Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do

The recent horrific events at Shady Hook Elementary present parents of all school-age children with a difficult set of challenges. How should  parents support and guide their children through this difficult time? Second-hand exposure to violent acts, even though websites or television, can be traumatic for children. The National Institutes of Mental Health has produced a guide to helping children cope with traumatic events. Here are a few key points from the guide.

In general, adults should:

  • Attend to children: listen to them, accept their feelings, help them cope with the reality of their experiences.
  • Reduce other life stressors: fighting within the family, long periods away from friends/family.
  • Monitor healing: pay attention to child’s feelings over time, watch for sudden changes in behavior.
  • Remind them that the adults in their life love and protect them.
  • Keep normal routines or make new ones together.
  • Help children feel in control, where appropriate.

Don’t:

  • Force the child to be re-exposed to the trauma (TV coverage, dinner table conversation, etc.)
  • Make the child discuss the event before they are ready.
  • Get angry if the child shows strong emotions.

Phobias

With over 500 recognized phobias, what exactly is a phobia and how does it affect a person? A fear alone does not distinguish a phobia. A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little or no real danger. A phobia is long-lasting and can cause intense physical and psychological reactions. Both fear and avoidance must be present and to the point of interfering with everyday life. Because you become so preoccupied with thinking about the fear, you often are unable to sleep, to work, function in a social setting or enjoy things you normally like to do. IRRATIONAL fear is predominate in phobias.

Adults usually recognize that their phobia is excessive and unreasonable, while children do not usually have a sufficient impairment that warrants a diagnosis. The following is a list of subtypes for phobias and are fairly self-explanatory: 1. Animal Type (fear cued by animals or insects), 2. Natural Environment Type (fear cued by storms, heights, water, etc.), 3. Blood-Injection-Injury Type (fear cued by seeing blood, injury, injections or other invasive medical procedure), 4. Situational Type (fear cued by specific situation such as flying, bridges, public transportation) and 5. Other Type (fear cued by other stimuli such as choking, loud sounds, contracting an illness). Women tend to have diagnosed phobias more than men and phobias seem to run in families. Seek professional help if you have excessive fear or phobias as there are a number of effective interventions that can help.

Stress and the Brain

Stressful events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or home, or serious/chronic illness can actually affect the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  This region of the brain is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions such as proper glucose and insulin levels.  Stressors can affect our mood centers and skew our ability to regulate pleasure and reward.  Prolonged exposure to stress can actually shrink the brain.  Brain volumes in the mood centers are linked to depression and anxiety.  People who have brain shrinkage seem to be more vulnerable when faced with a life trauma or sudden adverse event as the effects are magnified and their ability to cope is compromised.

Brain-enhancing activities to combat stress and make our brains more resilient to stress are recommended to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on the brain.  Some valuable stress relievers include exercise, meditation, taking a daily dose of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid-an Omega 3 fatty acid) and maintaining strong emotional relationships.

Anatomy of Grief

Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and it is forced to multiply its strength. ~~ Ovid

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  But what is happening inside the body after a significant loss?  Whether it is the loss of a job you loved, a home, a beloved pet, a good friend, a child, or your partner in life you will go through the grieving process and you will feel the changes in your body.

The grief process is similar to the aging process:

  • Slowing of the metabolism
  • Shrinking of tissues
  • More contraction, less flexibility
  • Less clarity and awareness
  • Less vitality and energy
  • More stiffness, weakness and atrophy
  • Less muscle tone
  • Less appetite, difficulty with digestion
  • Dull, confused and foggy thinking
  • Slower response time in any given situation, including physical healing
  • Less deep and full breathing
  • Slower blood circulation
  • Slower lymphatic circulation

Love really does hurt according to evidence from new brain scanning technologies.  Researchers have found that the same area of the brain processes both physical and emotional pain and like physical pain, emotional pain can become chronic and move into what is known as “complex grief” causing debilitating depression.  To combat the physical changes you need to get up and move!  Join a gym, try yoga, water aerobics, or take up golf.  You’re working your body and you’re being with other people, both of which you need at this time.

Humans are survivors and we’re social, so the single most important factor in healing is having the support of other people.  Even if you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you are grieving because sharing your loss makes the burden easier to carry.  There are bereavement support groups in your community that you can be part of.  Find the one that addresses your type of loss.  Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.  Also, seeking professional counseling is a healthy choice.

