizing. Ask a young child to tell a story and many will quickly turn to the grotesque or the monstrous. They may even laugh while recalling a grim story from a book, or poke with curiosity about a character that gives them nightmares. Before defenses get installed into their hard-drive, so to speak, children are mostly comfortable with shadow-incorporation. Imaginal work offers a relatable, archetypal path to feel into what is dark, as a way to integrate wholeness into our psyches.

Why Honor the Imagination?

Before there was language, there was image and story. We have evidence of this, for one, in archaic cave paintings. It is encoded in our brains to storytell, and recognize patterns of story. We are narrative beings, and images are some of the ways our psyches take in and experience information. We speak in symbol. Our dreams speak in symbol. 

At times, especially in times of grief, language can feel limited. Even our common sayings point to this: there are no words, I am speechless, etc.

In the trauma world, often images are used to first encounter how something may have gotten storied in the psyche. Making use of the imagination which can coalesce and transmute images, somatic sensations, emotions, the ineffable– is a comprehensive way to “meet” what is showing up. 

Imagination is more important than information 

-Albert Einstein

Honoring imagination enables us to tap into our own narrative or the stream of archetypal patterns from the collective unconscious. In this primordial stream, we can encounter recognizable archetypes, or patterns of behaviors, alongside images that might resonate. As a meaning-making species, it can be healing to know that we are familied and recognized in other stories that exist outside of our own heads. We already, perhaps unknowingly, are in contact with archetypes, explored through film, books, video games, and Greek myths. Even our social media platforms respect the human propensity to narrativize as a way to connect, through Stories.

Using fairytales as an example of this work; you might immediately recall a tale that was once treasured as a child. This is one way we can tap into original stories from early life that carry personal meaning. In a fairytale, it is easy to encounter internal or external characters or motifs that resonate with life, relationships, or difficult situations. As Sabrina Orah Mark said recently in The Paris Review: “The reason why fairy tales exist and thrive is because our bodies recognize them like they are our own. Our same blood type. Because we recognize wolfwitchforestkisscursespellmother, the stories latch” (2020). Mark is noting that the stories “latch” because they are archetypal in form and as ancient as humanity. They carry patterns and a common language of relating to, or of rejection, or of horror, pain, beauty, protection. 

What Does Working Imaginally mean?

Working imaginally is flexible and spontaneous. Engaging with inner figures, with archetypal characters within and through myth, narrative, fairytale, etc, is vivifying. For some clinicians, it might mean play therapy, unstructured play, or sand tray. For others, expressive arts techniques are used. Narrative and drama therapies can assist in tapping into image. With depth psychotherapeutic training and a trauma-focus, I tend to use the tools of fairytale analysis, expressive arts, dreamwork, and classical Jungian sandplay as clinical tools.

Meanwhile, I invite you to honor your original images by revisiting your favorite fairytale from youth during this pandemic anniversary. Sit down, really sink into the tale and notice what comes up.


Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. (1988, June 21). The Hero’s Adventure [Video File]. Retrieved from:

Hollis, J. (2000). The archetypal imagination. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Kalsched, D. (2020). How the Corona Virus is Re-wiring our imagination [lecture transcript]. 

Written by: Ash Compton, LMFT-Associate, EMDR-Trained Supervised by Susan Henderson, M.Ed, LMFT-S, LPC-S

EMDR 101

Maybe you have heard about EMDR and you are curious about what it is or if it may be a good fit for you? EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It essentially mimics the processing that occurs during REM sleep to help your brain reorganize and heal difficult memories and “unstick” negative beliefs. This is done by administering bi-lateral stimulation through eye movements or tappers – helping both hemispheres of your brain to “turn on” at the same time while processing a memory.

Now, if you are like me, this may sound too easy or maybe just too woo-hooey for you. I felt this way also when I first heard about EMDR… and I am a trained professional in this field! But let me bring you some support as to why this works. For the ease of understanding, let’s think of your memory network like a filing cabinet and the information your brain gathers as pieces of paper. In “normal” daily situations, our brains take in mass amounts of information and filter it through a process to collect necessary data, file it where it needs to be accessed appropriately, and gets rid of what we do not need to keep. However, when we are under threat or a high stress event occurs, the processing gets interrupted and information gets stored incorrectly. When this happens, it causes distress, flashbacks, dysfunctional beliefs, and triggers.

