San Diego trauma therapy

Healing Conversations

Too often trauma gets dismissed as just in our head, but the pain is real. We feel it in our muscles, our cells, our hearts, our heads. And while there’s no magic fix, no pill to make it disappear, we can ask for help. And we can tell our truth whenever we are ready.
— Grey's Anatomy

How people respond when we share our stories of trauma can have a tremendous impact on our healing.  Last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was titled “Silent All These Years” and it did an amazing job addressing sexual and domestic violence.  It followed 3 main story lines which included providing support immediately after the crime, conversations that happen years later, and talking about consent.

When someone shares their experience of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence, it may feel like opening up a wound, or it may feel like sharing a chapter from a book that happened long ago.  There can be a whole range of emotions depending on where the person is in their healing journey.  How it feels can also vary based on who they are sharing with and the context.  There is no right or wrong way to feel. 

It is up to a survivor to decide who to tell and when.  Again, there is no right or wrong way.  Some may reach out for help immediately to one, or to a few, or to many.  Some may not speak about it for years.  Some may share at one point and then never talk about it again.  For some, this may be a conversation that they come back to again one day in future relationships.  Some may find that it gets a little easier to share their story as time goes on.  For some, it may feel just as overwhelming as the first time.  There is no right or wrong way to feel.  There is no set timeline.

There is however, a right way to respond.  When someone shares their story, they are being vulnerable both with you and with themself.  When the person is met with compassion and support, it can contribute to greater healing.  When the person is met with doubt or victim blaming, those responses can be internalized.  One of the best responses is “It’s not your fault. I believe you.”

Towards the end of the Grey’s episode, we see a survivor being brought to surgery by her doctors.  When they enter the hallway, it is lined with women.  No words are needed.  The message is powerful.  We are here to support you.  


Scene from Grey’s Anatomy: Silent All These Years

It’s the showing up that matters the most.  It’s the compassion.  It’s the solidarity.  It’s someone saying, “It’s not your fault. I believe you.” It’s knowing that we are not alone. When we are met with those things, our strength grows. It is in those moments and in those conversations that healing is happening.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. For more information, visit the RAINN website. Contact me to consult further on this topic or to schedule a therapy appointment.

Most Holidays Aren’t a Hallmark Movie: Tips for the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of year.  Or is it an emotional and stressful time of year?  Likely, it’s somewhere between the two.  

If you are someone who struggles finding constant joy this season you are not alone.  The holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons.  It can feel like there’s pressure from society to have this picture perfect family holiday full of traditions and nothing but laughter and good times.  You may feel like that is true for others but the reality of your life is different.  There may be the thoughts like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be ‘normal?’”  Maybe your holidays are overall “ok” but… Maybe there are feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe they’re stressful for other reasons.

There is no “normal” or “perfect.” We all need this reminder.  Also, I can guarantee that there are other people having similar thoughts. In my years as a therapist (and all my years of being alive frankly), I have seen many people struggle this time of year.  Heck, I’ve struggled at times.  There can be an increase in mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression. There can be an increase in substance use or relapse for those in recovery.  There can be an increase in interpersonal conflicts.  So what can you do to get through the season?  

Helpful Tips for the Holidays

  1. Self Care - This is important year round and is especially important during the holidays.  Schedules can get hectic with travel or holiday related events.  Don’t neglect yourself.  If you have found a routine of exercise, meditation, or other forms of self care try to keep this a priority.  If you miss something one day, forgive yourself and get back on track.  

  2. Keep Your Boundaries - These could be boundaries with how you spend time or boundaries with individuals in your life.  Keep the balance that works for you. Sometimes holidays mean being around people you don’t usually see.  It could be family or other individuals that caused pain in the past. Identify people that can offer support if needed at events and people that will be there to reach out to after.  

  3. Sleep - Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and sleep goes out the window.  Sleep is key to our physical and mental wellbeing.  If you get off schedule, give yourself time to get back on track.  

