What is Trauma-Informed Counseling?

Trauma-Informed Counseling means recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. In general, trauma is the experience of extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. People who have been traumatized need support and understanding from those around them. Often, trauma survivors can be re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and community service providers who haven’t been properly trained.

Trauma is usually shrouded in secrecy and denial; and it is often ignored. However, we now know that trauma is a near universal experience of individuals with behavioral health problems. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, 85% to 95% of women in the public mental health system report a history of trauma. An individual’s experience of trauma impacts their physical, mental, behavioral, social, and spiritual lives.

Why does Trauma-Informed Counseling Matter?

Trauma-Informed Counseling is more that just a theory, it is an overall approach to counseling that includes everything from being mindful about the way the physical environment of the therapy room may affect clients, to understanding that even the most destructive behavior patterns are simply a way of adapting to the trauma and a method of surviving and managing current discomfort.

Trauma-informed counselors recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, and believe that recovering from the trauma is just as important as dealing with the “issue” that brought the client to therapy in the first place (ie..substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.). Trauma-informed counselors focus on and build strengths: life will inevitably bring new challenges, and reliance on these strengths is key to navigating those challenges and making it through to the other side. Furthermore, trauma-informed counselors make their own self-care a priority so they don’t burn out or experience vicarious trauma. Finally, and most importantly, trauma-informed counselors wholeheartedly believe that people with lived experiences of trauma can and do recover and heal.

Certification in Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma-Informed Counseling--Certification in Traumatic Stress Studies

This summer, I completed a nine-month certification program in Traumatic Stress Studies through The Trauma Center at JRI in Boston. My teachers included some of the leading researchers in the field of trauma, including Bessel van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score.” Throughout the past nine months, we learned the latest research and treatment options in these areas:

  • Neurobiology of trauma
  • Attachment theory
  • Understanding trauma in developmental context
  • Complex and acute trauma
  • Dissociation and memory
  • Stabilization
  • Trauma Processing: Cognitive, Expressive, Mind-Body, EMDR
  • Play therapy with traumatized children
  • Trauma and resiliency
  • Vicarious trauma and self-care

Why did I Invest in this Certification?

I found that while working with individuals struggling with stress-management, anxiety, and depression, oftentimes there is an underlying trauma or event that has had a major impact on the following aspects of their lives:

  • Self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Their view of themselves and the world around them
  • Ability to form and maintain new relationships with others
  • The thoughts and behaviors they use to manage discomfort and stress
  • Their ability to control their emotions, and their connection to their creativity and spirituality.

I wanted to learn more about why and how these things change, and, most importantly, how I could better help them in counseling. I value giving my clients the best possible care when they enter through my doors, and I owe it to them to stay informed about new developments in the field and apply this knowledge in the work we do in counseling.

In my next post, I will be sharing a few things that I think are important for everyone to know about trauma. As I stated earlier, trauma is shrouded in secrecy, and survivors feel isolated and often avoid seeking treatment. However, the reality is that trauma is common across all races, genders, and cultural backgrounds. It’s time to shine a spotlight on the commonality of trauma, so healing can begin.

Trauma-Informed Counseling Resources

To learn more about trauma-informed counseling, please visit the following:

 

 


Kara Ashley-Gilmore is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and Founder of Mountain Creative Arts Counseling. I provide trauma-informed counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. I often incorporate the creative process into therapy sessions to help clients use their creativity for their own growth and healing.


 

 

Anxiety is a Trickster

Adventures in String Art

Anxiety trickster

Other than a fantastic lunch with a new friend, yesterday was a mostly crappy day filled with many things not panning out the way they were supposed to, feeling like I’ve been spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing, and a lingering cough that–despite a trip to the doctor and multiple natural and very unnatural medications–seems to only be intensifying.

I signed up to take a string art workshop in the afternoon, and it felt like the universe was conspiring against me getting there. Old me would have taken the multiple missed/wrong turns (traffic circles are the worst!), emergency stop for gas, and sloooowww moving interstate traffic as a sign that I shouldn’t go, that there​ was a reason all of this was happening, it’s completely unacceptable and unprofessional to show up late, and I should retreat back to the safety of home because, obviously, SOMETHING bad would happen if I continued on this path.

