Webinar presenter Amy Morgan answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Growth as a Post Trauma Response. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Comment: Why is it that when we hear somebody was in an accident, so many people are truly understanding, they share their own experiences, but when we go on something traumatic and it’s more on the emotional side or there are mental health effects, why is it we don’t talk about it?
Amy Morgan: So much stigma. That’s the answer. It’s obviously my whole entire goal to work on changing that. To make it okay for people to go get help. To normalize it. “I have an injury.” “Oh, yeah. Is it physical or mental?” “It’s mental.” “Cool. Go get some help.” It should be just that. “Oh, you have a traumatic experience. Let’s get you to the E.R. before you lose your arm” or “Hey, let’s get you to a therapist before you lose your life.” The reason is people are concerned that people would think badly of them because they’re not coping with their life well. And we’re all supposed to cope with life fine. Everything supposed to be great. We’re not supposed to have any issues, stress or challenges. It’s just a stigma and it needs to change. That’s going to take everyone looking at it and approaching it differently and responding to it differently when it happens.
Audience Comment: Are you seeing that stigma start to change or are you seeing that process happening?
Amy Morgan: I think it does somewhat. It is some areas and in some areas I go to teach, they’re taking it on, you know, full forge ahead. They’re just like, “Let’s do this. Let’s get out there and help.” And there are responders or whoever. Then, there are, of course, always lots of topics(?) where people are like: “Yeah, let’s (49:22 indiscernible). It depends on where you are and who you are talking to. Kind of like, any change, I have a friend who uses the analogy of turning a huge boat. You can’t just turn… you can’t make a U-turn in a ship. It’s a slow methodical process that you have to do a little a time and finally the ship will be turned.
Audience Comment: When you say trauma, can this also include natural disasters? When I say natural because it may be natural but it’s still a disaster. Like surviving a house fire or a tornado. Do those count as well?
Amy Morgan: Absolutely. It doesn’t matter if someone did it. It doesn’t matter if it was arson or if your house happened to burn down because your sink heater fell over. Or if it’s a hurricane, a tornado, or earthquake or whatever it is, it’s all shocking and unexpected. It’s all you fear for your life, for your safety. You got to go back to that list of the things. It’s shocking and unexpected. Yeah, I didn’t expect that earthquake to come through, and you know, whatever. Yeah, absolutely. Especially if there was a loss of life, when you know if someone was in the house or whatever it happens to be. Absolutely, they all qualify.
Audience Question: Could you expand on complex PTSD? What is it and how is it different than trauma, how does it relate, that kind of thing?
Amy Morgan: Complex trauma, I’m going to address it instead of Complex PTSD because that’s a diagnosis. It’s somewhat cumulative. Complex trauma is also, begins in childhood and it often has something to do with childhood sexual abuse. It’s called this as opposed to saying childhood sexual trauma. But that’s very often what it’s referring to.
Audience Question: What about hostile or toxic environment? It’s not a single event but it’s a constant environmental situation. Is that somewhere along the line of complex trauma?
Amy Morgan: Some would say it’s complex trauma and whether it’s trauma or not, you have to go back to the list, the criteria list of what qualifies as trauma. If someone is in an ongoing abusive relationship for example, if you fear for your safety, that’s trauma. If you fear for your life, that’s trauma. If it’s continuous, all day long, that is just a continuous state of traumatizing environment. If someone abuses someone else, that’s an event. But then it happens the next day, so that’s another event. So then you have cumulative trauma. You have all of the other things that go along with that. You’re going to end up having multiple mental health concerns related to that, and situational concerns, and safety concerns and all these other things that go with it. Again, if you’re wondering if something is trauma go back to the criteria list. I think people often ask this question, I’m going to veer off a bit, people ask this question a lot and so I’m trying to answer this with thirteen hundred people’s question with one example. But, I’m trying to be very careful. Because I don’t want somebody to go; “Oh, she said it was close to this” and I don’t want to that. Go back to the criteria list and go back and say; “It is this, this, this and this. This fits into this or somewhat close to this. Whatever.” We’re not black and white, none of them is black and white. What part of it makes it hard to diagnose and you could have multiple things. People, I think who asks these questions a lot would say; “I feel traumatized because I’m in a such and such situation. A hostile environment or a toxic person or a relationship. You don’t have to have it qualify as trauma by the criteria list in order for you to know you’re in a bad situation. If you’re in a bad situation, then you’re in a bad situation. Nobody needs to tell you that it’s trauma to know that it’s a bad situation. It’s hard because when you’re in these situations, it’s not black and white. I’m just going back to toxic or domestic violence situations as an example. It’s not like you can go; “Oh, that was an event and it was traumatic, and I’m out!” It’s just not that cut and dry. It should be from the outside looking in but it’s just not that way. There’s so much gray. There are patterns, there are emotions, there are relationships, there are all these things. I think I get asked this question because in different ways; “But this qualify?” Don’t look to qualify as much as to look to take care of yourself or someone else. If you think it’s bad, it’s probably bad.
