Kate’s Couch: Sharing My Complex-PTSD Therapy Sessions

Carole's Tall Ship B

Therapy for Complex PTSD (multiple traumatic events) is more shot-in-the-dark than science.  Mental health professionals don’t have viable treatment protocols for PTSD (one traumatic event), and most are totally clueless about treating Complex PTSD.  Sadly, too many still think, for example, that EMDR is effective.  It isn’t.

Most of us with Complex PTSD are disabled.  We don’t have access to competent mental health professionals, and we can’t pay for the therapy we need.  The silver lining of my most recent PTSD episode is that I have found a wonderful therapist named Kate who seems to know what she’s doing.  She practices hypnosis which I have heard is highly effective.  We aren’t there yet.  I still have major trust issues.

In reading other PTSD posts, I realize that many folks with PTSD might benefit by being allowed to go along on my therapy ride.  We’re all navigating uncharted waters until the Veteran’s Administration’s research comes up with viable treatment protocols that will hopefully trickle down to the general public.  After this post was published, I discovered Right Health’s annotated list of blog posts dealing with Complex-PTSD treatment.  There’s a wealth of information available at their site.

Carole's Lighthouse

Kate and I didn’t start out at the lighthouse, but we were there last night on the beach for a Healing Ceremony for Puget Sound.  I think that’s a good place for us to start this journey together.  In my next Kate’s Couch post, I’ll share what I learned from our first therapy session.

Healing ceremonies are a Native American tradition.  While I didn’t understand everything that happened yesterday, it was totally cool.  I’ll explain it as best I can and apologize in advance to those of you who are well-versed in these traditions.

We gathered at the beach a few hours before sunset.  I think you could probably do this anywhere in Nature that speaks to your soul.  You could do it by yourself or with a group.  You might feel a bit awkward at first, but the folks at the beach seemed to be quite envious of our experience and curious about what we were doing.

Fortunately for me, Kate organized the event.  She brought sea shells, empty cups, songs to chant, meditations, drums, firewood, and food.  The healing ceremony was for the ocean and creatures within it.  But, I think the ceremony is a great place for us to start our own healing too.  So, I’m going to digress a bit from what Kate did and add some of my own New Year’s traditions.

First, find a place in Nature that speaks to your soul.  It may be a beach or a nature trail in a park.  It could be a mountain top or desert or prairie.  It could be a pond or a waterfall or a stream.  It could be as simple as a tree in your yard or a flower pot on your porch.

Second, decide what needs to be healed.  What painful memories do you need to jettison?  Write each one on a slip of paper.  What are your healing intentions?  Write each one on a slip of paper.

Third, get yourself a small drum.  A traditional Native American drum would be perfect, but an empty oatmeal cannister might do the trick.

Fourth, bring along firewood (if it will be safe to have a fire at your destination) or a small votive candle and an ashtray.

Fifth, write your own meditations and lyrics for chants or research them on the Internet.

Sixth, plan your healing ceremony.  I’ll share with you what we did yesterday to give you a guide.

Kate had us write on small Dixie cups what we wanted to heal in the ocean (whales, fish, kelp, water, etc.).  We placed a rock in the bottom of each cup to keep them from blowing over and filled them with water from Puget Sound.

We gathered in a circle, and she lead us in chants and singing to the air, the earth, the ocean, the sky, etc.  We repeated them facing north, east, south, and west ~ four times.  The idea is to connect with Nature on a soul-level.

Next, we each took a stick (you could use a slip of paper).  One by one, we stated our healing intentions and added our sticks to the bonfire pile.  In unison, people standing north, east, south, and west lit the bonfire.  We did more chants and meditations.

After the fire was blazing, we started drumming and singing joyfully.  I was stunned at the power I felt on a soul-level.  I felt profoundly connected to Nature, and my intentions were literally drummed into my soul.  The drumming was very healing.  I felt the pain lift from my heart which allowed me to commit to healing.  Kate asked us to make a commitment to the healing for which we agreed to be responsible.

When we finished drumming, we took the Dixie cups and gently tossed the water back into Puget Sound while re-stating our intentions.

My sense is that it would work equally well to burn one-by-one the slips of paper containing your painful memories.  Each New Year’s Eve, I write on slips of paper what I want to jettison from my life and what I want to invite into my life.  At midnight, I burn the slips of paper one-by-one and ask the Universe for help.  It helps me let go.  And, it helps me focus my own intentions for the coming year.

In essence, it sets my priorities for the year and seals my commitment to them.

The ceremony was complete and a very healthy and delicious potluck dinner was served just as the sun started to set.  It was a perfect ending to a lovely weekend.  I woke up this morning ready to meet the challenges of the week.  My day was highly productive, but I didn’t want it to end before I shared my experience with you.

