Today, We Remember......

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

Today, We Remember....…

It was a typical Tuesday morning.....fall weather, crisp and a little cool in the morning.....the hint of the season change was in the air. I was in my office when someone stuck their head in the door and said “there’s been a plane crash in New York City.” Walking down the hall to the break room, I saw everyone doing the same. I walked in the door and the TV was on and there on screen were the World Trade Center Towers with smoke billowing out of one of them. And just at that moment, a plane flew into the second tower. All the air went out of the room, it was like instantaneously being in a vacuum. And every one of us knew at that moment that this was no accident and that life as we knew it was forever changed.

Later I came to find that someone that I actually knew was among the 2,996 souls who transitioned on that day. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I realized that I was watching at the moment of his death.

It has been 18 years since that day.....September 11, 2001.....what became remembered as “9-11.” At times when I look at a clock and see that it is 9:11, I still stop for a moment and the images flood back from my memories of that day, of watching the world change. It was a day that showcased humanity at it’s worst and at it’s best.....hate and love.....tragedy and triumph.....selflessness, for reasons that were both right and wrong.....bravery beyond anything I could ever imagine myself doing.....and 18 years later I still cry.

Today we remember.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

This is A National Tragedy

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The suicide rate among our veterans is alarming. That rate has been climbing steadily for the past twenty years. Last year there were a record 541 suicides reported by active duty personnel alone. The number of suicides among veterans is sometimes a very elusive number to measure as many cannot be confirmed due to various circumstances.

Our military has been engaged in active combat theatre operations for over twenty years, the longest continuous deployments in our country’s history. Many have served multiple deployments. Asymmetrical warfare has created a very different level of stress and the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have skyrocketed and as a result the Veterans Administration has been overwhelmed by veterans seeking services.

Most of us have family members and friends who are or have served in the military. All of us know that military service requires great sacrifice and dedication and we owe all those who serve or have served our gratitude. Our support and encouragement are powerful expressions of that gratitude.

Military culture has struggled with how to deal with mental health issues, much like our civilian culture in general has also struggled. Recognition, empathy, encouragement, and support are issues in both cultures. In order to truly be of service to each other, we need to be aware and accepting. All too often, mental health issues can be isolative and this exacerbates these issues.

“If you see something, say something” has become a very familiar phrase to us all. It is time for us all to truly do just that. If we see something that is a concern, we should voice that concern. Often, just acknowledging an issue gives permission to address that issue. Saying nothing gives that issue permission to continue and it also labels it as something that is negative. Mental health issues have often been in the shadows; it is time that we bring them into the light.

And always be sure to say thank you to those who have served.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images-pixabay.com

The Power of Ceremony

Alison and Jim

Alison and Jim



On Sunday, September 29, 2019 Alison Brooks and I will be facilitating the Radical Forgiveness Ceremony. We very much enjoy presenting the Ceremony to the community and plan to do so every fourth Sunday of the month. Our passion to present the Ceremony is because it is an opportunity for healing: every time we have presented the Ceremony, we have seen obvious, and sometimes, extreme, healing take place for participants. Even while leading the Ceremony, we also experience healing benefits. Whenever there is an opportunity to heal, the soul will move towards that opportunity. Ceremony creates that opportunity.

The Ceremony that we present is derived from the Native American tradition. Indigenous cultures utilize ceremony throughout their day to day existence; ceremony is done daily for activities such as preparation of food, greeting others, acknowledging Nature, for emotional, physical, and spiritual healing, giving thanks and appreciation, communicating with the Elders and Unseen Spirits, and many more circumstances. Ceremony is an integral part of life itself. As cultures become more “civilized”, our use of Ceremony decreases. We still have Ceremony for special occasions or purpose, such as weddings, funerals, and graduations, but there tend to be for far fewer opportunities compared to indigenous cultures.

We respond to Ceremony because of the power of the focused, purpose driven behavior. It evokes a deep response from a soul level in all of us. Ceremony moves that deep energy. The movement of that deep energy can feel magical to us and in effect, it is: the magical effect of the thankful acknowledgement of the importance of all things can be profound. Indigenous peoples would include the use of sound via music, singing, and chanting as well as movement such as dance to accentuate the importance of the ceremony and to also provide opportunity for the moving energy to be expressed. The joy of music and dance is something we can all relate to: haven’t we all just felt good when we allowed ourselves to just respond to the rhythms of music and begin to move, to dance?

