Healing for Couples when one partner is diagnosed with ptsd-7 Strategies for Success

Loving someone diagnosed with ptsd is challenging. These seven strategies can help.

1-When your loved one is diagnosed with ptsd, read about the symptoms to understand how these effect every day life. Knowledge is power. Understanding leads to compassion. It also allows you to depersonalize your partner’s behaviors.

2-Allow yourself to grieve. You will go through the grieving process described by Kübler-Ross: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Why?Much like having a parent with dementia, your loved one is still physically there but distant and hard to connect to therefore you have lost the person you once knew. You may get them back in time but, for now, the transition is painful.

3-Understanding and compassion are a great start but if you don’t want to burn out, you must take care of yourself.

-Reach out for support through support groups, online forums, family, friends and colleagues. Get out of the house to experience yourself out of this context.
-Develop strong boundaries re: what is about you and what isn’t, what you can control (yourself) and what you can’t (your partner), what you are able to do and when you need help (you don’t need to do it all and be a superhero)
-Speak up and be direct about what you need, break it down into steps and be specific
-Ensure your safety if your partner is violent: Where can you go? Who can you call? Is there a sign you can establish so your partner knows when s/he has crossed that line (time out)? Agree in advance on what will happen in the event that you need to use that signal (go for a run to calm down, I’m going to my friend’s house, text me later)

4-Recognize what is working in your relationship. Chances are, there are still some positive aspects to your relationship. List them and keep this list where you can see it. Let your partner know when his/her actions help you feel loved and close

5-If you could change five things about your relationship to create a happier, healthier version of it, what would those changes be? Place them in order of priority. Then focus on the most important change. Ask yourself what you can do today to move toward that change. Share this with your partner and ask for suggestions.

6-Sometimes we take over and give our partner no room or opportunity to be there for us. We play the same role: I am the one who helps you, I do everything on my own. It’s important to be vulnerable when it is safe and appropriate to do so and allow the partner diagnosed with ptsd to be helpful and strong.

7-Feed your sex life. I will post another blog entirely on sex within the ptsd relationship. For now, suffice it to say that maintaining a healthy sex life can be challenging in relationships where a partner is avoiding intimacy. Don’t give up. Express your desires and use opportunities to be physical with your partner (eye contact, hugs, holding hands, snuggling etc).

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Why did the at therapist cross the web?

Why did the art therapist cross the web?

As an art therapist, I am often conflicted between my passion for supporting women in transition and my desire to contribute to my family’s income. This conflict is increased by the lack of funding to help me serve women who need it the most but can’t afford it. As an entrepreneur, I am not eligible for grants. They are reserved for not-for-profit organizations. So far, my clientele base has been women with the means to pay for my services. I have added groups, reducing my rates in order to reach more people.

I am also a mother, buying gifts for birthday parties and special occasions. I discovered an opportunity to create and manage an affiliate marketing website catering to a population of my choice. I decided to focus on toys, cooperative board games, sports equipment and gifts for parents, their colleagues and friends. This secondary website is called funforkids.fantasticdiscoveryplace.com

I will use the profits from this website to create free workshops for women in shelters, wives of military with PTSD, new moms and women transitioning from correctional facilities through programs like E-Fry. My funforkids website is an affiliate of Amazon therefore your payment and shipping are all handled through the safety and efficiency of Amazon. You are simply purchasing in a way that empowers me to support local women. So, why did the art therapist cross the web?…to make a difference in her community.


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On July 21st, I turned 44 years old. I love that number! I am quite excited to see what this year will bring. In this youth-obsessed society, so many women hide their age and dread what the aging process will do to their appearance. I was very lucky to have many role-models of positive aging in my family while growing up. My grandmother lived to be 100. She wore jeans, high heels and red nail polish well into her 90s. When something made her laugh, she kicked her legs up in the air and let out a deep guttural laugh. Her sister, Mary, wore a tall, red beehive hairdo, bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow. She called everyone sweetheart, smoked cigarettes (ribbons of ash hanging off her fingertips) and wore bikinis, tanning her body, slathered in baby oil (I didn’t say they were beaming with good health). Every time we spent a day at the beach, she bought KFC salads which she ate after leaving them out in the sun for far too long. Still, she never got sick. Must have been the liquor. My grandmother and her siblings were enjoying life: playing cards, joking around, drinking, teasing each other, playing horse shoe and bean bag toss.

I met many older adults through my work in long term care. There were residents who declined any invitation to participate in recreation programs because they were too old or tired. Other residents said yes to every offer even before they heard what you had in mind. One lady, aged 92, welcomed me into her room for weekly art therapy sessions even though she was blind and deaf. She spoke, mostly reminiscing about what she had and how much she had lost and, I listened. She drew, painted and healed.