Anxiety is a Trickster

Anxiety is the greatest trickster and will make you believe that everything is out to destroy you. Years of practice with talking back to this inner catastrophizer and wannabe psychic helped me get to the place where I could use tools to calm my mind and my shaky hands, and get my head out of the scenes of destruction that were playing on repeat in my head, and back in 4:15pm on Friday, March 24th.

The truth is, had I taken the time to check in with myself before I left, I would have noticed the building anxiety, done something about it, gotten gas earlier in the day, and I probably wouldn’t have made so many wrong turns along the way. Anxiety breeds behaviors that cause more anxiety. It’s a cycle, that only the person caught in it can stop, and it begins with pausing long enough to notice how you’re​ feeling.

…Anyways, I made it to the workshop. I was late. No one cared. And if they did, they were gracious enough not to say anything. I made this string art for my son. He loved it, and it’s safe to assume Yoki likes it too.

Happy Creative Arts Therapies Week!

March 12-18 is National Creative Arts Therapies Week–a week to celebrate and learn more about art, dance, music, drama, and poetry therapies.

 In honor of this event, I’m sharing 7 interesting facts about art therapy.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #1


Art Therapy Fun Fact #2

Art Therapy is appropriate for all ages! At Mountain Creative Arts Counseling, I work with adolescents, adults, and seniors individually and in groups.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #3

I keep a wide variety of paints, pastels, drawing materials, various types and sizes of blank paper and canvas, clays, collage and scrapbook papers, wire, magazines, boxes, and more on hand for your use.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #4

 My studio art training included classes in oil painting, printmaking, graphic design, book-making and book arts, interior design, basic drawing, figure drawing, 3D design, and pottery. I choose to further my knowledge by continuing to take art classes​ and workshops, and experimenting in my home studio on a regular basis.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #5

In my workshops and groups, I often include music, writing, poetry, and a few very basic yoga techniques specifically for self-regulation and grounding purposes.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #6

Free association is one of my favorite techniques for helping clients process their artwork. Sometimes, I combine this with writing for an even deeper experience.


 Art Therapy Fun Fact #7

I have coloring books available in my office, and I occasionally use one at home, but there’s nothing like creating art from your own imagination. Also, neither is a substitute for therapy, which happens within a relationship.


To learn more about Art Therapy, visit the following resources.

The American Art Therapy Association

The Art Therapy Blog

The Art Therapy Alliance

International Expressive Arts Therapy Association

Art Therapy Credentials Board


Kara Ashley-Gilmore is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and mixed-media artist at Mountain Creative Arts Counseling. She provides counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. She often incorporates the creative process into therapy sessions with clients, helping them access their creativity, and use it for their own growth and healing.


How to Change your life with Affirmations

Affirmations

What is an Affirmation?

 

An affirmation is a sentence or phrase that you repeat to yourself to set an intention for the things, feelings, or experiences that you want to have more of in your life. We tend to pay attention to the things that matter to us, and ignore the things that don’t. When you create an affirmation, you are being really clear about what matters to you, and, in turn, begin to focus on those things more frequently. Working with an affirmation is a really powerful and simply way to bring clarity and focus to the changes we want to making in our lives.

 

How to Write an Affirmation

 

Think about what you would really like to change about yourself and your life. Think about not only the things that you want, but also the experiences you would like to have, and the way you would like to feel about them. Think about positive attributes and the things that are already working well for you. Think about the things you like about yourself and the things that you are already grateful for. Don’t worry about how you will achieve these things. This is different from goal setting. Often, the feelings we want to achieve do not come by the plans we have in mind.

  • What thinking patterns or perceptions would you like to change or maintain?
  • What circumstances would you like to improve or transform?
  • What experiences would you like to have or re-live?
  • What feelings would you like to enjoy?
  • What do you want your life to be like?

Begin your affirmations with phrases that affirm the feeling of already having what you desire. Close your eyes and imagine that you are already experiencing the wonderful things that you desire, and write your affirmations as an expression of having, rather than wanting or needing.

  • “I am…”
  • “I know…”
  • “I have…”
  • “I love…”
  • “I choose…”
  • “I am so happy and grateful that…”

 

How to Use your Affirmation

 

Using an affirmation forces your brain to begin noticing ways it can achieve the intention you set for yourself. It also creates tension between your current reality and the affirmation you state to be true, and you eventually begin to make the changes needed to make your affirmation accurate.

 

You can use your affirmation anytime you want to see a positive change happen. For example, you can focus on your affirmation when you want to raise your confidence level, control negative thoughts or feelings, improve self-esteem, or increase your productivity.

 

Remember that affirmations work best when they are visible and remain on the forefront of your mind:

  • Create a piece of artwork about your affirmation, and include the written statement
  • Hang your artwork in a place where you will see it daily or multiple times a day.
  • Take a picture of the painting and use it as the background on your cell phone or computer
  • Pause in front of your painting, and say your affirmation out loud.
  • Print 4×6 or wallet-sized copies of your painting at your local drugstore.
    • post on your bulletin board by your desk
    • tape it to your bathroom mirror
    • keep a copy in your wallet
    • tape it next to the kitchen sink or refrigerator
  • Think about your affirmation (and visualize it coming true) before you go to sleep
  • Write it on your arm or the back of your hand
  • Write it on a piece of paper and use it as a bookmark

 

Popular wisdom holds that it takes about 21 days for behavioral changes to be made and become a habit, so plan to actively use your affirmation for about three weeks before noticing shifts in your life.

 

 


Kara Ashley-Gilmore is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and mixed-media artist at Mountain Creative Arts Counseling. She provides counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. She often incorporates the creative process into therapy sessions with clients, helping them access their creativity, and use it for their own growth and healing.


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Wellness Wednesday: Paint it Out

“Out of the Vastness…”

Art Journal Intuitive Painting Mountain Creative Arts

“The human spirit is not a worm of the dust. It is the Masterpiece of the Infinite. It is builded for citizenship in the Universe forever…Out of the Vastness into the Everywhere.” -Author Unknown

Last Saturday, I woke up with little voice nudging me at 5am: “You need to paint,” it whispered. So, I begrudgingly got out of bed–much earlier than I prefer on Saturday morning–filled up my water jars, and began to paint.

I didn’t have a plan in mind. I knew I wanted to tear into some paper, and I knew it would be easier to get started if I had a black background. The rest…just evolved. It began with a layer of torn tissue paper and followed with several layers of blue, green, and purple paints. I switched between this cool palette and warmer tones of red and orange–all in between layers of stenciling and writing. I then highlighted the forms which had emerged with white and black Stabilo pencils. Finally, I randomly selected a sheet of text from an old book and cut out a phase that caught my eye: “… Out of the Vastness into the Everywhere…”

I’d be lying if I said the national and world events of the past two weeks weren’t on my mind before I started painting. Maybe a reminder needed to come through that no matter who we are, where we come from, and how we choose to identify ourselves, we’re really all made of the same stardust and we are all connected, standing side by side next to our ancestors as they support us in carrying out our higher purpose.

This style of painting is so freeing and forgiving. I can let whatever is bottled inside, out onto the page. I choose to keep an art journal of these paintings, so I can reference them later and review my journey–like a typical written journal. Sometimes, however, I paint on single sheets of paper that can be destroyed or transformed through collage. Whatever I choose to paint and whatever I choose to do with the completed painting, it is all done with acceptance of whatever images appear, and without judgement about how “good” it is.

Art Journal Intuitive Painting Mountain Creative Arts


check out the time-lapse video


If you’re interested in experiencing this technique for yourself, join us for the new “Paint it Out” workshops on Monday evenings or Wednesday afternoons. I’ll be teaching some basic principles of intuitive painting, and guiding you as you paint with colors, lines, and shapes. This is open to individuals 16 and older, and, as always, no art experience is needed and all supplies are included in the cost.  More information here.


Kara Ashley-Gilmore is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and mixed-media artist at Mountain Creative Arts Counseling. She provides counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. She often incorporates the creative process into therapy sessions with clients, helping them access their creativity, and use it for their own growth and healing.


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Self-Care is Soul Care

What is Self-care?

Self-care at Mountain Creative Arts Counseling

Self-care is setting boundaries with your time and in your relationships. Self-care is giving your body the water, sleep, vitamins, nutrients, and exercise it needs to be healthy. Self-care is fostering a deep connection with at least one other person on this planet. Self-care is exploring your creativity, expanding your perspective, and learning and trying new things.

It’s asking for what you need. It’s being grateful for what you have.

Finally, it’s making the time to do these things.

Happy New Year and Winter Preview

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. As I’ve spent the last two years building this business, there hasn’t been much time to really slow down and relax. Even on vacations and days off, I would find myself browsing the internet for articles to share with you on my Facebook page, or planning workshops, or coming up with activities to do with the seniors at Spring Arbor.

During the week before Christmas, up until the week after New Year, I gave myself a true break where I rarely touched my phone or computer. I did the minimum amount needed to keep things in flow and gave my mind a break from all the planning and hustling that I had grown used to. And you know what happened after this period of hibernation and rest?

Vision. Clarity. Focus. Connection to Family. Acceptance. Joy.

I found myself ready to tackle projects that I had been avoiding, like the living room remodel that has now entered it’s third year of stagnation, birthing different groups that have been on the back burner, taking a hard look at this business’s finances, and clearing out all the clutter that was distracting me from having the white space in my life that I needed to maintain the gains in rest and rejuvenation that I had achieved (like, turning off most of my phone notifications, unsubscribing from all the various email lists, and tossing out clutter).

So, that’s where I am. I’ve made a few changes to the workshop offerings and getting rid of things that just weren’t working or were not providing the energy for growth. My goal is to offer opportunities for you to develop your creativity and to remove as many obstacles as possible. This means providing a rich environment  where you are free to explore and play with every supply available for your use. As a result, the times, length, and prices or workshops are no longer static–and in some cases, the price has increased–but they are still affordable, and you will still receive the same value and “Art Spa” experience that you have grown accustomed to.

Oh! I really wanted to share this with you. It’s a blog post by Kelly Rae Roberts, a social worker turned professional artist, and one of my favorite humans. In this blog post, she writes about coming back to our own brilliance and protecting our time to allow space for our intuition to come forth. Oddly enough, I only read this last week, but what a dear reminder that I’m on the right path.

I’ve posted a flyer with all the groups and workshops above. You can find detailed descriptions on my website, and can register via the new MCAC store (no more PayPal!). Would you be so kind as to help spread the word?

With love, gratitude and appreciation for your support,
Kara

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Neil Gaiman said it best:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

***

I don’t do resolutions, but I do choose a theme for the year. If you’re looking for a new tradition to guide you through the next year, read more about this practice here.

A Friendly Reminder

breathe

I want to give a friendly reminder about the importance of self-care in stressful times. Self-care does not involve compulsively checking poll results well into the wee hours of the morning, binge drinking, stress eating, arguing with strangers….or any of the other self-destructive ways you could spend this evening.

Wednesday morning is coming. How do you want to feel when it does? If well-rested, calm, energized, and physically healthy are your answers, start making choices now that will get you there by morning. And surround yourself with others who have the same priorities.

You are worth it.

Anxiety Support: Anxiety vs. Fear

Anxiety Support Group: Anxiety vs. Fear Twist Card

The creation of “twist cards” illustrating the differences between anxiety and fear helped us integrate the lesson

The anxiety support group is heading into its third week. During this past week’s group, we discussed the differences between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is future oriented (relating to things that could possibly happen in the future), requires lots of thinking, and can last indefinitely. Fear, however, is present moment oriented, doesn’t require much thought, and lasts for short duration. Both these emotions are important and normal parts of the human experience. They motivate us to take action and help keep us safe and out of harm’s way. Anxiety helps us take steps to plan for our futures. Fear heightens our senses so we can be more aware of our surroundings, and helps us fight or run away when we perceive danger. Fear helps us take quick action.

How has your anxiety served you in the past? How has it protected you?

How has it held you back?

When anxiety or fear occur when there is no risk of harm, or when they occur too frequently, too intensely, or for too long of a duration, it can interfere with our lives. The struggle to avoid or suppress our anxiety also contributes to our distress. If we can learn to view anxiety as a normal human experience, it can evolve from a life-restricting problem into a tool for growth.

I am excited to continue facilitating these groups to offer the tools to support you in accomplishing this goal.  If you are interested in joining us, visit www.mountaincreativearts.com/groups for details.