Trauma therapists–therapists in NYC and elsewhere who treat PTSD–become experts in crisis. How we confront crises that don’t constitute trauma, per se–those that wouldn’t likely lead to a life experience that we might want to classify as PTSD–can be informed by the knowledge trauma therapists have gained from this work. For those therapists who were practicing therapy in NYC on and after September 11, 2001, a side-effect of that terrifying experience is tremendous experience in helping people manage crises, trauma and the pain that can follow, including PTSD.
What do I mean by crisis?
- You and your partner of several years have been fighting into the night and it’s unclear whether or not the relationship is going to make it.
- Your company’s website is down and you’re losing business by the minute. Customers are calling, outraged.
- Your wife’s been in a car accident and is currently being rushed to the hospital.
- You’ve been out of work for months, your savings are gone and your unemployment benefits are about to run out.
A crisis demand immediate and intense attention. A crisis is high stakes. A crisis comes with the threat of destructive consequences.
Be in the crisis (but don’t be the crisis)
“This can’t be happening!”
There’s a lot of talk among therapists who work with trauma about helping people who’ve been through a crisis move out of it. That’s a deeply important conversation, but it doesn’t apply while the crisis is still active. There’s a good deal of denial that goes on in a crisis. Often the very nature of a crisis is such that it’s hard to believe it’s actually happening. The sooner you accept that the crisis is happening, the sooner you’ll
Trust yourself, but phone a friend
The balance between trusting your gut and recognizing that, in crisis, your gut might lead you astray is a tricky one. Crisis demand urgency which demands acting on intuition. Still, we have to acknowledge that in crisis some of the juices that flow, from the perspective of evolution, come from a time when a crisis demanded acts of great physical strength or endurance–not usually the resources we most need in a modern crisis. Phoning a friend to reality test and double check a plan is, in a sense, borrowing their nervous system. The friend isn’t in the crisis and so it likely to see your crisis differently.
Play small ball (think short term)
No, we don’t want to make moves that set us up for long term failure. Being reactive is a recipe for digging ourselves into a deeper hole. At the same time, we have to accept that when we’re in a crisis, making it out okay with as little damage as possible is likely the best sort of win.
You have to see beyond the limitations of the moment
“This, too, shall pass” are wise words. The landscape around us is always changing and as it shifts, new possibilities will emerge. A crisis often seeks to convince us that there is no way out. There usually is.
And the last step: Stop doing crisis
It’s a lot of work being in a crisis. To do it well means accepting what’s happening and generally being all in. With a hefty crisis we can at times adjust to a sort of new normal. Especially if our lives have been filled with more than our share of trauma, we can be vulnerable to getting stuck in such a place. In fact, this is one manifestation of PTSD. When the dust has settled, when the crisis is moving towards resolve, let yourself calm down.