Audience Question: What about families of missing individuals that are on an ongoing trauma? Healing and growth can certainly take place but how do you deal with that? I’m going to go on a side note here, I’ve heard of this coined or term used as “ambiguous loss”?
Amy Morgan: You have a webinar on that. Duane… and a great one. Go back and look through the Justice Clearinghouse webinars and he taught that class for Academy Hour as well as an online class. But as far as it is a trauma, when you’ve had the initial loss, fearing for someone’s life or safety then continuously not knowing is still… it’s that continuous situation again. You’re still fearing for someone’s life and safety because you just don’t know. You just don’t know what happens until you’re constantly in that state of fear. It’s absolutely a trauma. How do you heal from that? You definitely need closure. You’re not healing from the loss. You’re not healing from fear of the person’s safety or their situation or their life. You’re trying to just figure out how you can keep living your life while in this state of wondering and worrying. Basically.
Audience Question: Is there a better way to encourage a trauma victim to heal towards growth?
Amy Morgan: Well, there’s two things. There’s healing and there’s growth. Absolutely encourage someone to heal by getting them all the support they can get. Pulling in all the resources. I use this example a lot when I teach officers and law enforcement. In a mass casualty incident, whatever that happens to be, whether it’s a tornado or a shooting, you just have a lot of things going on and you need a lot of resources brought in. If you’re in a small town, for example, you only have three ambulances in a town or whatever it is and you need twelve. You’re going to call all the neighboring communities. You’re going to call all the departments around you and you’re going to say; “Hey, we need you guys here. We need you to bring in more ambulances.” You’re bringing in outside resources because you only have so much yourself. It’s the same thing when you go through a trauma. We only as individuals, as human beings have a limited amount of resources within ourselves. You have to bring in those other things. You have to call your friends. You have to call counselors. Your pastors or whoever it is that’s your supportive networks if you can find a supportive network. You have to bring those in because you only have so much yourself. The way to do that, you know, you can encourage someone towards healing, like I said, you can’t say; “Hey, you should try to grow from this.” It has to be an internal reflection. You could probably help someone try to reflect. Try to say not; “Hey, what can you do from this?” but say it like; “How has this affected you?” Counseling series of sessions, treatment plans, will help them talk through how it has affected them and that could cause reflection. You can’t say; “Hey, you should make something positive about this.” It’s an internal growth process like pretty much every growth process we have. It’s something you do within yourself.
Audience Question: It sounds like you’re also saying while you’re still injured that should be your focus. Are you necessarily ready to do the “growth” until you’ve healed those “bones” as you were talking about earlier?
Amy Morgan: Remember I said the injury? The next goal is healing. The goal should always be healing. The goal should not be post-traumatic growth. The goal should be healing. Post-traumatic growth comes sometimes as a situation that comes out of it. In life, you can always make your goal to grow. We should all be trying to grow at all times. Your goal is healing. And as part of suffering, for a lack of a better word, as part of the healing process, some people tend to choose things that help them grow. Healing should be your ultimate goal. Always try to heal. Don’t skip that step and try to say; “I’m just going to grow.” You got to heal first. You can’t be like; “I’m just going to skip this, because you’re skipping a really important part. It’s a process, it’s all a process.
Audience Question: How does this relate to complex trauma and adverse childhood experiences or ACEs?
Amy Morgan: Right. Same thing. It’s an internal process. As the child grows into adulthood or if the child is already an adult and experiencing all the residual effects of childhood trauma and adverse experience. It’s still an internal thing. You have to heal first. You have to focus on the healing. And as some people heal they tend to say; “Now I’m starting to see that I can make it past this and I want to help other people.” Some may choose to work with children. Again, when you’re helping someone else, your goal in helping someone else who’ve experienced trauma is still to help them heal. And to help them to get to the right resources that can help them heal. It’s an internal process that leads someone to reflect. I’m going to give us a weird example. You can’t change other people. As much as you’d like to change someone else, think how hard it is to change yourself. If I were to give up coffee to save the world, but if I were to give up coffee it would be an internal decision. And someone else couldn’t come to me and say; “You need to give up coffee.” Then I just do it. It’s a cognitive thing. It’s not a behavioral thing. You do the cognitive first. CBT. You have to change your thinking about something. It would be me deciding for myself and even if I decided for myself I need to give up coffee and I have a litany reasons why and I could justify everything I should give up coffee for, it’s still going to be a hard process. And that’s me deciding. It’s still hard. It’s habits, it’s all of these things, and so many thought processes that go with changing yourself. Imagine someone else trying to do that to you. You have to do it internally when you decide to make changes in your life. It’s internal. They can bring in outside resources. But that person has to bring in, they have to want to do it and they have to decide things. It’s such an internal process.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Growth as a Post Trauma Response.