How are you aging? Are you living in fear? “What if I have a stroke, heart attack, breast cancer”? Are you living your own life or someone else’s? It’s never too late to claim it. Are you fighting the wrinkles, white hairs, aging spots? Are you grateful for your strong body, the one that has carried you through thick and thin, enduring much abuse (too much work, too little sleep)?

Stop for a moment and think about the way people described you as a baby. “You were so quiet, easiest baby ever” or “you were full of beans, always busy, you hated sleep”. What were you like as a child? Where was your favorite spot to hang out? What activity did you do that made time fly? How did you express yourself as a teenager? Were you athletic, artistic, hard-working, lonely? What have been the main challenges in your life and how have you handled them? Can you see your essence, the parts of yourself that were always there? Your essence is going to be the same as you age. Your strength, sense of humor, love of nature, compassionate heart will forever be a part of you.

So what are we afraid of as we get old? Being ill and dependent on others, feeling useless and vulnerable, losing our attractiveness and sex appeal, approaching our mortality. We can’t see into the future or prevent negative events from influencing our lives but, in each moment, we can choose to be present, alive, engaged, joyful and grateful. Say yes to life and, regardless of how many years you have left, life will feel full.

Activity: This is more fun if you do it with a partner. Get a roll of craft paper. Draw each other’s body outline on the paper. Use markers to draw and write on your paper outline. Draw your body’s scars (acne from when you were a teenager, cysts on your ovaries that caused infertility, physical or sexual abuse), write the messages you or others have given your body over time (too fat, too hairy, too flat, too pale), acknowledge the way you have abused your body (diets, crazy exercise regimen, drinking, lack of sleep, saying yes to sex when you wanted to say no, exertion from overdoing it). When you are done designing your body outline, put it aside, still within view.

Get a piece of lined paper and a pen. Write a love letter to your body. Tell your body how much you love it down to every cell. Ask for its forgiveness. Thank it for its patience, strength and endurance. Promise to take good care of it from this day forward. Write three steps you can take this month to move toward more self-care and a healthier body: drinking more water, going to bed at a reasonable time, preparing healthier snacks, making an appointment with your doctor for that check-up you keep putting off, whatever is meaningful to you.

Give yourself a hug, breathe deep into yourself and be grateful for this moment.

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I feel so blessed as I write this month’s blog. I am sitting in my cozy kitchen, the sun is streaming in. My daughters are busy playing in their toy room, using their vivid imaginations. I can see my art studio from here, a huge, colourful flower basket hanging next to its door. I offered a self-care workshop for activity professionals in Winchester this week. It was lots of fun. I enjoyed watching these generous women who care for others all week take some time to nurture themselves. For months, I interviewed women who have survived cancer, strong women who inspired me. Their stories are now being published in the NG Times as a five week series (www.ngtimes.ca). I am also starting to understand Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I use these social media tools to reach more people and give them a glimpse of what I do. I agreed to drive a young man diagnosed with Aspergers to his home from work every Wednesday. He has inspired me to write about the challenges faced by adults on the spectrum looking for employment. He also motivated me to look into the links between Autism and Alzheimer’s. I used to wonder about this connection when I worked on a locked unit in long term care. As I research this link, I see that others have asked this question and the outcome of their research is promising. I am reading: “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat”. This book examines various neurological disorders and their impact on every day life. Fascinating! I am launching a new group of Divorce Divas in July and there are a few requests to provide private Sassy Ladies workshops for clients and their friends as well. Meredith Luce is currently illustrating one of my children’s books: “Have You Hugged Your Alien?”. Meredith illustrated my decks of art therapy cards last year. I am getting positive feedback from individuals who have purchased my “Women in Transition” art therapy decks on a regular basis and I am grateful for Meredith’s talent which made it all possible. Erika Cuccaro, a local writer, kindly visited my studio and will be writing about my services in her blog “52 Weeks in North Grenville” (www.52weeksng.wordpress.com). My daughters will be out of school in one week’s time. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and mother which means I get to balance my life between being a mom and an art therapist. I love my summers with the girls: the beach, ice cream, parks, museums, galleries…bring it on!

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The “art” of navigating family transitions

Every family struggles at one time or another. Whether it be a death, divorce, birth,
illness, marriage or, moving overseas, no family is immune to events within the life
cycle. As the family system stretches and evolves, some family members embrace
change, others resist it and some deny that anything is changing at all. Communication
can become stunted or one-sided as loved ones fight to reinstate balance. Voices are
raised, bodies become tense. Each person has a version of how this situation came to
be, who’s to blame and what must happen next.