May God bless you and heal you as you navigate your way to a safe harbor.


All photos courtesy of Carole May © 2009.  All rights reserved.  You may purchase Carole’s photographs at WhalesandSails.com.


15 responses to “Kate’s Couch: Sharing My Complex-PTSD Therapy Sessions

  1. Hello,
    I realize this is an older posts but I loved it. I can relate to it in so many ways. I too have PTSD. Yesterday, by late afternoon, I realized that this was what was going on. I called it a bad memory day. Every moment was filled with a new bad memory. I had to stay very busy, finally falling to sleep in front of the TV, which is never a good sign for me. I get a lot from hypnosis. I need to do it more regularly. It really really helps!
    I had EMDR once. It backfired. I began having flashbacks and I had gone for depression. Never had those flashbacks before that day. I still have them and it’s been about ten years ago!
    I looked up the two women online. Found their names but was unsure what you meant, if in fact your comment I read was to me — anyway, I was wondering what you had in mind when you said I should look them up.
    And if the comment was not for me, then my mistake.
    You have a wonderful site here. Lots of information and also beautiful pictures.
    A very dear friend of mine passed away about one month ago. His ashes were sent to his sister who put them into the Puget (sp?) sound. He was a sea-scout as a young man and had fond memories. His family was from Seattle and he moved to NC to help his Dad start the first bakery in Chapel Hill.
    His name was Sonny. I loved him.
    Sorry I got off subject.
    Your pictures and story of the healing ceremony reminded me of him.
    I have a fire pit in my back yard. I invite people over and we have fires but I don’t think they have a clue that I’m having my own private little ceremony. Fire is healing and powerful. So is water. I wish I lived near the water. Hopefully one day I will.
    I always take my drum with me to the fire pit. I love it. My son’s dad, who is late, was part Cherokee so I’ve always been attracted to Native American culture, especially healing ceremonies.
    Thanks for this site and your work here.

  2. Dog Kisses,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your very kind and sensitive message. And, thank you for bringing me back to the healing message of this post.

    I bought a drum last October, and I think tonight would be a good time to bring it out to call to the spirit of my primary guardian angel. Drake’s Drum was a powerful instrument for the British during World War II.

    EMDR works for PTSD, but it is the absolutely worst thing for someone with Complex-PTSD.

    Sadly, too many therapists don’t know this.

    The reason I include so many photos is that most of my visitors are dealing with some pretty rugged stuff. I think the photos help us to take a little visual break from the stress and tension in our lives.

    I believe very profoundly that people walking in our shoes need hope and information. So, I’m very grateful for your feedback and the time you took to write such a nice message.

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

  3. Hi Caroline,
    I wanted mostly to say hello here. I’m glad you got your drum out. I would have a fire tonight if it wasn’t the holiday. I have a feeling people are going to shoot fireworks. My dogs don’t like it and frankly, I don’t like the loud ones. If I had the funds, we would be on top of a mountain safe in my tent as I write. That is where I feel safe. Way up there where all is quiet and nature is easier to be with than people are sometimes.
    As it is, I am in the triangle, dealing with responsibilities. Hopefully, and it may mean a little help from the universe, I will get my camping trip in during July. I do not like the heat here at all. I actually don’t like the traffic either. I wonder what I do like about living where I do?
    Thank you for sharing and I’m really glad we’ve connected. There are many things I’d like to get back to. Like healing ceremonies and spiritual practice in my life.
    The past seven years I’ve focused on helping my son and I got lost along the way. Finally, I think and hope I’m coming back to myself and this time with more wisdom from the years of the many hard challenges and circumstances I’ve lived had to face.
    I hope this day is bringing some healing to your grieving heart right now.

    Peace and blessings,
    (–to our sea inhabitants too)

  4. DogKisses,

    Rita Anita Linger and Vernetta Cockerham are in your neck of the woods. Rita Anita now works for SERA ~ South East Raleigh Association. She’s an extraordinarily spiritual person who is the best domestic violence advocate on the planet. Unfortunately, she doesn’t do this work for the NC Coalition anymore.

    I hope that you are able to connect with Rita Anita and Vernetta. They are beautiful people.

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

  5. My local crisis center has suggested that I might have PTSD, but I have no health insurance and I’m not working right now, so it’s hard to come up with the money on unemployment. Most of the time I say that I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and violence, but as the psychological abuse continues from him in relation to the children, I find that each day is a real blessing that I’m still alive and breathing. I used to attend sweat lodge in the Portland area, and was newsletter director for an urban indian group called People’s circle. But where I live now, where I tried to get away from my abuser, I don’t really know anyone to connect to. I have temporary custody of my kids, won that in May, without a lawyer, against his fancy paid lawyer. But I am so tired; and am worried if I can get a way to see someone about this PTSD that it will be held against me in this state, as emotional stability is taken into account in the trial, which comes up in the fall.

