Stepping Up to Trauma

Posted by admin on March 21, 2013

Tsega's new therapist is like a heaven-sent angel. It's not even fair. Every human should get to spend time in her office. She is one of those people who when she starts talking you want to curl up on her lap and have her pet you and tell you It's all gonna be OK. Her voice is like a mild dose of oxytocin. And Tsega knows it. He is calm and comfortable in her presence, he likes being there. It's kinda amazing to see. I always wonder what path a person has traversed who dedicates her life to healing others. I am convinced she has had to walk her own refiner's fire. Empathy and compassion are not created in a vacuum.  I am grateful we've found her.

Today while we conferenced about the plan for my baby boy's continued work, my role in it and a few other things I wanted her to know about our family, his past, etc, she shed some light on me. All of a sudden, we weren't talk about my kid. We were talking about a few things that happened to me that still cause me pain. (Sidenote: As it turns out, I have a bit o' PTSD around my pregnancies and hospitalizations and the traumatic pre-term birth/aftermath of my youngest). As she spoke the words aloud and repeated back to me what I was saying so I could hear myself, it was like a revelation. She was right. I am so dedicated to helping my child heal, I haven't paid much attention to my own wounds. Sure, they are bandaged up really well, I am not dysfunctional by any means. But they are still there, and sometimes, when I need to be able to focus on my child or children, I am in overdrive because I have activated my own junk and piled it on top of the junk going on with my kid.

It is so obvious but crystallized for me today with her help: To be a better parent for a child who has trauma, I cannot lump my crap, my fears with his. He has enough to deal with, he doesn't need mine, thankyouverymuch. 

Before I knew it, in the middle of a session about my son, with his therapist, I was writing down names of other EMDR therapists she wanted me to call to do what she called "short term" work to help reduce my anxiety related to my past.

So what is EMDR therapy? It has been described really well in other places, like here for example. In technical jargon: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive therapeutic approach that helps patients release disturbing thoughts and emotions that originate in traumatic experiences. In my own words, this isn't your average lying-on-a-couch-crush-on-your-parent Freudian stuff. It isn't even play therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. It is very specific to trauma and PTSD.

This is taking a traumatic memory and processing it while physical stimulation occurs. This stimulation is not sporadic, it is very purposeful: it works between the left and right brain. Your eyes follow lights, and sometimes, especially for children  both hands hold little buzzers that pulse in sync with the lights, and even tones in ears, are all synced up bouncing from left to right.  While processing, talking through the traumatic memory, this left to right movement of the eyes help take away the triggering effect the memory has on the body.

The goal is to be able to remember the traumatic thing, but it's power on your brain to make you freak out with anxiety is lessened.  One goal of this therapy is to reduce the impact of triggers and help a person stay more regulated.So, while no one promises magic, the results can be magical for some people.

Tsega's therapist has had success doing this kind of therapy with little ones who still don't have great verbal skills AND she's had success with this therapy for folks who do not remember their trauma (both of which were important for us). Her experience and philosophy is: actually, we humans who experience terrifying, painful, hard things when we are infants and small children, do remember. The body remembers what there are no words or images to tell. The fear is there, present in the brain,sometimes mucking stuff up.

I am so excited to work with her, to have her in my son's life. I am grateful for her being mindful of me, and even chiming in on some of the other kiddos as well. I want encourage those of you out there seeking answers, healing, and professional help for your children or maybe even yourself: A good friend of mine once told me that when it comes to therapy, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Finding the right fit, and -Please God- someone who accepts your insurance is like finding needle in a haystack. Not every therapist is good. And not every good therapist has a decent, easily, searchable website. I searched for eight months and was considering flying out of state and paying out of pocket just to get Tsega with a pediatric EMDR therapist because I couldn't find one near me.

I found this therapist because a blog friend, who I've never met, was doing EMDR therapy with her child across the country, and asked her therapist if she knew anyone in my area. Like magic, after months of failed searches and dead ends, I had a name. And even then it took a few weeks to get the correct number to find her. When we finally spoke I told her it felt like tracking a rainbow unicorn.

If a therapist doesn't get your kid, and doesn't speak the lingo of understanding how trauma, adoption, attachment, and even sensory integration issues all work together to disrupt children and that all of those things can and possibly should be addressed for maximum healing for a child, if someone tells you what your kid is experiencing is "normal" or that your deeply distressed child is "energetic and spunky" and if those words go solidly against your gut, keep looking. I found my unicorn. Don't give up on yours.

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(You're welcome, by the way, for the gratuitous eighteen-months-old picture of my two little partners in crime. For the record, Brady still likes to be squished and Tsega still likes to squish. I miss those days, when they were slower and easier to catch...)

PS. If you haven't joined the Scooping it Up FB page, come join the party. Sneak peeks on posts, important discussions about who is the most attractive man on Grey's Anatomy  ethics in adoption, etc. I love learning from you and "meeting" you.

- S, The Scooper (who blogs at Scooping it Up)


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