Art therapy is such a powerful tool for families in transition. Family members ages 4 and
up can participate therefore everyone’s perspective is included. As conflicts are
expressed on paper, core issues emerge. The family can discuss these issues,
manipulate them and conclude that each member wants the same things: happiness,
love and calm. This motivates them to get creative and work together on finding viable
solutions. Far from screaming, blaming and criticizing, members are engaged in moving
forward; conscious and respectful of each other’s needs. Communication is unlocked,
humour returns and minds unite to achieve collective goals.

No artistic skill is required to benefit from art therapy. Art materials are merely tools to
facilitate self-expression, communication and insight. If you’d like to experience this
firsthand, gather your family around the table, provide markers and paper then ask
family members to draw their version of whatever issue needs to be resolved. Ask each
person to share his or her drawing, describing what they have depicted. Instruct the
others to listen without interrupting.

When everyone has been heard, summarize what you have learned. If you are faced
with multiple issues, pick the one that needs immediate attention. Then, take a large
sheet of paper and, as a group, brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Have the
group vote on their favourite solution. If you have a tie, compile a list of pros and cons
for each one until you have a clear winner.

Next, create a contract to ensure every family member commits to this solution. The
contract should describe the new behaviours that are expected from the entire family.
You can choose to type up a very formal contract or write it in marker on a banner and
have each family member sign it. Finally, place the contract where everyone can see it,
as a reminder of expectations and, schedule a date for the next family meeting (one
week later).

The entire process is very straightforward and extremely beneficial. Feel free to visit my
website http://www.artnsoul.org to explore my “Current Projects” section, register for one of
my workshops or book a session.

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Collaboration. That is the word that sums up 2014 for me so far. January and February
have vanished. I have met so many mental health professionals in the new year. We all
want to contribute our skills in a meaningful way and serve our community.

I am partnering with the Kemptville Youth Centre to create an art therapy app for teens.
We will be applying for funding in April 2014.

I met with Bev Illauq at Community Connections. I am hoping to use their space on
Prescott Street to offer a theatre intervention program for parents of teens.

Christine Skinner, at the Military Family Resource Centre, has come to my studio for a
visit. We are collaborating on self-care workshops for mental health professionals as
well as workshops for couples where one partner has been diagnosed with PTSD.

I just recorded a lecture about PTSD for professionals learning about pain management
at McGill. What an exciting experience that was! I love technology, especially when it
allows me to connect with people and share important information.

I was introduced to some equine therapists who are looking to bring their services to the
area. We may be sharing some of my space to facilitate a wellness retreat. This would
be a dream come true!

I am currently interviewing women who have beat cancer for an article in the North
Grenville Times. They are teaching me to savor every moment, enjoy my children and
take care of myself.

I will be very busy in April as my professional association, CATA, helps art therapists
transition to our new status as recognized mental health professionals through the
College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists. Once
this process is completed, summer 2014, I will be covered by insurance. This will really
help clients who can’t afford to pay for therapy.

Not only is collaboration an excellent process for me as I grow as a professional, group work can also be very powerful for my clients. In my group therapy with teen moms, mothers of children diagnosed on the spectrum, divorce divas and caregivers, I witnessed the healing process of sharing information, swapping stories and celebrating victories. The reduced cost of groups means it is accessible to more people. As friendships form, group members can meet up and support each other in between sessions.

Look for my monthly art therapy groups starting in May 2014 on the Current Projects
page at http://www.artnsoul.org. The cost is $40 per participant. Participants must e-mail me
at artnsoul@ripnet.com to register. There are only five participants per session. Absolutely no artistic talent is required!

Saturday Mornings:
Teen Art Group (first Saturday of each month, 11am-12pm)
The goal of each session is to offer a safe place where teens can gather, use the art
materials and connect with their peers. Everything discussed in the group is
confidential. Participation in this group can create a sense of belonging, foster new
friendships, offer support and provide tools for constructive self-expression.

Divorce Divas (second Saturday of each month, 11am-12pm)
Get your groove back! Getting divorced beats the granny out if you. Come and meet
others who are undergoing this process or have survived it. Get creative, have a few
laughs, let everything out and breathe. Feel lighter and supported.

Survivors of Childhood Abuse (third Saturday of each month, 11am-12pm)
Life after trauma can be challenging. Verbal therapy can feel daunting if you have no
words to express what you have experienced. Meeting others who understand is a good
place to start recovery. This group provides an opportunity for self-expression,
acceptance, belonging and healing. Art gives you a voice. The group is your safety net.

