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  • Graceful Therapy

Annmarie O'Connell, LPC, CADC, NCC


When I hear the term “social distancing” a part of me cringes. Not because I do not believe in it or the evidence that physically separating ourselves from each other is exactly what is needed to slow down or stop COVID-19.  It is more because the term itself suggests that we should distance ourselves from being social altogether. As a therapist, I am inclined to say that isolation at its worst contributes to an increase in depression, suicidality, and addiction. These things, when not properly treated, can be dangerous. In fact, it is cited that evolution itself shows us social behavior and social connection are vital to regulating our emotions.


When I was training to become a therapist I became very interested in reading about Polyvagal Theory. This theory, by Stephen Porges, provides us with a more sophisticated understanding of safety and danger, one based on an understanding of our bodies and the physiological features of those around us. It tells us that a soothing voice or a calm face can dramatically alter the way we feel. Attuning with another person can shift us completely out of fearful states. In this theory, social relationships are the most important factor in combating issues like depression and trauma. I often prescribe the same concept to clients. Engage socially, even if it makes you uncomfortable. The proof is in the way we seem to feel better after doing it, even if getting there is almost painful.

 

So how can we still maintain our mental health in the depths of social distancing? Can we begin to look at it as Body Distancing or Physical Distancing? Can we keep the social part with friends and family? I have been attempting to Facetime those I love in order to remain connected. I Facetimed with my sister and discovered that she is insanely calming in a crisis and remembered that through her caring face and ability to attune to me over the phone. This really shifted my day. Can you make it a point to reach out to connect even if it's just for a few minutes on the telephone? Connecting in this way is much different than text or social media. 


There are also options available for daily prayer groups via teleconference or church services streaming online. If you are a person in recovery, there are options to attend recovery programming via Zoom or other online conference platforms. At Graceful Therapy, we have the opportunity for telehealth so this way your therapist can connect and attune to you and your body can respond and begin to become more regulated. 


In these unprecedented times, it is difficult to know how we will react or respond when spent in self-quarantine. I think it is important to get a daily reprieve and engage in self care and social connection, even if it is just for 30 minutes. Sometimes in these kinds of situations, our mental health symptoms hit out of nowhere and it is difficult to reach out for help. If you already have the support in place, whether it is a therapist at Graceful Therapy or a friend or family member, it will be easier to relieve some of them.


Please email me if you are looking for a link for prayer or a meeting for addiction at annmarie@gracetherapy.com



  • Graceful Therapy

Annmarie O'Connell, LPC, CADC, NCC


Trauma leaves a lasting impact on many facets of a survivor’s life. It can fundamentally shift someone’s world view.  For example, it can impact a person’s ability to provide for themselves financially due to the symptoms they may be still experiencing. This could include receiving a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis or features of this disorder. Some of these include re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance of anything that may remind them of the traumatic event, emotional numbing, and hyperarousal or being “triggered” followed by symptoms of depression. 


People struggling with PTSD in intimate relationships often deeply struggle with trust, secure attachment, sexual intimacy, emotional closeness, effective communication and trauma memories or flashbacks. For someone experiencing PTSD in an intimate relationship, becoming vulnerable and letting their guard down after these past traumas may feel like they are susceptible to reexperience something equally as damaging despite caring for their significant other very deeply. This conflict of loving a significant other, yet pushing them away due to very real symptoms that occur because of PTSD, creates additional pain and barriers within that relationship that often cause excessive patterns of miscommunication and violent or damaging reactions to stimuli or a specific trigger. It can be difficult for a partner on the other side of PTSD to manage their own reactions and emotions, maintain their own boundaries, while still providing support to their partner. One of the main symptoms of the aftermath of a PTSD episode is shame. Shame that the person reacted to something totally unreasonable and caused major instability in their relationship and maybe even engaged in verbal abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse during the trigger. It is a very difficult notion that what helps a person with PTSD mitigate their symptoms is social support. Therefore, the very thing that they require is often what is brutally sabotaged in the wake of triggers and emotion regulation deficits. 

So how can we manage this? Therapy is a great way for individuals and couples to work through the aftermath of these triggers and to determine how to better respond to them in the moment, despite how difficult it may be. Couples can learn to communicate and be vulnerable with each other regardless of past trauma and be honest about their feelings and what they are truly experiencing. They can build problem solving skills while honoring each other with respect and compassion. Getting caught in these shame cycles of PTSD can also really minimize the amount of playfulness, joy, free-spiritedness that is often a good thing for both parties in a relationship. Building the good parts of the relationship while also navigating the broken ones will help each party feel validated and heard.


For the individual, therapy can assist in providing coping strategies for triggers and building a support system to manage their PTSD. This may include repairing relationships within the family system or creating a support system via a local community group. It could also be both! A therapist may also include anger management, stress management, coping skills, communication skills training, and parenting skills training to the treatment plan. And remember: the therapist and PTSD survivor relationship can be a much needed reprieve from isolation, shame, and a way to receive practical support from the stress of life and help you remember that you are capable and worthy of feeling normal in a relationship despite the trauma you have experienced. 






  • Graceful Therapy

Annmarie O'Connell, LPC, NCC, CADC


When deciding it may be time to look for a therapist, whether it is for yourself, for a loved one, or perhaps both of you, it is often difficult to get yourself to make the call. Sometimes people have experienced something critical in their lives and a voice inside of them may have been saying “you can’t carry this alone” and yet they still didn’t know exactly which direction to turn. Sometimes a seed gets planted and you think about scheduling an appointment, but maybe you wait for quite a long time before you pick up the phone and actually commit to it. Life can be downright painful. Usually, when this pain enters our hearts, it shatters us and we are no longer able to tap into our healthier half. We may start doing things we said we never would or pick up old patterns that no longer serve us. We may burn a bridge or two or even fall short in meeting our goals or the expectations of those around us.


Asking for help when we are at this end of our emotional rope, is very difficult. We have tapped out our resources. We are now relying on likely the worst, darkest parts of ourselves to function. Humbling ourselves before another human being in this state to work through our inner tragedies is almost impossible. Psychotherapists are blessed with the gift of watching this happen every single day. The vulnerability that a human possesses when they ask for help is extraordinary to say the least. The shame that writhes beneath the surface at times of many people who are on the other end of the call to receive therapy services is great and it is deep and it is real. To carry that and still have the courage, the resiliency to be an advocate for your own or your loved ones mental health is something that we should not take for granted.


One definition of vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” When we humble ourselves in such a fragile state, that possibility of being attacked or harmed feels so real within us. It’s pressing down on our spirit and we have little to no ability to access the part of ourselves that can recall feeling safe. Feeling beautiful. Feeling loved. Feeling open to the world and the joy around us. And it feels dark. But we do it anyway. We long and crave social connection. We are brave and warrior like and we want to persevere through what is holding our hearts captive. Therapy is a space to allow that vulnerability to be honored and for your true self to be restored with dignity and respect. As therapist’s we often say we are holding space for others. What does that mean? It means we are providing another human being a touch of grace so that they can allow love back into their heart and perhaps transform and grow a result.

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