  4. Make Room for Your Feelings - Don’t try to eat or drink them away.  These and other forms of numbing only “work” for a short time and they’ll still be there. Acknowledge your feelings.  Be curious about them.  You don’t have to put on a facade of constant joy because of the season.  When we make room for our true feelings, we learn to ride the wave because they will change.  Journal about them.  Talk to someone about them.  Most importantly, feel them. 

  5. Live in the Moment - Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the planning of events and gifts that before we know it we have missed enjoying being in the moment.  Slow down.  Breathe. Enjoy what’s happening in the now.  

  6. Practice Gratitude - Notice what it is you do enjoy and appreciate.  Maybe it’s something about the season (ie weather, movies, music, events, peppermint mochas, or gingerbread).  Maybe it’s something you value year round that you want to give extra acknowledgement to and thanks for.  This actually helps build positive emotional pathways in the brain. 

  7. Take the Pressure Off Yourself - You don’t have to work so hard trying to create the perfect holiday for others. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do (within reason of course).  If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, you don’t have to.  If you can’t afford to give that expensive gift, don’t.  Listen to your gut.  You do you. 

  8. Make the Holidays Your Own - Someone else’s idea of a “magical” holiday season doesn’t need to be what yours is.  If there are holiday events you want to attend, go for it.  If you want to cook yourself an awesome meal, you can do that. If you want to go sit on the beach with your dog, that’s cool too.  You can start your own traditions.  You get to choose.  

  9. Connect - Sometimes we want to hide in our safety cocoons.  That can be ok to some extent.  Sometimes when we want to isolate, what would really be best for us is to connect.  Find people to talk to.  This may be friends or family.  It may be professional support like a therapist.  Talk to someone about what the holidays are like for you and how you are doing this season.  You don’t have to go through it alone.  

When we stop trying to make the holidays fit an ideal, we give ourselves permission to find enjoyment in what they really are.  Again, your holiday can be whatever you want it to be.  Take a few minutes and think about what you really would enjoy doing this time of year.  Picture your ideal holiday.  Make plans to do as many of those things as possible.

Remember, the stress of the holidays will pass.  It is normal for emotions to fluctuate especially during the holiday season.  There may be moments of stress, moments of joy, moments of tears, moments of laughter, and so much more. 

Wherever you are in your life this season, take care of yourself.  It’s both ok and normal if your holidays aren’t like a Hallmark Movie.  Maybe they’re more like a prime time drama or a reality show on Bravo. Whatever the holiday season brings, know we’ll all muddle through somehow.  2019 is just around the corner.  

If you need extra support do not hesitate to reach out. You can email me to schedule a therapy session. For 24/7 Support contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

When the News Is Triggering: Self Care for Survivors

It has been an especially rough few weeks in the news when it comes to the topic of sexual assault.  Several women have come forward accusing Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh of sexual assault.  There are the ignorant statements in response to this from other political leaders including President Trump (someone who has also been accused of sexual assault).  Then, there are the sexual abuse cases involving priests. Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced for 3-10 years for sexual assault. This was the sentence for the criminal case involving one of the women who came forward. For survivors of sexual assault and all those impacted by (and dedicated to preventing) these crimes - loved ones of survivors, advocates, educators, professional supports, and more - it can be both overwhelming and triggering to follow these events in the news.  

Some days, it feels like you can’t keep your eyes away from the headlines.  Then, even though you know you probably shouldn’t, you scroll down to the comments.  That’s when the blood really starts to boil (at least for me).  There is so much misinformation and a general lack of information out there regarding sexual violence and the impact of trauma on an individual. There’s so much victim blaming and minimization of these crimes.  Some survivors choose not to watch the news at all in effort to protect themselves from being triggered.  Some survivors may not be able to take their eyes off it.  Maybe it’s a way to desensitize. Maybe they’re trying to understand other people’s perspectives.  Maybe because they are looking for the comments of support from advocates and other survivors.  Maybe they are wanting to leave comments themselves.  However you are reacting to these events, it is important to practice self care. 

