Tag Archives: trauma

“The Quickest Way to the Truth”: Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Beyond

Posted by: Denise Hall on June 22, 2016 3:47 pm

From the plea bargain and previous acquittal of Gian Ghomeshi to the sexual harassment class action suit against the RCMP and other high profile cases, sexual harassment is definitely in the news but are we seeing justice done? Christy Clark said recently that sexual abuse, assault and  harassment are a part of women’s everyday lives. These acts of violence and abuse continue to occur at alarming rates. A CBC guest Rebecca Solnit on the Sunday Edition’s  June 19, 2016 discussion on violence in the US  indicated that a rape occurs every 107 seconds and spousal abuse every 17 seconds. Why are we not doing enough to protect women in their homes and their workplaces?

The CBC executive whose quote I have used in the title was abused at work while a male coworker stood by. She agreed to an apology and a peace bond from Ghomeshi instead of enduring a trial. She may be quite right in stating that the truth can get tangled up in the justice system and the court of human opinion. Forgoing her anonymity, she felt the truth would best be served by making a statement about the abuse. Perpetrators seem to be able to continue harassing and abusing and evade responsibility for their actions. Gian Ghomeshi was acquitted of six charges in the first court case and PeasandHammerbarely offered an apology or took any responsibility for his actions in the second.

In the memoir “No One To Tell” Janet Merlo, a former RCMP officer in British Columbia, outlines the abuse and gender inequality she endured during her time with the force. Merlo was named as the representative plaintiff in the class action suit of over 100 women against the organization. Going through the courts is not working very well for the victims, mostly women. So what can be done to stop the rampant abuse and bring the perpetrators to account?

As a therapist I work with victims of sexual harassment, rape, physical assault and violent acts mainly perpetrated by men, many unreported. Discussing this issue with other therapists they tell me that the women they work with state that if they had a chance to go back they would not report sexual harassment and sexual assault. They say it is just too horrendous an experience to report. Furthermore many victims report losing their jobs while the offender(s) keep(s) their position. Women in male dominated occupations tend to fare pretty badly in the places they work.  I have heard reports directly from women in construction jobs, police forces, and the military.

Politics aside, Christy Clark, BC Premier, recently disclosed being a victim of an assault when she was 13 years old. She said she never told anyone because of the shame associated with being a victim. Some people are cynical and say that her report was politically motivated. I am thinking this is not the case.  Most women feel a high degree of shame associated with being a victim and I question why women and, specifically our premier, would talk about a traumatic and highly intimate situation for political purposes? Claims from perpetrators that women report for financial or other reasons are usually way off base. There is no amount of money in the world that would make up with the horrific circumstances, terror and public scrutiny involved with disclosing sexual harassment or assault. Also, research on recanting suggests that many victims recant because of the consequences of going through with the accusations for their families and the community.

I watched a Norwegian movie last week called HEVN (“revenge”) and the heroine of the film was bent on revenging the rape and subsequent suicide of her younger sister who was in her teens when the rape occurred. Initially she was going to kill the perpetrator but settled on setting him up and stripping him of his family and stature in the community. If the court system does not provide justice then must victims take retribution into their own hands? The problem with doing so as an “eye for an eye” suggests, will leave both parties injured, most likely badly. More succinctly, violence is not the answer.Violence is the problem.

The women in the RCMP have initiated a class action suit to settle their grievances around sexual assault and sexual harassment. Maybe civil action is better for compensating victims. Civil actions have a lower burden of truth and they can provide compensation for suffering and loss of positions the victims aspired to and felt proud of.

WorkSafe BC now accepts sexual harassment and bullying under their mental stress provisions if the abuse if work related. It is also incumbent on employers to have a system of regulation and protection in place. Certainly the criminal courts did not appear to serve Gian Ghomeshi’s victims well. Many victims just keep quiet and perpetrators continue to harass, abuse, and rape because they believe they can and they believe THAT THEY WILL NEVER GET CAUGHT.

Another high profile example is the Stanford sexual assault case where the perpetrator’s father wrote a letter decrying the six month sentence for his son, Brock Turner, stating it was too harsh for “20 minutes of action”. What if he got 20 months for each minute of action? Legal experts have said that this sentence was more in line with a “first offence of burglary or auto theft”. Another comment from Danielle De Smeth, a California based criminal attorney, was that “it emboldens those of privilege or an athletic background”. Sure does! Two young black men were hung in the 1942 on a bridge on the Chickasawhay river for being within 10 feet of a white teenage girl.

