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Marie Woods LMFT CSAT-S's blog

What Defines Something As Traumatic?

Trauma is defined as an emotional wound/shock that creates substantial lasting damage to the psychological development of a person. Trauma can also be described as whatever the brain perceives as threatening. The brain and the body experience the situation the same whether the threat is perceived or real. 


As you can probably imagine from the definition, a person’s experience of trauma is highly relative. What might be traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another due to a variety of factors we will discuss below.


One of these factors is control. How much control a person had over the situation makes a big difference. If a person had no control over a situation that happened to them, then they are likely to feel more traumatized than if they were able to have at least some semblance of control during the event. This is why we often see victims of trauma expressing a deep need to be in control as it is an effort to repair this experience.

Feelings 101

Have you ever watched a TV show depicting a therapist? Have you ever noticed that they always portray the therapist saying, “…and how does that make you feel?” Most people laugh at this. Although, people who have been to therapy know that feelings are often a major focus area in sessions. It seems silly, but there are several reasons why.


When asked how we are feeling, the typical response is Fine, Okay, Good, or Bad. None of these are actually feelings, and many times they are automatic responses. We’ve often learned that we are “supposed” to feel okay, and our answers are default in that way. Almost every time I review feelings with my clients, they say “Wow, we should have learned this in school”. Knowing how we feel is an important skill. It is part of being in touch with ourselves, and our bodies. It is critical to meaningful relationships with others. This awareness can help us in many ways throughout our lives.


The history of not being able to identify or express our feelings often begins in, you guessed it, our family of origin. Many of us grew up in families where feelings were not really talked about. They were often unsafe as in the case of rage. They may have even been used to manipulate.  Indirectly, in those experiences, we learned a lot about feelings. What we didn’t learn, however, was how to label them and express them.


In addition to our family of origin, our culture also plays a role in how we perceive emotions. Culturally, men are not encouraged to feel their feelings – except anger. On the contrary, women are encouraged to express their feelings, and are then often labeled overly emotional. Quite the paradox, right?


Facts About Feelings


  • There are many feelings and emotions.None of them are right or wrong. They just are. Feelings can be described as physical symptoms (e.g. nausea, headache, etc…) or emotional symptoms (e.g. fear, anger, love, etc…)


In the face of tragedy, what do you tell your kids?

The recent shooting at a Florida high school has shaken many of us across the country.  Not only has it devastated those families directly involved, but it has ensued fear and concern for parents, school aged kids, teachers, law enforcement, and many others.

So many parents find themselves at a loss for how to talk about tragedies such as these with their kids. Whether it’s death of a friend or loved one, a school shooting, a life threatening illness, or a suicide, it can be tough for parents to find the words. What do you say in moments like this? How do you discuss the harsh realities of the world with them in a way that doesn’t elicit fear and anxiety?


Here are 10 things that may help parents talk to kids about tragedy:


-Explain that bad things happen in life, but that doesn’t make life bad. Reminding kids that both good and bad things happen in life, and that we choose how we respond to them.  Ask them on a regular basis what is good in their life, and what things are not so good. This gets them thinking about positive and negative things in their world – which is inevitable. 


Certain Trauma Considerations In Uncertain Times

Some more specific considerations to keep in mind with regard to trauma are the fact that specific cultural, familial, and generational components can exacerbate trauma responses even more. For example, an individual with a Jewish background whose family has survived the Holocaust (even several generations out), can still carry much of the trauma that their ancestors experienced. Thus, they are more likely to feel a very strong fear response to changes that seem like they emulate these past traumas. For many, this is part of their genetic coding, and may have never been triggered before. Certain events may feel similar, though, and thus bring this to the surface. Where a person may not be directly impacted by the incident, they can still have a very strong emotional reaction. Without the proper support, this can often lead individuals to respond using maladaptive coping skills. Thus why we sometimes see an increase in substance abuse, violent behavior, being verbally derogatory, and a lack of tolerance in these types of situations. Keep in mind, when it feels like survival is at stake (even if it really may not be), we respond using survival instincts - not from our adaptive brains. 

Sign of the Times: Change, Uncertainty, and Trauma – Oh My!

If you are alive and breathing, there is no doubt you are aware of the many changes that have been abruptly taking place in the world around us. Anytime there is a seismic shift in our environment, whether it be a natural disaster or a shift in political leadership, it can have a significant impact on many people. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, then just take a brief scroll through your social media news feed. The evidence of major shifts in our world is unavoidable. As therapists, we know that change is always difficult. Even the most well adjusted individuals experience some challenges when major changes occur in their life. Consider that many individuals face other life challenges on top of dealing with an ever changing world, and you might run into a great deal of fear, anxiety, even panic and terror. 