Now, the Radical Forgiveness Ceremony is not going to involve dancing around a fire or anything like that, but it does evoke that deep soul energy and provides an opportunity for it to move. And the result of that movement is beneficial. From our deepest heart, Alison and I invite you to participate in the Ceremony so that you may experience this movement of deep energy. We know that you will feel it and that it will be healing for you in some way. Please take a moment to check out the details regarding the upcoming ceremony in the Events section of the website, which also will walk you through registering for the event. We would love to have your energetic participation in the sacred time and space of the Ceremony.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

“Hello darkness, my old friend.....”

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The opening words to “The Sounds of Silence” by Paul Simon have always resonated deeply within me ever since I first heard them in 1965. At the time, I was young and confused, living in a very confusing time, struggling to develop a sense of myself and seeming to be good at one thing—failure.

As I look back upon that time in my journey, I see how doubt, most especially self-doubt, was my constant companion, my personal nemesis. Whatever choice I made, it always was accompanied by self-doubt. This made for a “perfect storm” of teenage awkwardness, frustration, and lack of self-confidence. I was always searching for something that I could be good at and never seemed able to find it. When others around me began to discover things that they were good at, it only intensified my own doubt and dissatisfaction with myself.

Over the years that followed, I pushed myself very hard to try to find something where I would once and for all feel confident in myself. I was outstanding academically, I developed into a reasonably good athlete, I excelled in martial arts training.....but always there was that voice of self-doubt that would whisper in my ear and always I would find myself listening and believing. This doubt fueled my self-medicating behavior, first with food, then later expanding into alcohol and drugs. That self-medicating continued for 25 years, until finally I was able to achieve my sobriety and enter into honest recovery. But still, the doubt remained.

My self-doubt was my own personal seismograph, the needle always indicating tremor activity punctuated by the frequent major quake. My career was progressing in positive ways, but my personal life, my marriage, was floundering. I was fearful of parenting and even after finding to my great surprise that I seemed to be pretty good at it, I always doubted my decisions. To this day, I look at the amazing young woman that my daughter has become and wonder if there was any way I contributed to that.

I experienced divorce, remarrying, and then being widowed. Constantly, the self-doubt remained my dark companion. And then, I encountered the “game changer”......Radical Forgiveness.

Are you willing to accept the possibility that everything that has happened is in some way perfect? This is the basic premise of Radical Forgiveness. Through the application of this question and the other approaches that I learned via Radical Forgiveness, I found myself able to finally counter that persistent inner voice of self-doubt. Is that voice still there? Absolutely. Does it hold control over me? Not as it once did. Radical Forgiveness has equipped me with the tools needed to address the self-doubt when it occurs and to redirect myself to more positive outcomes. Like every human, I could be more consistent....but when I consistently apply the principles of Radical Forgiveness, I consistently achieve better results.

Adding Radical Forgiveness principles to my counseling approach has resulted in my clients progressing more efficiently and effectively in the pursuit of their goals. My colleague, Alison Brooks, and I have been personally trained and certified by Colin Tipping, the founder of Radical Forgiveness and the director of the Radical Forgiveness Institute. Colin recently completed his journey in this life and now those that he trained will carry on the teachings of Radical Forgiveness. Alison and I present the Radical Forgiveness Ceremony each month, which is an excellent introduction to Radical Forgiveness and in itself a powerful opportunity to experience healing. We also offer a 10 week (30 hour) intensive Radical Forgiveness Class that provides a thorough training in the principles and their application. Alison and I provide Radical Forgiveness Coaching sessions live and remotely.

If you are ready to address your self-doubt and achieve the happiness and sense of satisfaction that you deserve, we invite you to allow us the honor of being in service to you.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Influences

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Following recent blogs where I acknowledged Dr. Thomas Szaz and Joseph Campbell for their influence on my development as a therapist, I have had several inquiries regarding what other influences have helped to shape my practice of psychotherapy.

