Nurturing a healthy mindThe Center for Psychiatric Care in Grand Forks helps patients deal with trauma.
By: Lisa Gibson, Grand Forks Herald
Throughout life, we as humans undoubtedly will face challenges, struggles and experience traumatic events that leave their marks on us, perhaps both physically and emotionally.
Whether it be the loss of loved ones, experiencing physical attacks, witnessing brutal attacks on others, or ongoing depression and anxiety triggered by a traumatic event, it can be difficult to move on and continue living a healthy and productive life.
But David Bialik and Kim Osowski, both licensed independent clinical social workers at the Center for Psychiatric Care within the Stadter Center in Grand Forks, say these psychological obstacles can be overcome. And they’ve witnessed it.
“I’ve seen people’s lives get saved,” Bialik says.
Osowski and Bialik work with a range of patients, in both age and condition. Osowski runs a women’s trauma group that aims to reassure its members that they are not the only ones suffering. Many of the women have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or other physical abuse.
“Their trust is diminished,” Osowski says, explaining that in most cases, their aggressors have demeaned them, blamed them and stripped them of self-confidence.
When patients in her group begin to improve, it most often shows in their physical appearances.
“It comes out in very small changes,” she says. “Slowly, you see them gaining self-esteem back. They’ll come in one day wearing makeup, whereas before, it was hard to just get out of bed.”
Support groups can be an extremely useful tool in psychological treatment, Osowski says. She adds, however, that she recommends it in conjunction with one-on-one counseling, as issues are sometimes brought up in groups that an individual might want to discuss and better understand with more privacy.
How they do it
Psychotherapists and social workers study numerous practices for helping someone heal from a traumatic event, but each chooses the most effective for his or her patients and goals, says Bialik, who is also a psychotherapist. The go-to treatment depends, of course, on the patient’s diagnosis and its severity, as well as age.
Osowski, for instance, uses a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. She uses it most frequently with military personnel who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Essentially, it uses rapid eye movement (similar to the involuntary movement that occurs in REM sleep), to bring the individual back to that traumatic event mentally, and help her or him get through the experience.
“It’s as if they are in two worlds,” Osowski explains. “One foot is in the present where it’s safe. One foot is in that traumatic event.”
It is not hypnosis, she says, but functions to “clear out those channels.”
“Yes, the event happened, but you don’t have to stay stuck in it,” she explains.
Some use lights when practicing EMDR with patients, but Osowski prefers to use her fingers and hands to help her patients reach the desired state of mind.
In some victims of trauma, the ailment to treat is debilitating guilt. Guilt stemming from the suicide of a loved one or perhaps a miscarriage.
Osowski explains that those patients convince themselves they should have noticed something was wrong and done something about it; that they could have saved their loved one.
When helping a child heal from a traumatic experience, the tactics are markedly different.
“Kids often don’t have the verbalization skills,” Bialik explains. “They just have all these emotions and they feel crazy.”
Osowski uses a method called play therapy when she works with children. It includes using toys, books, puppets and other fun objects to illustrate points to the child. The goal, she says, is similar to that of group therapy.
“The same principle applies,” she says. “This person in this book has been through this, too.”
Perhaps most important is to assure the child that it’s OK to be sad, angry or hurt. Often, the abuser has told them not to talk about the abuse, cry or otherwise let on that something is wrong.
The earlier the better
Typically, when victims of childhood abuse seek help, they are into their teens or even adulthood.
“They start to make progress and think, ‘Why didn’t I do this 30 or 20 years earlier?’” Osowski says.
Adults who experienced trauma as children often think they are fine because they compartmentalize that trauma in their minds, until something triggers those memories, Bialik says, adding anything can function as that trigger, citing birthdays, births of new children, or hitting a certain age or period in life.
“On the other hand, your life might be going well and you have nothing to occupy your mind with,” he says.
“We can compartmentalize and not address it until it gets moldy and forces itself out,” he adds.
While he would never discourage someone in their 50s from seeking psychological help for a traumatic event that occurred during their childhood, the earlier the treatment can begin, the better.
“The less time we have reinforcing these memories, the easier it is to loosen them up.”
The road to recovery
Bialik had worked with a patient who was in and out of hospitals for two years, exhibiting severe symptoms, but now holds down a professional career. Other clients of his have recovered from their trauma enough to be in healthy relationships and live generally happy lives.
“I’m not saying people won’t get down sometimes,” he says. “But they’re living their lives.”
Psychological problems caused by trauma can be treated, as illustrated by the stunning progress made by Bialik’s and Osowski’s patients.
“People do get better,” Bialik says.
“The goal is to instill resiliency. When people learn they can overcome something, they can deal with life’s stressors because they’ve overcome something before.”