Parents of Teens (fourth Saturday of each month, 11am-12pm)
Loving and supporting a teenager is hard work. Meet with other parents, share triumphs
and tribulations, cheer and comfort each other. You’ll find that creative work is like a
visual meditation. It helps you focus, release emotions and gain insight. You will feel
empowered and supported.

Thursday Mornings:
Birth Art (first Thursday of each month, 11am-12pm)
Explore your excitement and apprehension with other moms. Gain some insight and
confidence. Art can help you prepare for childbirth; rehearsing your ideal scenario,
anchoring calm sensations in your body and filling your mind with soothing images.

Support for People Living with Depression/Anxiety (second Thursday of each
month, 11am-12pm)
Explore your anxiety through images, sensations, hues and words. Bring color and
texture back into your life. Share tips and resources with others. Meet people who
understand. Support each other in a confidential, creative and calming environment.

Partners of People with PTSD (third Thursday of each month, 11am-12pm)
When a loved one suffers, every family member is affected. Torn between self-care,
compassion for one’s partner and, in some cases, parenting, life can get overwhelming.
Don’t suffer in isolation. Meet other strong partners, exchange helpful information or
resources, laugh and feel supported by those who understand.

Self-Care for Caregivers (fourth Thursday of each month, 11am-12pm)
If you are always busy looking after others, this workshop is for you. Take some time for
yourself; to breathe, create and connect with others. Leave each session feeling lighter,
stronger and supported.

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What is Happening to our Daughters?

In October 2013, I set out to work as an art therapist with families in transition from a
restored barn on my property in Kemptville. I expected mostly middle-aged women who
were overworked, stressed, overwhelmed and at some crossroad in their life. I was not
prepared for the wave of moms calling on behalf of their teen daughters. One mother
after another described living on the edge.

How do you sleep when your daughter texts you in the middle of the night because she
no longer wants to live? Where do you go when your suicidal daughter is released from
hospital and you must keep a constant watch for any clues that she might try again.
What happens when you discover that your daughter regularly harms herself? How do
you keep her safe from herself? Parents worry about their young girls starving
themselves while others witness a cycle of binging and purging. How do you infuse
calm in your teenager when she gets panic attacks or suffers from generalized anxiety?
How do you protect her from online bullies when it’s not your love and approval she
craves, it’s theirs.

A quick visit to the Royal Ottawa website revealed that:
“In the past year, The Royal has seen a 75% increase in mood disorders, a 22%
increase in moderate to severe substance use issues, and a 120% increase in youth
presenting with Borderline Personality Disorder”(www.theroyal.ca).

Borderline Personality Disorder makes relationships with others difficult. Between the
fear of rejection, high impulsivity and difficulty controlling emotions, life can get a bit
intense. Add to this the tendency to fluctuate in your perception of others from ideal to
disappointing. Your self image also changes based on other people’s response to you.
You cycle through anxiety, depression and anger which makes you a very unpredictable
person (http://bpdresourcecenter.org/DSM-IV.html).

Most parents looking for mental health support for their teenager will turn to hospitals.
However, they are confronted with the reality of long wait times to access the services
they urgently need. “Since 2009, the number of patients admitted to CHEO with suicide
risk has increased 33%, and the number with self injury has increased 61%. This past
year, CHEO has seen a 17% increase in the number of admissions with moderate to
severe substance use issues” (www.theroyal.ca).

What do we do?
“For the past 5 years, The Royal and CHEO have partnered to form the Children and
Youth – Specialized Psychiatric and Mental Health Services program (CY-SPMHS). This
program delivers specialized psychiatric and mental health services for children and
youth under shared regional leadership and using a centralized intake
process” (www.theroyal.ca).

Councillor Allan Hubley took action when his son Jamie committed suicide following his
release from hospital. He recognized the need for services to support families between
their release from hospital and access to professional services. “The Bridge Project is a
collaborative effort between the Youth Services Bureau (YSB), CHEO, Ottawa Public
Health and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group to provide critical mental health
services for the youth who need it most” (www.ottawasun.com).

As the mother of young girls, this information is alarming. As a mental health
professional, it urges me to get busy. I decided to volunteer my art therapy skills to the
Kemptville Youth Centre on a monthly basis to connect with local teens. I am currently
working on an art therapy app that would allow teens to work through issues when and
where they need help (in the middle of the night), using the very technology they
already possess. This could easily be shared among teens. The outcome of activities
within this app could then be e-mailed to a mental health professional, providing crucial

If you are a parent, remember that your teenager needs you. If you are a teacher,
recognize your impact on each teenager in your class. If you are a member of this
community, make time for youth, share your skills or just listen to them. If you are a
mental health professional, join me in meeting the needs of local families.

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