After receiving these inquiries, which were something of a surprise to me, I gave it some thought and decided to do some blogs on some more of the theories that have been most influential to me in my work:
Erik Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
Carl Jung’s Twelve Archetypes
Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Today I’m going to focus on Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. In his theory there are six stages of development that fall under three broad categories or levels.

Kohlberg based his theory on the developmental theories of Jean Piaget. While they are more complex, I think they are very accurate in terms of the development across a moral spectrum. Some cultures may have different value systems and therefore you would see differences in the percentages of the population that appear in each stage. The age ranges given denote when you normally would see this stage of development take place, but they are by no means exact: some may take longer to move through a stage, while some may never progress beyond a certain stage. Differences in developmental levels may lead to conflict; for example, within families it can be very common for parents to view adolescents as “rebellious” as they naturally move through different stages

Level One: Pre-Conventional
This level is typically found in children ages 4 to 10 years.
Stage One: Punishment vs. Obedience
Children at this level tend to obey rules only to avoid punishment. “No” and “stop” are the basic parameters.
Stage Two: Instrumental Purpose & Exchange
All actions at this stage are based on total self-interest. The primary considerations is what others can do for me. We are, in this stage, naturally selfish.

Level Two: Conventional
This level is typical for ages 10 to 13 years, although some individuals may never progress beyond this level.
Stage Three: Mutual Relations
At this stage, acts are evaluated according to the motives behind them and circumstances are given consideration. Individuals at this stage want to help others, can begin to judge the intentions of others, and begin to develop their own ideas about morality. Because experience is still limited at this stage, there can be a great deal of naïveté.
Stage Four: Social Concern & Conscience
A “law and order” mentality is predominant at this stage. Respect for authority, doing your duty, and maintaining the social order are the primary concerns. Here, if an act harms others or violates a rule of law, it is considered wrong. Most moral decisions are made in polarized terms (good/bad, black/white, etc.)

Level Three: Post-Conventional
This level is usually achieved in adolescence to early adulthood, but there are individuals who never reach this level.
Stage Five: Morality of Contract, Rights, and Law
At this stage, individuals are placing emphasis on the will of the majority and the well-being of society. Although individuals at this stage may recognize that there are times when human need and the law are conflicted, they believe that it is better if people simply follow the law.
Stage Six: Universal Ethical Morality
In this stage, individuals do what they think is morally correct, even if those actions are in conflict with the currently established laws. Kohlberg felt that very few people ever achieved this level of development and often cited Mohatma Ghandi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as modern examples. Interestingly, Kohlberg noted that individuals who reach this stage of development are often viewed as threats to the current accepted social order and as a consequence of that are often martyred. Sadly, history appears to affirm this.

Given these stages, there is potential for conflict. Individuals at one stage of development may view someone at a lower level of development in judgmental ways, while at times seeing someone at a higher stage as either a hero or a threat. Many times, people are most comfortable around others who think and feel as they do: this can become problematic and history again provides us with many examples of this. In a democratic society where the freedoms of thought and expression are provided, the conflict of ideas is inevitable. It is through that conflict of ideas that compromise and advancement can become available. Chaos and conflict provide opportunity.

Next up, Sigmund Freud’s former wingman, Carl Jung.....

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The Hero’s Journey

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In my work with clients, I am given the privilege and the honor to participate in their journey. Each of us has our own journey in our life, no two are exactly the same. The journey is epic and it is heroic. Engaging in counseling is joining in that journey.

We all resonate with the epic journey. In every language, in every culture, you find the stories of the epic journey. The stories that were once told around the tribal fire by the elders are now told in books and movies. At a very young age when we are learning to read, we read fairy tales. As we grow, the fairy tales are replaced by mythology, fantasy, science fiction, religion.

Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative religion and mythology, wrote several books describing the epic nature of the journey and these books became one of the foundations for my work with clients. Through my reading of

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, “The Masks of God”, “The Power of Myth”, and “The Hero’s Journey”, I came to better understand the power and the attraction that we all have to the epic journey, the Great Story.

Campbell wrote that there are twelve stages to the hero’s journey. As I describe each stage, think of how this relates to your own personal journey:

  1. The Ordinary World: this is where the Hero exists before the journey, unaware of the adventure that lies ahead. The Hero is human, just like us all, and so we develop empathy for them.