What Does Sex Addiction Treatment Look Like Part 4: Treatment Planning Is Not One Size Fits All

In parts one through three of this series, we have covered the different levels of care for addressing sex addiction. While these are the most common methods of treatment for sex addiction, it is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the components of treatment. Also, careful consideration should be made that the course of treatment is appropriate for each individual client.


In fact, an individual’s path to recovery is rarely this cut and dry. A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) can provide a thorough assessment to help determine the best and most appropriate recommendations for an individual. Considerations and discussion are necessary on what is realistic in terms of time constraints and financial considerations such as insurance. Although often a good option, there is no magic to “inpatient care”.  In many cases, it is not a consideration for clients due to time or financial constraints. In this case, clinicians may help build a level of support in an outpatient setting.  Other times, a client may not be ready to face the level of care really necessary to help them achieve sustained sobriety, and their outpatient therapist will continue to work with them to be able to do so. All in all, recovery is available at all levels of care. One course may be more difficult than others, but recovery is a personal choice, and can be obtained through any of these routes.

What Does Sex Addiction Treatment Look Like: Part 3: Outpatient Therapy

In this blog post, we are continuing our discussion of the different types of sex addiction treatment. So far, we have discussed Inpatient Rehabilitation and Intensive Outpatient (IOP) as different levels of care for sex addiction. (To read these posts check out Part 1 and Part 2). Now, in Part 3, we will cover outpatient therapy.

This is the least stringent level of care for sex addiction. This is a more typical format of therapy where an individual attends therapy sessions approximately once a week, and are also part of an ongoing therapy support group. For sex addiction, a structured, task centered approach is often used to guide the individual and/or group therapy process.

Additionally, individuals are encouraged to engage in several 12-step meetings per week that specifically pertain to sex addiction. Active participation in 12-step programming looks like regular attendance at meetings, having a sponsor, working on step assignments, and supporting other members of the 12-step community.

What Does Treatment for Sex Addiction Look Like Part 2: Intensive Outpatient Therapy

In this blog post, we continue our series on the different levels of care for sex addiction. In Part 1, we discussed the highest level of care for sex addiction – Inpatient Rehabilitation. Next, we will discuss the level of care that is a step down from inpatient/residential, and is referred to as Intensive Outpatient (IOP) therapy.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) therapy comes in a couple of different formats. Many inpatient treatment programs are familiar with formalized IOP programs, and may make a recommendation for an individual to transition into that level of care following the completion of inpatient treatment. A formal IOP program includes daily group therapy and weekly individual therapy. When individuals are not in therapy, they are often required to volunteer or work part time while rigorously attending 12 step meetings. Additionally, they may be required to live in sober living housing affiliated with the IOP program. Sober living houses are places where everyone there is committed to working a recovery program, and they generally have guidelines for being able to reside in the house such as staying sober, attending 12 step meetings, and being in by a certain time in the evenings. Sober houses provide an opportunity for an individual to continue to be supported in their sobriety, but with less supervision than in an inpatient setting.


What Does Treatment for Sex Addiction Look Like Part 1: Inpatient/Residential (AKA Rehab)

People often ask the question about whether or not sex addiction really exists. Along with that, they also often ask what sex addiction rehab looks like, and how long it takes to recover. Because many people are familiar with rehab for chemical addictions such as alcohol and drugs, they often do not understand what that would look like for a process addiction, like sex addiction. So, this is the first of a four-part blog series written to clarify what sex addiction treatment looks like. The series will discuss the different levels of care available to those that struggle with sex addiction, what each level entails, how to know if it’s a good fit, and additional considerations.


How To "Be the Change" for Addiction in Your Area

If you scrolled past this post and thought, “oh, we really don’t have that problem in our area”, then this post is for you. Recently, local news featured a story exposing the significant drug problem, particularly related to the deadly drug Heroin, in some very affluent areas in metro Atlanta. As is often the case with these types of news specials and documentaries, the special was eye opening and left many viewers wondering what they could do to help. This blog post features a few suggestions as to what you, yes you, can do to promote change as it relates to addiction and other mental health issues in your community. 


1.            Acknowledge that there is a problem, even in your neighborhood. Addiction is not a disease that just affects certain people. The research and evidence consistently shows that individuals from a number of socioeconomic backgrounds are impacted by addiction. By acknowledging that there is a problem that exists and avoiding judgment among your own circles of friends, families, and coworkers you can promote change.