So what is the quickest way to the truth and how are we going to stop perpetrators from sexually abusing? Sexual assault and harassment is a technique of power as is withdrawing reproductive services for women. Rape is used by soldiers in war zones to totally control the vanquished. Racism is more of an issue in economically stressful times. Maybe, sexual assault and harassment is like racism where the perpetrators objectify and dehumanize their prey because they feel they are losing power economically and politically. Mark Lepine killed 14 women in Montreal for just that reason. In spousal abuse perpetrators keep their partners powerless so they will not leave. Sexual abuse and assault are the tools that perpetrators use to subjugate women and children.

Maybe the solutions to stopping abuse lie beyond the criminal courts in changing workplace culture, economic inequality and societal attitudes. As long as women remain unequal economically and societally along with ethnic minorities and are kept powerless to bring the abusers to account, the abuse will continue despite the criminality of the acts. Even if we have regulations that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, many victims will not speak up because of fear of losing their jobs, being ostracized for speaking up, and concern about the onerous process of going through a system that is fraught with difficulties. This is a challenging issue and we must do a better job of protecting women in the workplace and in the community.

Your comments are welcome

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Helping Counsellors Working in Trauma

Posted by: Michael Sorsdahl on April 5, 2016 12:46 pm

As a working psychotherapist in the area of trauma, it has become very evident that the importance of the development of self-care strategies and receiving supervision to aid in helping ourselves to help our clients is paramount.  It has struck me that many practitioners enter into the field without understanding the pitfalls and signs of Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout. If we as practitioners of wellness are unable to maintain our own wellness, then we can actually do more harm than good in our attempts to help..

My experience as both a practitioner and an instructor to counselling psychology students in the area of crisis and trauma has led me to realize the lack of awareness that may exist in our professional community. Some of the symptoms of vicarious trauma as outlined by Iqbal (2015) that may be experienced by thBurnouterapists could be:

  • Changes in personal identity and world view
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Becoming easily emotionally overwhelmed
  • Numbing of atypical feelings towards people and events
  • Loss of connectedness to others and the self
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty connecting with joy.

Some ways for practitioners in the field to be able to assess for their levels of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout are with the Traumatic Stress Institute Belief Scale (TSI-BSL), Compassion Fatigue Self-Test for Psychotherapists (CFST), the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQoL), and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Sansbury, Graves, & Scott, 2015).

Proactive self-interventions against the onset of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout are through the implementation of self-care strategies and supervision. Self-care strategies can be implemented in 4 realms of practitioner’s lives, including the physical, mental/emotional, social, and physical environment. Examples could be exercise and nutrition (Physical), meditation and mindfulness (mental/emotional), time spent with family and friends (family), and a clean orderly house (physical environment). I recommend implementing 1-2 strategies from each of these four areas to give a well-rounded self-care approach.

Directly discussing vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout with a supervisor is one of the best ways to work through the symptoms early on and process any concerns you may have. Supervision is not just for students, I highly recommend it for all active practitioners in our field.


Iqbal, A. (2015). The ethical considerations of counselling psychologists working with trauma: Is there a risk of vicarious traumatisation? Counselling Psychology Review, 30 (1), 44-51.

Merriman, J. (2015). Enhancing counsellor supervision through compassion fatigue education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93, 370-378.

Sansbury, B. S., Graves, K., & Scott, W. (2015). Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17, (2), 114-122.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Insights and Take-Aways From The Polyvagal Theory for Trauma Clients

Posted by: Andrea Cashman on September 25, 2015 8:49 am


I recently attended Stephen Porgues workshop in Ottawa called Social Connectedness as a Biological Imperative: Understanding Trauma through the eyes of Polyvagal Theory. If anyone is interested in pursuing a specialization in trauma or expanding their trauma learning repertoire, I highly recommend attending a workshop with Stephen Porgues. He is a great speaker that can break down the science of Polyvagal Theory so that you can apply this knowledge to helping your trauma clients. It was a very informative and even inspiring workshop to attend. I cannot say all workshops in the past have given me more fuel for the passionate work that I feel I am doing. I thought I would share some insights and learning points that I took away from this workshop. By all means, it would be wise to look into Polyvagal Theory in its entirety to full understand its scope and application for treatment. I will not be going into it in full as that would take up a lot of blog space and it is not the purpose I intend on in my blog. I recommend either attending a workshop or purchasing Stephen Porgues book on Polyvagal Theory.