  2. The Call to Adventure: the Hero receives a call to action. Whatever the call is and however it manifests itself, it disrupts the Hero’s ordinary world and presents a challenge or a quest that must be undertaken.

  3. The Refusal: the Hero must face their fears and doubts. We relate to this.

  4. Meeting the Mentor: the Hero encounters a mentor who provides wisdom, training, and confidence. This allows the Hero to overcome fear and doubt, providing the strength and courage needed to begin the quest.

  5. Crossing the Threshold: the Hero begins the quest, leaving their comfort zone. This the Hero’s commitment.

  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: the Hero encounters and must overcome obstacles, learning who can be trusted, who are allies, and who are enemies. All of these are preparations for ordeals yet to come. The obstacles define the Hero’s character and our empathy for them grows.

  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: the Hero is drawing close to the greatest challenge of the quest. During this time, fears and doubts resurface.

  8. The Supreme Ordeal: the Hero must now face the greatest challenge and overcome it. Everything is now on the line. As a result of the ordeal, the Hero is forever changed.

  9. The Reward: having overcome the ordeal, the Hero receives a reward and must now prepare for the last leg of the journey.

  10. The Road Back: returning home with the reward, the Hero must choose between personal objectives and that of a higher cause.

  11. Resurrection: the Hero faces the final battle with death.

  12. Return with the Elixir: the Hero returns to the Ordinary World and having returned forever changed, effects a change in the world.

Each of us follows our own epic journey, much like Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” or Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings.” We relate to these characters because they are us. Presented with challenges and overwhelmed by fear and doubt, they/we must step up and go where they/we have never gone before. And in doing so, they/we are forever changed.

Whatever our journey, however long it may take, it is our epic story. We are the Hero.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Here are some quotes from Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
“A hero is someone who has given their life to something bigger than oneself.”
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
“Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again.”
“Find a place inside where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”
“It is by going down the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

A High Tide Lifts All Boats

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There are times in our lives where we all have asked ourselves “what does it matter?” We can find ourselves working very hard with the challenges that life presents to us and while doing so, we can look around and it seems that the rest of the world (or at least what seems like a good part of it) isn’t working as hard as we seem to be. This gives rise to our age-old nemesis, self doubt. We can begin to question whether our efforts make any difference at all.

We can all find reasons to not do something. The “easy road” certainly can seem very appealing when we find ourselves on a “hard road” in our journey. We can wonder out loud “why?” and especially when it seems like everyone else is managing to be just fine while we are having to struggle.

Let’s take a moment to redefine a few things. First, everything that has ever happened in our life before right now can be called “preparation.” Whatever has happened, it has provided us with knowledge and experience (sometimes more than one experience is needed in order to obtain that knowledge). This knowledge and experience is preparing us for something. That something usually arrives in the form of what we would call a “crisis.” Most of us would cringe when told that we are about to encounter a crisis and start looking for a way to avoid it or somehow get around it. If we were to instead call that “opportunity”, everything changes. We tend to move towards an opportunity, not away from it. So now instead of a crisis, we have an opportunity to apply all of our preparation to the situation. In doing so, it can lead us to something new: I will call that “prospering.” Prospering can take many forms: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial. I would venture to say that we welcome prospering in any (or all) of those forms.

One of the biggest opportunities that we are presented with is the opportunity to raise our energy up from that low vibration of negative to that higher vibration of positive. When our energy becomes more positive, that energy effect moves out from us like the ripples in the water when a stone is dropped into the water. No matter the size of the stone, there is a ripple. As that ripple moves out from us, it effects everyone we know, everyone we come in contact with. When more people move into that positive energy, the collective energy of us all as a species is raised up and so we advance, we evolve, we grow. A high tide lifts all boats.

When we embrace the challenges, the opportunities, that present in life, we become the high tide.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Image by Ingeborg Gärtner-Grein from Pixabay

Thank you, Dr. Thomas Szaz

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Back in graduate school (aka "therapy school"), an assignment in one of my classes was to read "The Myth of Mental Illness" by Thomas Szaz, a Hungarian psychiatrist who was a critic of the influence of modern medicine on society, in particular psychiatry. What I then thought was yet another boring assignment became an eye-opening journey that turned into a core influence on my career and the way in which I would come to practice psychotherapy. The quote that was the catalyst for that journey was "it is hard to be sane in insane places."

Szaz wrote a number of books, including "The Manufacture of Madness", "Ceremonial Chemistry", and "The Myth of Psychotherapy." This reading, tempered by the clinical experience I would later gain outside the academic setting, convinced me that psychotherapy and medicine had drifted away from their original intention and both had become a business. For much of my 40 years of clinical practice, I had searched and searched for the "right combination" that would truly help to bring about lasting and effective change. It seemed like everything I found to be useful was considered "outside the box" and therefore not given the support that it deserved by my profession.

After attending a symposium given by the Dalai Lama in 2014 and receiving wisdom from his teachings, I was very grateful to see that the "outside the box" approaches that I had found useful were finally starting to gain the recognition that they deserved. Today I am very pleased to offer effective services to my clients that includes diverse approaches such as mindfulness based cognitive therapy, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and Radical Forgiveness. It is a great blessing to practice with my colleague, Alison Brooks, N.D. Alison is a Traditional Naturopathic Doctor who is trained in integrative energetic medicine and who is also completing an apprenticeship in shamanic medicine. Both of these approaches are extremely effective. Together, we can provide a unique and very effective approach that will truly help our clients achieve the life changing results they deserve. I would like to think that Dr. Szaz (who died in 2012) would approve.

I would like to share some of my favorite quotes from Dr. Szaz:

"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget."

"If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic."

"People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates."

"Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is."

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but they do make a good excuse."

"The proverb says that "You should not bite the hand that feeds you." But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself."

"Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence."

"In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined."

"When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him."

"Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, man mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, man mistakes medicine for magic."

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Life: A Guaranteed Hassle

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We have all heard the phrase "the only guarantees in life are death and taxes" and we all can probably add to that phrase. I guess one of the best ways of making that addition is to just simply say that "hassles" are a guarantee. The dictionary definition of a "hassle" is "an irritating inconvenience."

Hassles come in many forms and we all have run into them. The appliance that breaks down at the worst possible time. The tire that has gone flat. The check that didn't cash. Having to wait. The IRS being, well...the IRS being the IRS. Bad hair days. Traffic. Weather. Work. That person we all know who just can't not be a pain in the ass. There is no end to the list because there is no end to the hassles. Life IS a hassle.

Years ago I saw a comic strip called "Life is Hell" by a then not very well known cartoonist by the name of Matt Groening, who later went on to create "The Simpsons" cartoon. Matt (who said the best way to remember how to pronounce his last name was that it rhymed with "complaining") had a wonderfully dark and humorous take on those day to day things that make us all a little crazy. His comic strip spawned a series of wonderful comic books: "Work is Hell", "Love is Hell", "School is Hell", "Childhood is Hell", " The Big Book of Hell", and his magnum opus, "The Huge Book of Hell." All of these chronicled the many ways that we are confronted with a seemingly endless supply of hassles. I guess Matt was saying that our hassles can be our own little, personal piece of hell.

Humor is an incredibly powerful survival mechanism. If we can laugh about it, we will make our way through it--whatever it may be. I will always remember the moment, sitting in the oncologist's office with my brother, when the oncologist looked at him and very solemnly said "you have six months to live, maybe less." After the moment of ominous silence that felt like an eternity, my brother turned to me and said, with a wry smile, "at least I won't die of old age." That moment galvanized those next six months, a time that he dedicated to simply enjoying each day, right up to his last day. When the hassles of life confront us, we can turn to humor as our lifeline.

Matt Groening gets it, so do most stand up comics. Why is stand up comedy so popular? Because the comic stands up in front of us and talks about the hassles of life that we all can relate to and uses humor as the tool for not only surviving the hassles, but finding a way to keep things in some sort of perspective that helps us keep our sanity. A Hungarian psychiatrist by the name of Thomas Szaz opined "it is hard to be sane in insane places." Life can feel pretty insane, even on a good day. Laughter can be the best medicine. Always keep a supply of laughter handy and use it whenever needed. And this we know: it will be needed.

Namaskar,
Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Bumper Sticker Slogans

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The following list is composed of those short, but to the point, messages that provide us with truth. Truth is sometimes hard to hear, but these "bumper sticker slogans"  bring it. I will say that these are not all original thought on my part and some have been borrowed from sources from A (Alcoholics Anonymous) to Z (Zen Buddhism):

  • Anything greater than zero counts.