Grief can be a roller coaster.  Your emotions can be up and down, a mix of good days and bad days.  Even in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness.  With complex grief and depression, on the other hand, the feeling of emptiness and despair are constant and you need to seek professional help.

Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow~~it is not a permanent rest stop.  ~~ Dodinsky

Going green to support National Mental Illness Awareness Week

Pinnacle Counseling is proudly going green in support of National Mental Illness Awareness Week from Monday, October 7th – Friday, October 11th. Although there are many things you can do to show your support for National Mental Illness Awareness Week, the number one thing every single person can do is to help spread awareness to stop the stigma of mental illness. Starting the conversation is the first step to reaching out and supporting your loved ones as they seek help in a struggle with any sort of mental illness or mental health issue can be remarkably beneficial. At Pinnacle Counseling, we are ready to help you on your journey to becoming more mentally healthy. Check back throughout the week for more posts to help spread the word about the importance of mental health awareness.

 

Erika McCaghren

 

Domestic Violence

According to a 2010 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Justice, in the 12 months of that year, more men than women were victims of intimate partner physical violence and over 40% of severe physical violence was directed at men. Domestic violence is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects more than 32 million Americans. This number reflects the number of cases that are reported; it’s estimated that in the United States, as many as one third of domestic violence cases are never reported.

If you are in an abusive relationship it is important that you tell someone you trust what has been happening. Keep a journal of all violent incidents and take pictures of any physical damage o your body. It is also important that you have evidence of your abuse if and when you need to prove it in court. There are many cases where the abused spouse has lost everything, including the children because the abusing spouse has turned the tables on him or her and accused him or her of being the abuser.

If possible, it would be beneficial for both parties to seek marriage counseling before the violence escalates. If not, then you should be talking to a professional that can help you understand what is happening to you and give you some guidelines on how to cope and how to help your children. The abused spouse is often dealing with repressed anger, feeling hurt, humiliated, and isolated. Get help now. No one deserves to be abused!

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) ;  1-800-787-3224

Check it out!

Psychotherapy

The first word of this compound word says it all “psycho”. No one wants to be associated with something that is strange, difficult to handle, and perhaps the worst of all: a scary, new experience. If you were to ask a friend or family member what psychotherapy is, they would most likely say something about paying a lot of money to talk about problems (and that’s putting it nicely). If you were to ask a counselor or therapist, we would describe it as a chance to be heard, without judgment through the ears and eyes of a professional, in the comfort and safety of a confidential session. The talking part might be easy…or hard depending on how you view your problems. If providing a safe place where clients can talk about whatever it is that is troubling them is the job of the counselor, what is your job as a client in psychotherapy? What do you have to know before you even walk through the door? Most first time clients wonder how we expect you to tell everything that you are thinking and feeling after just meeting.

These are common questions that can be answered. A client simply has to make the appointment with a counselor or therapist and come ready for the experience. Okay…that may seem a bit more intimidating than helpful, but it’s the truth. If you are open to the experience of psychotherapy as something completely different and refreshing you are on the road to understanding what it is and how it works. Before you walk through the door, you should know that you are not alone. Every single person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a journey. That road is paved with troubles, hardships, and bumps that throw off your sense of balance as you walk the road. This is where you have to believe that there are trained professionals ready to help and to listen to you. Why would a counselor want to listen to all of the “bumps” along the way in your life? Because we are trained to provide the safe haven for you to explore the inner workings of what is really going on in your life. There is no façade, just a real and honest experience with another person to ensure that you don’t trip on the bumps of life and walk, silent and hurting, through the rest of life.

If you are working through the bumps in your life and decide that the word psychotherapy is not as scary as facing it on your own…that is what we are here for.

 

Erika McCaghren

April is Counseling Awareness Month

April is Counseling Awareness Month! Although many people know generally what counselors do, this is a time for counselors everywhere to stand together to promote the use of counseling services. We do this by reaching out to clients, readers, social media outlets, and through simple word of mouth that “We are here”. Pinnacle Counseling stands in full support of Counseling Awareness Month by showing people that we care and are here to support you. Knowing that there is a group of professionals near you, ready and willing to listen and help you through a particularly hard time or everyday struggles of life is a valuable tool. In any given situation, no matter the cause, difficulty, or time you have been dealing with the issue—we are here. Simply remember…Keep Calm and Call a Counselor!

 

Erika McCaghren

 

Sources: American Counseling Association