First of all, Polyvagal Theory specifies two functionally distinct brances of the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve, that serve different evolutionary stress in mammals, including us humans. The less evolved vagus nerve branch serves as a more primitive branch that illicits immobilization behaviors (ie feigning death) whereas the more evolved vagus branch is linked to social communication and self soothing behaviors (wikipedia). You can check out YouTube for more explanations on Polyvagal Theory – here’s another brief definition in relation to trauma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RKC3Ga6shs Polyvagal Theory claims that the nervous system employs a hierarchy of strategies to both regulate itself and to keep us safe in the face of danger. In fact, it’s all about staying safe. Our highest Strategy involves social engagement which is regulated by the myelinated vagus nerve. Our next strategy is fight or flight, regulated by the sympathetic nervous system when social engagement is not an option. Our last option is to freeze, to immobilize when fight/flight is not an option in the face of trauma(Garland, 2013). Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Yoga as a Form of Trauma Therapy

Posted by: Andrea Cashman on July 8, 2015 4:00 pm

There are many trauma therapies that focus on the body such as sensorimotor therapy and EMDR. Exercise itself is a healing modality for depression, anxiety, stress and especially trauma. Many therapists may turn towards CBT or exposure therapy or another form of psychotherapy, forgetting that the body may be a source of healing. I specifically want to talk about the effects of yoga on trauma as this is a great trauma tool to encourage clients to engage in. Yoga therapy has been understudied; however, has been shown to be an effective adjunct treatment for psychiatric disorders (Cabral et al.,)

Trauma and its effects on the body cause disregulation. In PTSD, the fight or flight system is broken causing prolonged symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal. Hyperarousal symptoms are the main embodiment of the physical symptoms within the body of a PTSD client. Clients may feel easily startled, hold tension within their bodies and have difficulty sleeping and exhibit angry outbursts (nimh.com). The body will hold onto that tension and not be able to regulate back to a calm state compared to someone who does not have PTSD.

Yoga has many physical benefits, one of which is retraining the body to be calm. The National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines mind-body interventions as “a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.”Yoga practice enhances the connection between the mind and body, and it is used as a therapeutic intervention in a variety of diseases. The mechanisms that allow for the potential therapeutic effects of yoga involve the autonomic nervous system, especially a reduction in sympathetic tone, as well as activation of antagonistic neuromuscular systems and stimulation of the limbic system (Cabral et al.,)yoga

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Do You Help People Heal From Traumatic Events? Part 3

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on June 11, 2015 2:26 pm

Creating Safety to Process Trauma Using Sandtray

Welcome to Part 3 of my Sandtray blogs! Part 1 introduced Sandtray Therapy (http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=4171) and Part 2 explained how to set up the first Sandtray session with a client (http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=4240). Sandtray is often used in therapy to facilitate healing traumatic events and related intense feelings. I truly feel it can be used for many issues and concerns clients present with and it is even great for couple counselling!

So while Sandtray can be used to process trauma, there are many other techniques and approaches used to this purpose as well. So one of the ways I use Sandtray is to create safety before I begin facilitating the processing of intense traumatic memories, even if Sandtray is not used again in session with that client.

I do this by first discussing this with a client at least one session before they complete the tray, so they know what to expect. When the session comes to complete the tray, I facilitate it in a slightly different way than usual, slightly more directive. For example:

“We are using this tray to create feelings of safety and self-care within your spirit before we begin talking about the difficult memories you have alluded to.   So I would like you to create a tray that creates feelings of safety, love and self-care today. This is a feeling you will be able to access while we get into talking about some horrible experiences you have had. There is no right or wrong. You are creating a world in which you are in full control and it can be anything you want it to be. So please choose your figures thinking about safety etc…”

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

A Narrative Psychoeducational Introductory Tool for Trauma Work

Posted by: Trudi Wyatt on June 5, 2015 2:08 pm

Following emotional trauma, people may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as flashbacks, avoidance of reminders of the event, negative cognitions or mood, and hypervigilance (1). Observing that some clients with these symptoms seek an understanding of why they experience them, David Leong, MA, LMFT, created and often starts off therapy with a “story” about the neurological effects of trauma on the brain (2). While David notes that his story (based on work by Dr. Dan Siegel) might be over-simplified, he finds his clients find it helpful. This post is a summary of the story:

fistbrainThe brain can be thought of as a fist: Your forearm leading up to it is the spinal cord, and the base of your palm is your “lizard” primitive brain, that manages such automatic body functions as heartbeat and sweating. Next, if you fold your thumb sideways across your palm, this is your mid-brain—your “limbic system.” It houses emotion, memory formation, and the “fight or flight” response. Two important structures within it are the amygdala, thought to be a key player in emotional/fear/implicit memories (3,4), and the hippocampus, thought to be a key player in converting information into memory codes (4). The “language” of the limbic system is emotions. Finally, if you fold your fingers over your thumb, you have your cerebral cortex, which speaks in words, and houses sense of time and explicit memory—a more abstract, gist-based, structural recording of episodes than implicit memory (3). Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Posted by: Andrea Cashman on June 4, 2015 9:35 am