  • Blessings come wrapped in unusual packaging.

  • Courage is the ability to move forward while afraid.

  • Don't forget to remember.

  • Everything will be okay in the end: if it's not okay, it's not the end.

  • Fear is the great mind killer.

  • Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision of tomorrow.

  • How is that working for you?

  • If you spot it, you got it.

  • Just because you think it doesn't make it so.

  • Keep going.

  • Learning to hate is learning to love yourself less.

  • Money changes everything.

  • Never eat anything bigger than your head.

  • One day at a time.

  • Progress, not perfection.

  • Question authority.

  • Remember who you are.

  • Slow down and allow it.

  • Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

  • Understanding is a two way street.

  • Virtue alone is true nobility.

  • When people show you who they are, believe them.

  • X doesn't always mark the spot.

  • You have to feel it to heal it.

  • Zero is a beginning.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Human Experience

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In recent years, due to the protracted military engagements in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has increased tremendously among our veterans, many of whom have served multiple tours of duty.

Obviously, being involved in a combat theatre would be a traumatic experience for anyone. However, PTSD is not limited to veterans of military action. In essence, we all experience some form of PTSD at some point in our life because we all have some experience of trauma in our life. The extent of that trauma can vary widely, but the bottom line is that trauma is relative to our experience. What is traumatic to one person may not be to another. When we experience a trauma, we will naturally have a response to that trauma. So we can say that PTSD is a normal response to an other than normal situation. Of course, this "normal" response may certainly not feel normal to us at the time.

The symptoms of PTSD can occur after the trauma event has been experienced, sometimes within a short period of time and sometimes it can be months or even years later.  Often, our immediate response to trauma can be a form of shock where we can feel "disconnected" from the experience physically (pain minimization) as well as emotionally (numbness). This shock period is instinct driven and designed to help us to survive the situation. It is a temporary state, eventually fading as we return to normal levels of awareness and the PTSD symptoms may then begin to manifest over time. Anxiety, hyper-alertness, exaggerated startle responses, anger/rage, sleep difficulties, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts/visual memories (flashbacks) are all common symptoms that are experienced. Self-medicating behaviors (alcohol, drugs, sex, money, etc.) are often seen as a response to the symptoms. Symptoms can sometimes be "triggered" by a sensory experience of some form. Often, there is a feeling of shame or embarrassment about what is being experienced and this can impair the ability to interact with others, resulting in withdrawal and isolation. The symptoms that a person experiences can begin to have an impact on others around them, especially within their family.A key element in the treatment of PTSD is to express rather than suppress the feelings. Suppression of feelings creates the fuel for anxiety and depression. Expression of feeling releases tension and negative energy, inviting in positive energy to fill that space. So long as that expression of feelings does not bring harm to anything living, it can be useful. You have to feel it to heal it. In order to express the feelings, it is necessary to remove the judgement that may be attached to the feelings/experience. As feelings are expressed, the experience can be processed.

Another key element is anxiety management.  Expressing the feelings will bring up anxiety and so there need to have tools in place to help deal with the anxiety. Often, medication is seen as the tool needed, but there are many effective tools available. Training in anxiety management techniques is extremely helpful and can be augmented by activities such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, floatation tanks, halotherapy (salt caves), and any other activity that the person can utilize to safely express their feelings (art, dance, music, singing, exercise, service animals, etc.).  Having outlets to manage anxiety will lead to increased confidence because the results being experienced are due to what the person is doing, rather than what something external (medication) is doing.

Given the time and opportunity to express the feelings, effectively manage the anxiety, and process the experience, the symptoms will begin to decrease.  In many cases the symptoms may persist for the remainder of the person's life, but at a manageable level. The trauma experience is not something we will ever forget, nor should we: it is a part of our life experience and has provided us with knowledge, so therefore it has served a purpose. We have survived our experience and our survival is an integral part of our humanness.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Image from Pixabay

The institution of the dear love of comrades

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I hear it was charged against me

That I sought to destroy institutions;

But really I am neither for nor against institutions.

What indeed do I have in common with them?

Or what with the destruction of them?

Only I will establish in the Mannahatta, and in every city of these States,

Inland and seaboard,

And in the fields and woods, and above every keel,

Little or large that dents the water,

Without edifices, or rules, or trustees, or any argument,

The institution of the dear love of comrades.

Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass, 1855

Grief is a process.

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The Process of Grieving

We all experience grief during our life. Grief is the response we have to any loss that is significant to us. That significance is relative to our personal experience; what is significant to one may not be significant to another. Our experience of grief is a highly personal experience and therefore everyone has a unique experience of their grief, even when it is due to a collective experience.

Grief is a process. When we think of a process, we think of it having a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the case of grief, there is definitely a beginning but there is no real end to the process. The loss that we experience that has triggered our grief becomes part of our life experience and thus is never forgotten. There is no time frame for grief, it is a time driven process and time takes time. The time involved is as highly personal as the experience itself. There are no clear "stages" in grieving, although the model for grief introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is often cited. The "five stages of grief " in the Kubler-Ross model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grieving does not tend to follow a "1,2,3,4,5," progression: we tend to bounce back and forth in these stages over time before we come to find the acceptance of the loss.

You have to feel it to heal it and to feel it you have to express rather than suppress those feelings.  If we have support in the expression of those feelings, it helps us to process them.  A key element in that support is no judgement: many times we feel judged as we express our feelings, often that judgement can come from ourselves. Whatever our feelings, they belong to us and deserve to be expressed. As long as that method of expression brings no harm to ourselves or anything else living, that is fine. The expression of those feelings gets them out of our head and makes them easier to process. Hearing those feelings brings a clarity, writing those feelings down via journaling brings a depth of understanding.

Grieving tends to bring a sense of isolation, at least temporarily. While everyone else seems to be able to return to their "normal" life, we must redefine what "normal" is going to be after our loss. Also, we can often hear statements like "don't you think it's time to move on?" that cause us to doubt ourselves in this process; however, sometimes these type of statements may be more of a reflection of the discomfort others are feeling with our grief.

Working through this complex process is challenging, so seeking out objective, non-judgmental support is crucial.  A therapist with specific training to assist with grief and trauma can be very helpful. Support groups can also be very helpful as they  provide a venue where we are not alone with our feelings and experience. Family and friends who can be empathetic without being judgmental can also be useful to us during this process. Choose to not be alone in this process.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger,M.Ed., LPC

Courage is the ability to move forward while afraid

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We have probably all heard the phrase "self-medicating behavior."  What that describes is our tendency to avoid one feeling by replacing it with another.  For example, if there is an uncomfortable feeling we have, we seek out a comfortable feeling to replace it.  These behaviors take many forms; it is very common to use food, alcohol, drugs, sex, the internet, and money to "self-medicate" our feelings.  Basically, these behaviors have three characteristics: (1) they are impulse driven, (2) they yield some form of immediate gratification, and (3) they are easy to repeat. Often this behavior is reinforced, such as when we hear "do this and you will feel better", and therefore it becomes a "normal" response to an other than normal feeling.

While this behavior yields an immediate, but short-lived, response, it does nothing to address the original issue. It is a form of denial, a "kick the can down the road" solution that really is no solution at all. Since it solves nothing, the original issue remains and often we find we may have to engage in more and more self-medicating to manage the feelings. This creates an imbalance in our energy and it puts us into a cycle that takes more and more energy to maintain. Over time, self-medicating behavior can become addictive behavior.

The best way to avoid the trap is knowing that it is there.  Since we all are prone to self-medicating, it is important to understand what triggers that behavior. If there is something we are avoiding, we need to identify just what it is, and then move towards it rather than away from it. We have to feel it to heal it. The amount of time and energy we spend moving towards and through the feeling/issue will be a fraction of the time and energy we spend trying to avoid it. It is entirely possible to spend our entire life in avoidance, which prevents us from growing.

So as we move towards the challenge, we honor ourselves. Courage is the ability to move forward while afraid. Step out in faith and confidence will grow. You deserve it.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Not a Day Goes By

In my clinical work with clients, not a day goes by where I do not encounter people who are dealing with trauma in some form. When we hear the word trauma, we tend to think of the extreme examples like death, a severe health situation, a major situation in our life or some other occurrence that goes beyond our day to day life experience. While these are traumatic circumstances, the reality of life is that every day we encounter a trauma of some kind.