    From Jobby

  6. Jobby,

    OR is a tough state for women experiencing domestic violence. Quite frankly, I think most of us are better off with the resources available on the Internet. If you are Native American, there is a special emphasis nationally on providing extra resources.

    I strongly encourage you to visit RightsforMothers.com. It is on my blog roll. She knows EVERYTHING there is to know about custody battles in abusive relationships.

    I’m glad you’ve been surfing around my site. I try to post everything I learn as soon as I discover something that seems to work or is worthwhile.

    The thing that helps me most with PTSD is to hold the person who causes the episode accountable. I have been shocked to see the number of laws on the books that protect us ~ many of them, however, don’t get enforced.

    The other thing that helps me with severe PTSD episodes is to do something that requires intense focus. I did this instinctively for years before I realized it was quite therapeutic ~ one of my visitors made a comment. I’ve done needlepoint and knitting. I can get lost in jig saw puzzles. I have favorite authors who help me escape.

    Scribbling in my journal each morning first thing is vital to my recovery. I create collages for their covers ~ I wrote a post about how to do this a long time ago. I’ve become a big believer in collages as a way to map out our hopes and dreams. They are also helpful in expressing feelings we didn’t realize we had. I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a long time, but I’m not quite sure how to explain it. You have inpsired me to get serious about it.

    Welcome, Jobby. I hope as you surf around my site and the others on my blog roll that you won’t feel quite so alone.

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

  7. Can’t even reconstruct how I stumbled across your blog (bad memory day indeed)…

    My experience w/EMDR was meh, which may have been mostly the therapist (she seemed far more concerned w/armchair diagnoses of the men, past & present, in my life, rather than concentrating on ME). so I still struggle w/my own PTSD symptoms: are they real, are they Memorex, are they just bad habits???

    I have plotted a healing ceremony of my own, but somehow never quite get ‘a round tuit’ – it’s interesting to read about yours, Anne.

  8. Thanks, Val. EMDR doesn’t work well for those of us who have Complex-PTSD ~ we have too many triggers.

    I hear you on those ‘is this real or is it Memorex moments” ~ I have them myself ~ use the same phrase to describe them. I can guarantee you that lots of times I wish it was Memorex.

    I’m not sure it is so much bad habits as it is bad conditioning ~ our brains get hard-wired to accept abuse. We learn quickly that the abuse escalates in intensity until we bend to the abuser’s power and control.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the review of SOLDIER’S HEART. It is a fascinating book about how traumatic experiences cause people to get PTSD ~ how it manifests ~ how many of the things I thought were symptoms were actually manifestations to the damage to our brains caused by the initial trauma. Essentially, the adrenaline rush that helps keep us alive also fries our brains ~ similar to the damage done by over-loaded electrical circuits.

    I’ll be posting again about PTSD soon. The latest issue of PREVENTION has an interesting article.

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

  9. Great blog! I’m fairly well healed from Complex PTSD. I did it on my own, therapy was re-traumatizing due to the low quality of personalities of my therapists. I healed myself through a combination of removing situations (mostly ending relationships with a lot of people), removing triggers (legally changed my name, for example), meditation and contemplation (substituting positive thought patterns for the triggering thought patterns that I couldn’t be entirely free from – like eating for example, and also learning to be present in my body in a safe environment – not dissociated), also the passage of time helped, and also good self care such as diet and exercise.

    I still have some issues that I don’t know if I will ever be free of. I had early menopause from the stress, had an eating disorder for the first 35 years of my life as well as colon problems, and have poor socialization. (I was directly abused from birth to about age 40 by 4 different people and indirectly by a few others – including self-abuse). I also had substance abuse problems bu that is mostly over with (I still drink too much sometimes, but intermittently and never a bender). I still have intermittent colon problems but no longer an eating disorder. I still have hot flashes/panic attacks that come and go and are sometimes severe. I’ve decided that it’s easier for me to be alone than to deal with social situations and intimate relationships (outside of my marriage to a man with Asperger’s Syndrome – he’s been a good partner to a traumatized person!)

    The best thing that’s happened for me is to be able to accept the good with the bad: I’ve suffered a lot but I think I’ve attained a lot. I’m both disappointed and satisfied, angry and forgiving, fearful and confident. I’ve realized that some things could only be healed indirectly, and some things may never be healed.

    Probably the most important thing I work on at this point is keeping my stress level as low as possible through living as privately as possible, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, body scanning and breathing, and mindfulness meditation (shuts down the inner dialog).

    I worry about my future, my health in particular, because of the past traumas. I try to channel my worry into calm action, like writing this post or taking a walk or reading a book… Keeping my stress low. Releasing tension.