My thoughts and a brief introduction on Sensorimotor Therapy for Trauma Clients

In April, I attended a workshop on Trauma and the Body – The Theory and Practice of Sensorimotor Therapy presented by Anne Westcott on behalf of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute (SPI). I’m particularly interested in theories designed to implement treatment on trauma clients. This particular workshop opened a new realm of possibilities for me. I had my sights on becoming specialized in EMDR in the future but perhaps SPI’s three level certification program is another avenue to explore for me and for anyone seeking to work exclusively with trauma clients. I don’t necessarily believe that one theory is better than another; however, I do believe it is about what works for you the therapist and your clients. The Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute was freedom-716143_640founded by Pat Ogden in the 1980’s out of her interest in the correlation of client’s disconnections from their bodies/their physical patterns and their psychological issues. Before PTSD appeared in the DSM, Pat recognized that treatments in that time seemed to trigger traumatic reminders in a detrimental way. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is drawn from somatic theories, attachment theories, neuroscience, the Hakomi method and cognitive approaches. Pat Ogden quotes “most human behavior is driven by procedual memory – memory for process and function – and is reflected in habitual, automatic responses and well-learned action patterns: movements, postures, gestures, autonomic arousal patterns, and emotional and cognitive tendencies.” This SP workshop explores the processes of memory and how this information can be utilised to change procedural learning in a window of tolerance for the client with PTSD. Specific skills such as tracking and attuning the body are taught. Dysregulation is noted with trauma responses of fight, flight or freeze and how the neuroscience behind the sympathetic and parasympathetic brain structures play a role in these trauma responses. SP uses movement to move the client in a state of active mobilizing defenses into a state of triumph.
Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Riding the Elevator with Dr. Peter Levine

Posted by: Angela Herzog on June 3, 2015 2:06 pm

There he was, the man I’ve studied from for the past five years. I have poured over his books and practiced his skills, and there he was, Dr. Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing.
My heart was beating fast as I assessed the situation:

My colleague, myself — Levine and his wife.
Contained within four walls of a tiny elevator.
Levine — a foot across from me.

My thoughts colliding with each other, picking up momentum with each collision.elevator-787381_640

It’s Levine
Here’s my chance
It’s Levine
I can make contact
It’s Levine
Say something Angela

Nothing came out, but a sheepish grin as I stole a glance.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Do You Help People Heal From Traumatic Events? Part 2

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on May 29, 2015 12:33 pm

How To Set Up The First Sandtray Session

deck-chair-321096_640In my last blog I wrote about Sandtray Therapy (http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=4171) and how I find it is such a wonderful therapeutic technique to help heal traumatic events and related mental health issues. I sometimes hear therapists that are new to using Sandtray say that clients look at a tray of sand and tiny figures and feel the idea of playing in the sand is “weird” or childish. So I wanted to outline what a Sandtray session looks like and present tips on how to present it to clients.

For those of you who know little about Sandtray Therapy, Picture it…you walk into a room that has two comfortable chairs and a small table between them. On that small table is a tray or large bowl with sand in it. On a nearby table or placed on shelves are hundreds of tiny figures. These figures are a combination of everyday items that are miniscule ex. A house, chairs, animals…these figures also include mythical ones ex. mermaids and unicorns…and small sculptures that are more abstract. Some of these figures will fascinate you and some will feel odd or meaningless.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Do You Help People Heal From Traumatic Events? Part 1

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on May 14, 2015 8:22 am

My work as a therapist has included working with clients that are present with abuse histories, and often complex trauma. I find this can take years to heal and is hard emotionally and spiritually on both the client and the psychotherapist. So enter my training in Sandtray therapy!

Sandplay is a wonderful technique that taps into the unconscious to access deep emotions and experiences that can then be healed in a gentle way.  What I love about this technique is that the natural healing centre chooses unconsciously what and how deeply a person needs to heal something, sometimes surprising them. It can be used in a single session or every session until a person has met their goals.  It is great if a client has expressed feeling “stuck”.  It is also a way to connect with the elements and heal without talk as the central modality.sand-600473_640

Using figures of a person’s choosing and the arrangement of the sand in the tray, your client becomes the “world builder,” and watches whatever reveals itself.  It can be transformational helping to process grief, past hurts or help to identify and process what is causing or maintaining depressive and other mental health symptoms, enabling recovery. It provides the possibility, to set up a world corresponding to the clients’ inner emotional state. Through free, creative play, unconscious processes are made visible in visual form.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA