Serving Those Who Have Served: Caring for veterans and their companion animals

“Thank you for your service!” How many of us have offered these words of appreciation when we see a service member in uniform? And they are appropriate, albeit vastly insufficient words. But as I was perusing Upworthy on Veteran’s Day morning, I came across stories of two amazing organizations that are expressing their appreciation to our veterans in a much more profound and tangible way. While there are many groups out there doing fantastic work serving veterans, these two groups, PACT for Animals and Pets for Vets, are doing so in a somewhat different way.

PACT for Animals is a non-profit that provides temporary foster homes for the pets of military services members when they are called for deployment. They also foster pets of those who are hospitalized and are temporarily unable to care for their pets. By fostering these animals, they not only offer piece of mind for those serving our country that their companion animal won’t end up in a shelter and that they will be well loved until they can be reunited, but the foster families also provide regular updates to pet owners, including photos, messages and videos of their beloved pets. Check out this Upworthy video to see the amazing work this group is doing. Given the incredible sacrifices our veterans have made to serve our country, it seems to me that doing what we can to make sure their loved ones, including their four-legged loved ones, are taken care of while they are deployed is the least we can do.

Pets for Vets is dedicated to supporting veterans and providing a second chance for shelter pets by rescuing, training and pairing them with veterans who could benefit from a companion animal. The group takes animals from shelters that would otherwise be euthanized and then professional animal trainers rehabilitate the animals and teach them good manners to fit into the veteran’s lifestyle, whether that be desensitizing them to wheel chairs, being of assistance to someone with a TBI, or being an emotional assistance animal to someone struggling with PTSD. Check out this Upworthy video on the project.

Although research in this area is still somewhat preliminary (and antecdotal opinion seems to have gotten ahead of the data), there is growing evidence of the physical and mental health benefits companion animals can provide. Groups like PACT for Animals and Pets for Vets are harnessing the healing power of pets as a way to serve those who have served our country. On this Veteran’s Day I wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation not only to those who have served, but also those who support those who have served in all the various ways we do that, from my incredibly dedicated colleagues who work at VAs to groups like PACT for Animals and Pets for Vets. Thank you ALL for serving in the way that you do.

It’s Not Your Fault: How the Mind Copes with Abuse by Someone Close to you

If you have been hurt by someone close to you, it’s likely you are bothered by feelings of shame. Maybe you find that it is hard to stop beating yourself up over small mistakes you make. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about the way you look to other people. Maybe you feel bad about yourself and you are not even sure why. Just because you feel shame doesn’t necessarily mean that you have done anything wrong or that there is anything wrong with you.

Research on Betrayal Trauma has found that if you have been abused by someone you are close to or depend on, you may be affected in particular ways. One way you might be affected is that you may feel a lot of shame . When you feel shame, you may focus on beliefs that you are bad or flawed, rather than noticing that someone is hurting you. In addition to feeling shame, people who are hurt by someone close to them are also more likely to forget that the abuse happened or “dissociate” or feel spacey. Forgetting, spacing out, and feeling shame may all be different ways in which your mind tries to protect you from knowing about abuse, or at least knowing how bad it is or was.

Why would your mind keep you from knowing?

People who are in danger will sometimes try to get away from the thing that is causing them danger, or maybe try to fight it. However, if you really need the person who is hurting you, for example if they are helping to raise your children or they are paying your bills, you are in a bind. If you fight or flee, you might lose those resources. In addition, if the person is violent, then fighting or fleeing might result in more violence and harm. As a result, sometimes your mind can simply block you from even knowing about the abuse to protect you from further harm. Or you might know that something feels bad, but make sense of it by telling yourself there is something wrong with you instead of recognizing that it is the other person who is doing something harmful.

You may also feel shame because of ways the abuser acts toward you. Dr. Jennifer Freyd, an expert on betrayal trauma, came up with an acronym called DARVO, which stands for “”Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” What that means is that the person who is hurting you may make you believe that you are the one doing the hurting and they are the one being hurt. They may ​deny that the abuse ever happened or even say something like​, “You are the one who is hurting me by saying that I hurt you.” This response makes things even more confusing and causes more shame and not knowing.

If you have experienced abuse and had periods of shame and not knowing, your mind may have been trying to protect you from further harm. At the same time, shame and not knowing may cause problems in other parts of your life and may keep you from finding resources that could help you be safer. With the support of resources like domestic violence centers, hotlines, safe friends and family, and/or a trusted therapist, you can learn to recognize when you are feeling shame even though you’ve done nothing wrong. You can notice, “Oh, this is shame I’m feeling. It’s telling me I’m no good but I don’t have to listen to it.” Then, with the help of your support system, you will have ​more​ power to decide what works for you.

I know it can be hard to reach out for help, but reaching out can be a very powerful step in the process of healing from trauma and shame. If you are in the Portland area and ready for some support, feel free to contact me at Portland Psychotherapy, or take a look at some of these resources:

Local Oregon resources for adult survivors of child abuse and for survivors of domestic violence:

 

 

 

National/International resources:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Portland, Oregon

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a specific type of psychotherapy that is different from traditional “talk therapy.”  A few key differences are that CBT is research-based, more structured, and and more goal-directed than other types of therapies.  If you are looking for more of a “hands on” or an active approach, CBT might be a good fit for you.  

CBT has been shown to help with depression, anxiety, worry. Are you having problems with your relationships? CBT has been shown to help with that. Are you dealing with compulsive or addictive behavior? Can’t get the sleep you need or have chronic problems with stress? We have therapists who are skilled in using CBT with all of these difficulties (and many more)… 

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What We Do

At Portland Psychotherapy, we are committed to helping our clients who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other life problems so that they can live fuller and more meaningful lives. Our commitment is not just to help our clients feel better, we help them to live better.

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Our mission is to use science to develop and guide compassionate, effective treatment and contribute to the wider community through research and training.

More About CBT

CBT is one of the few types of psychotherapy that has been scientifically tested and found to be effective for many different issues people struggle with. In contrast to other forms of psychotherapy, CBT tends to be more focused on the present, more time-limited, and more focused on problem-solving.  Clients also learn specific psychological skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.

Studies have shown that CBT is as useful as medications for many issues and can often be better in the long term, especially for preventing relapse of symptoms. There is also lots of evidence that for many issues when a client receives CBT in addition to medication, they tend to have better outcomes than those that use medications only.  


Follow up on the Valkee device that shines light in your ears.

This post is a follow up to something one of our researchers wrote two years ago about a device called the “Valkee” that shines light into your ears using a device that looks a lot like an iPod. The device supposedly cures seasonal affective disorder and is now being marketed in the USA. I felt the need to post an update to alert consumers to this device that uses slick marketing, but which does not appear to have produced any direct evidence to show that is more than a placebo in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.  Here’s what we said about it two years ago:

It’s not available in the U.S. yet, but a Finnish company is marketing a new device called “Valkee.” It looks like an iPod, except instead of digital music, the headphones shine light into your ear. Yes, that’s right, the Valkee has small ear buds that shine light into your ear.

Why would shining bright light in your ear help with seasonal depression? Here’s where things turn a little fuzzy.

In the two years since we originally posted about this device and in the seven years since it was first created, the company has yet to generate any data showing that the device works better than a placebo for seasonal affective disorder. Placebo controlled trials are not that hard to do and the lack of such research is very concerning. Placebo effects can be quite strong and because of this effect, it can sometimes be hard to know whether a device works because it actually works, or just because people think it will work. In the case of the Valkee, the existing evidence points to the idea that the device works only because people expect it to work. 

Thus, my recommendation is, if you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, save the money you would have spent on the Valkee and use it instead to buy a more affordable and much more proven light therapy device. We review some of them here. If you want to read more about the controversy around this device, you can read more herehere, and here

BTW, whenever I see a device or treatment that I’ve never heard of before, I always Google the name of that treatment and the word “scam” in Google. This applies whenever I see something new, in the service of being an informed consumer. If you google the item plus the word scam, you may find a range of relevant articles that can help you better evaluate whatever it is. Don’t believe us about the Valkee, do your own research before you make a purchase. Google “Valkee scam” and read what comes up.

Update 11/4/14: A Valkee-related team appears to have published their first trial designed to compare the Valkee to a placebo for seasonal affective disorder. The results showed that the Valkee was no better than what was identified as the placebo condition during trial registration. See the published study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207317/ and here: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01293409)?

I also found a new page where different people are discussing the Valkee device, in case you want to read more: http://tech.eu/features/215/valkee-conundrum-ive-shining-bright-light-brain-weeks-now-dont-know/

How to Read Your Emotions Part II: Put on Your Spec’s

Reading your emotions is all about perspective. Perspective is just a place from which you are looking at something – it’s a point of view from which you observe things as they happen. Your experience of an event can be dramatically different depending on how you view that experience.

If you’re watching a movie but sitting behind someone with an enormous hat that blocks your view, you’re likely to experience frustration because you’re missing out on the movie. You might politely ask this individual to remove his or her hat, and sometimes that works. But if they refuse, the situation can become even more upsetting and you might be tempted to start an argument. After all, people “shouldn’t” wear big hats in movie theaters! While you might feel you are justified in arguing, making a scene usually isn’t actually much fun for anyone (no, your date will not be impressed). If the point of your evening is to have fun enjoying a movie, then the simplest solution is to change seats.

But notice that whether or not your view is blocked by a hat, the movie itself is exactly the same. For that matter, changing seats doesn’t mean the person with the hat suddenly stops existing. The important difference is in where you’re sitting – it all depends on your perspective. The same is true of your emotions: don’t try to change them, get a better view.

The ability to take perspective on one’s emotions isn’t a matter of understanding – it’s a matter of repetition and practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. One of the best ways to develop your emotional perspective-taking skills is through practicing mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is the practice of taking perspective on your feelings, thoughts, and sensations. It can also help you learn to take other people’s perspectives, develop a stronger sense of self, and become more accepting of your psychological experience (see my earlier blog post on the perils of judging emotions).

Just like it’s hard to read a book that is an inch away from your face, it’s hard to read your emotions without creating a little space. How and from where you look at your emotions can be much more important than what emotions you are looking at. By “stepping back” from your emotions you create a new vantage point that will help you see more clearly. As you’ll see, that perspective gives you an advantage.

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