In a controlled manner, EMDR allows you to bring up the triggering pieces of paper, encourages the brain to look and re-identify it, and then correctly files it where it needs to go. By reprogramming the traumatic memory, you remove the upsetting emotions that come with it and it will become neutral or even positive!

Please understand that this does NOT take away experiences or make lessons learned from the event non-existent. It simply removes the real-time distress and anxious responses from it. This is still part of your story and part of what has shaped the positive aspects of who you are- but the negative effects no longer need to follow you.

EMDR is a gentle option to treatment. It is most known for working with traumatic memories, but it is also great for when you feel “stuck” and can not seem to get around harmful patterns or negative beliefs. If this is you, EMDR might be perfect to refile those papers and get you back on track!

By: Grace Shook, LPC

Trauma Effects Don’t Just Quit

I am sure you have heard the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is so easily thrown around in the media, television shows and movies. It is hard with all this information in our culture about PTSD to really know what is fact and what is myth.

It is helpful to know what PTSD really is before going any further. PTSD is a group of symptoms mental and physical that combine together due to a trauma experience. This experience has to be of such a high level that the individual felt that he/she was going to die. This complicates the diagnosis since my level of feeling threatened enough to feel like I am going to die is different than yours.

Trauma can be considered “little t” traumas and then “Big T” trauma. Big T traumas are those that usually have an external cause. These are serious vehicular accidents, sexual assault, military service. “Little t” traumas are those that are more personal, not life threatening traumas; examples of these are : braking a bone, verbal abuse, harassment.
There is a third category of how you can acquire PTSD. Those would be secondary traumatic events. These are experiences a person has from watching a trauma of someone else; this would include 9/11, watching someone die, hearing a person describe their trauma. 9/11 is a special category since never before had so many people witnessed a loss of life and destruction in history. Across the world we watched and felt a fear of impending doom. Many people within weeks were seeing their doctor for feeling that had never occurred to him/her.

Trauma can be divided into two diagnoses depending on how much time has passed since the traumatic incident. If your experience happened in less than 30 days before and you are showing symptoms of the trauma you would be diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder. If the incident was over 30 days before then your diagnosis would fall into the category of Post Traumatic Disorder. The symptoms of both of these disorders is the same.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has many symptoms. You can think of all of the symptoms of PTSD in a big pot. Not every person has the same PTSD response to trauma. It is a wide range of symptoms.

Mental & Emotional Symptoms Include:

• Intrusive thoughts
• Nightmares
• Flashbacks
• Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
• Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
• Negative affect
• Trauma-related reminders
• Inability to recall key features of the trauma
• Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
• Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
• Decreased interest in activities
• Feeling isolated
• Difficulty experiencing positive affect
• Difficulty concentrating

Physical Symptoms Include:

• Irritability or aggression
• Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
• Risky or destructive behavior
• Hyper vigilance
• Heightened startle reaction
• Difficulty sleeping

You don’t need to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with PTSD. There are a few requirements as these symptoms are broken into categories. Each of these symptoms can be effecting a person from “mild” to severe. I put mild in “ “ because any of these symptoms experienced in its mild form can significantly effect a person’s life.

Treatment Options

There is treatment for PTSD. In the past there weren’t too many ways to heal from PTSD.

First, you need to see a doctor to get properly diagnosed. This can be your general practioner or a psychiatrist. I encourage using a psychiatrist since a psychiatrist has had special training to identify this disorder among others. Once diagnosed then you can create a treatment plan. A doctor can prescribe medication to help with the symptoms, but medication will not help heal PTSD. Some form of therapy is necessary. Talk therapy can help along with giving you coping skills. You can meet with someone who is non-judgmental can be extremely freeing.

The best therapy for trauma experiences is EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The way traumas are retained in your brain is very different from regular memories. EMDR is able to resolve PTSD by addressing each issue related to your trauma. There is little talking involved and the counselor will not explore feeling in the traditional way. Often old memories that are somehow connected to the current trauma can also come up and be resolved.

The best thing you can do is to explore what options work for you. If you try one option and it doesn’t work, keep exploring. Each person heals in his/her own way. If you are using medication and do not feel that it is helping you then call your doctor or psychiatrist. Don’t’ give up. There is help available to you.

Austin Therapist

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S

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