    Thanks to Kate and to all who post, every word helps someone at some time, I think.

  10. After working with a clinical psychologist long experienced in helping people with C-PTSD heal, I have no more symptoms and can manage situations that would have triggered me in the past. What helped me was working in Ego State Therapy to prepare for EMDR. As it turned out, the Ego State Therapy work helped me more than the EMDR, but the EMDR was helpful in dealing with some of the damage. The Ego State work helped decrease my fragmentation and helped get my personality parts working together for the good of the whole. I believe that we each suffer trauma damage differently and each require an individualized treatment according to our needs, personality types, and learning styles. My therapist was wise enough to know this, and she gave me choices as to what our approach could be. I chose the modality that seemed most comfortable to me. Some people who have commented here think that EMDR is useless or damaging, but it helped me when I was ready for it. I’m glad EMDR exists, but I recognize that it may not help everyone. Ego State Therapy may not be helpful to everyone, either. But I’m thankful that it was available for me! Let’s hope and pray that C-PTSD makes it into the next edition of the DSM!

  11. Hi I just came across this blog post whislt browsing and I am twenty- four and have had complex PTSD for a long time now Ive been in therapy for three years and it has been a rollercoaster of a ride with another trauma accident happening to me this year

    I just wanted to say that I find it so comforting to know that people write about this condition as it makes me feel not so alone for me it is hard to put into words and that is why I write as i find it the best way to express things

    thank you for caring about those who have PTSD xxxx

  12. Hi, Michelle! My experience with therapy as a client with C-PTSD has been very different from yours. In 2010 I found a clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon, who has had many years of experience helping people with C-PTSD, and I worked diligently for five years to get my PTSD symptoms to the point where I could manage them. I’m not “cured,” but I can live a relatively normal life without the disabling symptoms such as flashbacks, dissociative episodes, anxiety attacks, etc. I also am able to sense when I’m in a possibly triggering situation and prevent the symptoms from taking over. I’ve never taken any psychotropic medication, but I have used my mind to do the job. I feel that I have reached the goals I set for myself in therapy, and now I can involve myself in life rather than be held prisoner by symptoms. That’s all I want!

    Re EMDR: I spent almost four years in therapy preparing for EMDR, and by the time I was ready for that treatment, I didn’t need to spend much time with it. I had made so much progress with my use of Internal Family Systems Therapy that I almost skipped EMDR, but I’m glad i didn’t. What EMDR did for me was to fine-tune the results of the other work I had done. For example, with EMDR, I might have an insight related to an insight I’d already had using IFST, but the EMDR insight seemed to amplify or to expand on that one. I sensed that the EMDR work was done in a different place in my psyche, and the results of EMDR fit with the results of IFST to make me feel more “whole.” This is not easy to describe in words, so please forgive me for lack of clarity.

    What I can say with conviction is that EMDR was important in helping me pull everything together and reach the point where I was ready to leave therapy and move out of Portland to a more rural area in SW Washington where I feel a lot less stressed and have the energy to participate in projects that are dear to my heart. I am almost 78 now, and I am leading a life that i enjoy and a life that makes me feel worthwhile. Life is good. I wish the same for you and for everyone who suffers from Complex PTSD. I pray that C-PTSD will be listed as an individual diagnosis in the DSM so more people can get the help they need in the future.

  13. This has been really inspiring for me I live in London the U.K I have been to Oregon though and you are lucky to live in such a beautiful place. I have started E.M.D.R and it has helped me talk more I feel like this new trauma has set me back a lot I was born with heart condition that came with many complications and i have had near death experiences which have made me feel terrified even at the age of twenty four now but I have an excellent therapist and my medication is working wonders for me i am less on guard and jumpy but I still have a long way to go I know that but just talking about it makes it less of a monster to me so thank you

  14. Michelle,

    Welcome to Navigating Uncharted Waters. Yes, Oregon is lovely. I’ve always wanted to visit England and am quite fond of all things British.

    One of the things I know for sure is that competent medical practitioners make all the difference in our ability to thrive and find joy. I am so happy to hear that you have a good therapist.

    Sending hugs and best wishes,
    Anne Caroline

  15. Jean,

    Thank you for you comment. I’ve been told that EMDR isn’t as effective in treating C-PTSD ~ especially if someone has had multiple traumatic events which trigger PTSD. As you know, it is difficult to access and to sift through treatment protocols which actually work for C-PTSD.

    Somewhere along the line, I read that we need to be in a safe place for treatment to be effective, and I haven’t been in a safe place for over a couple of decades.

    I’m going to add a link to your site to my blogroll.

    Sending hugs and best wishes,
    Anne Caroline

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s