Tips for Self Care:

  1. Utilize Your Supports.  Reach out to friends and other survivors.  Reach out to local agencies and hotlines.  Talk to a therapist. Process your thoughts on these events and what it may be bringing up for you.  Know you are not alone.  

  2. Try Not to Personalize Comments. This can be VERY hard. Survivors may have a part of themselves that self blames or may have people in their lives that made statements that were victim blaming or judgmental.  When reading these comments it can fire up those negative thoughts. These people who are making ignorant comments do not know you.  They do not know your story.  They likely don’t even know facts on the stories they are commenting on.  Breathe.  Scream if it helps you.  Write a response if it helps.  See Tip 1 and talk to your support system. 

  3. Find Balance in Information You Take In.  In addition to the various news outlets, try to follow organizations that provide support to survivors.  These include RAINN, Victims Rights Law Center, YWCA, and local rape crisis centers.  They are also posting statements and articles in support of survivors.  They are sharing important educational information in efforts to make people better informed.  People are commenting words of support and compassion.  Take those statements in.  

  4. Sweat It Out.  Physical exercise is one of the best forms of self care.  It is especially important for survivors.  It helps you to get connected to your body.  It helps you to feel physically strong.  It can help to clear your mind.  Put on those sneakers and go for a run or take a class.  You will notice a difference. 

  5. Find Creative Outlets. Many people benefit from expressing their thoughts and emotions through art work, journaling, and music.  Maybe you create these works yourself or maybe you enjoy appreciating others creations. Find what inspires you. 

  6. Identify What You Need to Heal.  Healing isn’t always linear.  What you needed when you first began this journey may be different from what you need now.  Some find healing through sharing their story, some through a new form of therapy, some by taking legal action (i.e. with criminal or civil charges), some become advocates or educators, and much much more. What do you need to do for yourself at this time?  It’s ok to try something new.  How you heal may be different from others and that is ok.  Take care of you.  

  7. Know your limit.  There may be a point when you can no longer take in the news.  Maybe you need to take a break.  Maybe you need to walk away completely.  

  8. Know Times Are Changing.  The previous administration was committed to improving prevention education and decreasing sexual violence (Obama’s Title IX Guidance).  There are college campuses that provide bystander intervention and trainings on consent.  Military provides these trainings as well.  Some schools are starting these important conversations for youth at younger ages.  The #MeToo movement is strong.  People are coming forward with their stories.  People are passionate about preventing this violence from continuing, about bringing perpetrators to justice, and about supporting survivors. 


This week I found myself getting to a place of curiosity about and calmness towards the people who are making ignorant comments about sexual violence (between the moments of blood boiling).  I wonder what they may have experienced and what messages they have received about these types of crimes.  I reminded myself that it has not been that long that we have been talking more openly about these crimes and providing prevention education.  Many of these individuals making statements do not know how to define sexual assault, rape, or consent.  They haven’t learned about bystander intervention.  They do not know how trauma impacts an individual.  A lack of knowledge doesn’t excuse their ignorant and insensitive remarks. It does help me understand their perspective a bit more (I don’t agree, but I get where they’re coming from more). 

I wish someone would do a presentation for our elected officials so that they would have this information.  The Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women comes to mind as a possible presenter because of the grant work I took part in on college campuses. Maybe then, politicians would have compassionate statements about those coming forward with their stories of sexual assault. Maybe then, they could make better informed decisions (for example, who has the values we want represented on the Supreme Court).  If these elected officials could at least experience the trainings that are now mandated on many college campuses and by military branches they would likely learn a lot and their perspective could shift. 

Who knows what headline we will see next and what statements will come from our political leaders.  Times are changing, not as quickly as I would like, but they are changing.  I encourage all survivors and people who care about this topic to take care of yourself.  These stories in the news will keep coming.  We all have an important role to play in how history is rewritten for survivors through our support, advocacy, and education.  I have hope that things will get better.   I hope that one day when I read an article about sexual assault accusations that the quotes from our leaders will consistently be a commitment to finding the truth and justice or a statement of compassion and in support of healing.  A movement has started. #MeToo 

If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657.