Coping with Violence

warrior pride1I am a warrior.  I am proud to be one, but on December 13, 2013 the circumstances at Arapahoe High School were nothing to feel proud about.  It was senseless violence, in a school…again.  Understanding what happened and why will be unfolding over the months ahead, but for now, this event brings up a good topic for everyone to consider:  How to cope with violence.

I am going to focus on the mental health side of coping, even though there are many other areas to cover.  The change that happens in someone’s brain when they encounter violence is clear.  It is life-changing.  Thought patterns change, biology changes, and life will not quite hold the same innocence as it once may have.  Everyone will have a reaction to the trauma and need to take time to allow themselves to process though it.  This may happen right away, but it may not.  For some people, it is too scary to talk much about and that is okay.  Even just talking about it can re-traumatize someone, so it is important to move at an individual’s pace.

Here are a few things that may help:

* Get back into a routine

* Be around others who experienced the trauma

* Talk about it as much as you need to

* Increase self care activities (exercise, hobbies, friends, spa treatments)

* Ask for help if needed

Some people are not able to cope and quickly recover from trauma.  These individuals are at risk for developing PTSD.   To see a list of  symptoms for PTSD, click here.  If any of these symptoms emerge, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.  The World Health Organization recommends EMDR for the treatment of PTSD.  You can read more about the WHO’s treatment recommendations here.  To read more about EMDR, click here.

Violence is difficult to deal with, especially for kids and teens.  The good news is that there are effective treatments available.  In the case of the kids, teachers and staff from Arapahoe High School, there is also a very large community offering support in every way possible.

Those wishing to donate to the “Arapahoe High School Community Fund Honoring Claire Davis” can do so online by visiting


The ACE Study

The ACE Study

Have you heard about the ACE study?  I am fond of any research that has implications for making treatment more successful.  This one seems to show what many therapists and counselors have already observed:  The more trauma an individual has in early life, the more medical conditions he or she is likely to have.  This study was huge.  It was done by Kaiser Permenente in California and it was a questionnaire that was given to every patient that came to their primary care physician.  The sample size was larger than most research in the field and the findings were very clear.  Individuals were asked if they had any early life traumas listed on the questionaire.  They were items such as abuse (all kinds), loss of a parent (by any means), having a parent with an addiction, etc.  They found a direct correlation to the number of traumas (see Do I Have Trauma) that an individual experienced and the number of medical issues experienced.  Yes, trauma and the body are connected!

You see, our minds and our bodies are CONNECTED.  Often our minds are able to put things on the back burner, or not think about certain things, but our bodies remember.  The trauma never goes away unless it is addressed and re-processed.  It is stored not only in our brains but in our body memory as well.  It would make sense, then, that these difficult experiences over time would have a significant impact on the body- a disease or an addiction.  Many people know this intuitively, but the beauty of this study is that we now have scientific data that backs this up.

If you have had difficult experiences in your life, please find a licensed, qualified therapist that you can talk to about them.  Better yet, find an EMDR therapist to help you work through these things and you can improve your mind and body health.  For more about EMDR, go to: What About EMDR or EMDR Trauma Therapy.

To read more about the study, go to:


Do I Have Trauma?

Trauma is such a loaded word, and I think a very misunderstood one.  What is trauma, and how does someone know if they have been traumatized?  One of the leading researches who studies trauma is Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD who offers this definition: “A trauma is when your biology (physiology) is assaulted in such a way that you may not be able to reset yourself.”  So, according to this definition, it is less about what happens and more about how people are impacted by the event.

The biology of trauma is fascinating and not something I will delve into here, but the brain and the body automatically shift gears in an emergency in order to help elicit the fight, flight or freeze response.  This is purely human nature and serves people well in a crisis.  After the crisis, the brain and the body try to recover.  Sometimes this does not happen fully and there are ‘marks’ (biological changes) left on the brain from the trauma that make it difficult to recover.  This may come in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, avoiding situations/people/places, re-living the event, depression, anxiety, agitation, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, headaches, stomach trouble, etc.  These symptoms do not get better without treatment- that is the bad news.  The good news is that there is treatment!  A combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR (see What About EMDR?) can help many people who have been impacted by a traumatic life event.

And finally, many people ask, “What qualifies as a traumatic event?”  The answer is that it can be anything from a large scale natural disaster or terrorist act, to something more personal like the death of a loved one, divorce, or a move.  It can also be something that happened a long time ago, such as childhood abuse. Often, these things emerge later in life when people are in a place to deal with the past.  No matter what the event, if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty after a traumatic event, make an appointment with a licensed therapist who has training with trauma and EMDR.