Trauma can be defined as the response to a distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms our ability to cope, causes feelings of hopelessness, diminishes our sense of self, and impacts our ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences. Given this definition, it becomes obvious that trauma covers a very wide spectrum and that trauma is a very personal experience. A conclusion that can be drawn is that we all experience trauma and that trauma can be seen as a normal response to an other than normal circumstance or experience in our life.

At one end of our trauma spectrum, we can find the "little traumas" that are not a threat to our safety and well being, but they do disrupt our normal functioning in the world. They may not seem so small when they occur, but most are easily managed and thus can be disregarded or discounted as "not a big deal" since they seem to be surmountable. However, enough "little traumas" can begin to add up and the cumulative effect can be overwhelming. Daily life can be fraught with these type of circumstances, many of which we have little or no control over. At the other end of our spectrum, we have the "big traumas" which are the extraordinary experiences that cause severe distress, a direct threat to our safety and well being, and feelings of helplessness. These could be one time events (acts of terrorism, natural disasters, etc.) or prolonged stressors (war, neglect, violence, etc.) that are impossible to ignore, yet may be actively avoided (denial, self-medicating behavior, etc.). The common thread for all of us is that we experience these traumas through the lens of our prior experience, the learned behaviors that we have developed that often serve as filters for our life experience.

Effectively addressing trauma requires a multi-faceted approach. Atlanta Psychotherapy & Energy Medicine was designed specifically to address the needs of those who have experienced trauma. I have found through my 40 years of clinical experience that these are necessary elements for that effective approach:

(1) Anxiety management training provides the person with some non-pharmacological techniques that can be used on an as-needed basis to address the symptoms of anxiety. These techniques can provide relief from anxiety and also build confidence in ability to effective manage the anxiety and stress that are common trauma responses. I routinely introduce these techniques immediately when working with clients and I also encourage all of my clients to look into readily available practices in the community that can enhance managing anxiety and stress such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, floatation tanks, therapeutic massage, and salt caves.

(2) Supportive psychotherapy can provide a safe place to express the feelings associated with trauma and to process the impact that it has on a person's life--and to do so in confidence and without judgement. No only is this a place to begin to "feel it to heal it", but it is an opportunity to learn more about trauma and our responses to it so that we can better understand our personal experience. Blessings do come wrapped in unusual packaging and often in the fullness of time a trauma will provide us with the opportunity to grow in some unanticipated way.

(3) Energy medicine is a very valuable approach in treating all levels of trauma. As energetic beings, any form of stress can have an impact on our energy field. Trauma can have a long-lasting impact on the energy field in the form of negative energy that attaches to our energy field; think of this as an "energy parasite." "Talk therapy" cannot address these attachments effectively, but they can be diagnosed and released by a practitioner who is trained in Integrative Energetic Medicine. My colleague, Alison Brooks, N.D., is a highly trained, skilled, and intuitive energy medicine practitioner who has helped many clients work through trauma efficiently and effectively. The energy work consistently results in people moving through their therapy process in far less time than it would take with just "talk therapy."

A final point to consider is that trauma is much more challenging if we attempt to deal with it alone. By opening up and sharing our experience with a trusted other, it helps us to release the emotions and then to be able to gain perspective regarding the actions we will need to take to address the situation. So please choose to not be alone in dealing with trauma and to connect with others as this will be very helpful in finding your way.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Blessings

Blessings often come wrapped in unusual packaging.  Life can provide us with an experience that in the moment can be overwhelming, even devastating to us. Certainly in that moment, we do not feel that there is any blessing. We are totally involved in the experience and cannot see or feel beyond what is happening right now.

In the fullness of time, we can begin to process the experience. In that reflection, we begin to unwrap that unusual packaging. Since this unwrapping process takes time, our impatience may lead us to conclude that nothing good is even possible in the situation. If we allow that time, the blessing can come to reveal itself.

Often, the experience that we have had may lead us to change and grow in ways that were unforeseen, perhaps even unimaginable. We can grow and change in ways that we have never done so before because we never had to do so before. That is our blessing. Receive it. Honor it.

Namaskar,

Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC