We’re delighted to share a wonderful interview with Sarah Murphy today. Sarah is the author of our Talking about Trauma cards.
On the 21st August 2011, Sarah was working as a teacher, when her brother was killed in a sudden, unprovoked attack. In this post she shares with us why she wrote the cards and how they can help. It really is a brilliant interview, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
- Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! I’m Sarah, the author of “Talking about Trauma.” I spent a number of years writing online articles about natural health, but had always wanted to have my work published in print. I never envisaged that my first publication would be about trauma, but as always in life, you can never predict what lies around the corner.
Four years ago (how the time has flown by) my brother was killed in a sudden unprovoked attack. Since then I’ve written widely about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effect of serious crime on the mental and physical health of victims. I now live in Cornwall where I run my own naturopathic clinic. My training as an herbalist, combined with my own personal experiences allows me to help people who are struggling with anxiety, depression and stress.
- How did you come to write “Talking About Trauma?
A great friend of mine, Hayley Goleniowski had just published a set of FINK cards and she encouraged me to connect with Lisa. I had the idea to develop a set of questions around the topic of trauma. Once I took the initial steps to get the ball rolling there was literally no stopping me!
- What’s the idea behind “Talking About Trauma”?
For most people, murder, manslaughter or a terrorist attack is something they only hear about on the news or see in a film. When faced with the reality that this has happened to you or someone you know, most people are at a severe loss to know what to say. They make remarks like “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” or “I have no idea how you can cope” This pack is an attempt to give people an insight into the emotions of those who are severely affected by devastating, traumatic events, and find ways to discuss what’s happened in a way that doesn’t cause further fear or upset.
- How are these cards different to other resources designed to help people dealing with PTSD and other trauma related conditions?
When researching resources to help my own family, I realised that most had been written by people who studied trauma, or had been trained as a therapist. Very few had been written by the traumatised person themselves. While all of these resources are helpful, I wanted to write questions that really came from the heart, from a person who really understood how trauma affects every aspect of your life from the moment you wake up, until the moment your head hits the pillow. I wanted the work to be from the point of view of someone who has lived through trauma and dealt with it head on. I’m coming at the topic from a personal, rather than a clinical perspective if that makes sense?
- How does using the cards differ from traditional talking therapies?
Although counselling allows people affected by serious trauma to express their feelings and work through their emotions, it doesn’t always allow for natural conversations about everyday things. Traumatised people are expected to carry on with ordinary tasks like shopping or going to work, but how do you cope with this, if for example, your loved one’s face is on the front cover of a newspaper, or people are using social media to talk about what happened? The cards are a way to help people understand the thoughts and questions that are going on in people’s minds both during, and in the aftermath of a traumatic event, without any kind of agenda.
- With such a difficult topic, have you any suggestions about how the cards can be used?
Okay, so let’s get a little creative here. Trauma is a serious business, but it was never my intent for the cards to be used in a mundane “you ask – I answer” kind of set up. When I first wrote the questions, I imagined the person selecting an issue that might be at the forefront of their mind that day, and using the questions to create a “thought journal” as a way of venting their feelings. Later I met an actor who gave me the idea that the questions could be used as the basis for creating a play or an audio monologue. There’s no predefined way the cards should be used.
- Can therapists use the cards in their practice?
The cards can be used by therapists from all backgrounds and walks of life. For example, Art therapists may ask people to create a painting based around a particular card, or even make a mood board or write a poem. A colleague suggested they could be used to train people who deal with trauma victims, (the police or people working with young offenders….) The questions could be used as ideas for creating “role plays” or to start a group discussion. The fact that they’re so diverse is what makes them so incredibly unique. It’s really down to the creativity of each individual therapist to use them in a way that works both for them, and their client.
- Can the cards be used without professional supervision?
Unfortunately first-hand experience has taught me that when something like a murder or a terrible accident happens, the people who would normally provide support may also be suffering. Through no fault of their own they may already be overwhelmed by their own feelings and therefore powerless to help. That doesn’t mean that these conversations shouldn’t take place; quite the opposite. For this reason I strongly recommend that the cards are used some time after the event has passed during what is known as Phase II trauma. At this point, people have had time to develop coping strategies, and have some ability to “self-regulate.” It’s my own personal view that having a supportive, trained professional on hand to direct the discussion, will help people get the most out of the cards, and more importantly, will help to avoid causing any further distress.
- Are there any other ways the cards could be used?
A trauma survivor’s journey isn’t linear. A person may take two steps forward and think they’re making great progress, then something will trigger them and they’ll take five steps back! I truly hope that savvy therapists will use the questions as a way of monitoring how much progress people are making on their healing journey. It can also show traumatised people how far they’ve come since the event happened. Progress is something that’s really difficult to acknowledge when you’re stuck in the turmoil of your own thoughts, and so the cards are a great tool for everyone in that respect.
- What can people hope to achieve by having these conversations?
Talking about deeply disturbing issues is far from easy, but it’s a huge step forward in the healing process. From my own experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I found that talking about what happened helped me to let a little of the gas out of the jar, and slowly, slowly begin to process my jumbled thoughts. The cards are certainly not going to “un-ring the bell” or turn back time; nothing can do that. The point of talking isn’t about trying to make sense of what happened but to help people acknowledge that it has happened, and from there they can begin to take tiny steps forward and begin to live their life.
- What was your main goal when thinking about where the cards might end up?
My sincere hope is that the cards can help people identify areas where they may be stuck and find clues about how to address that. For example the question “How do you spend your leisure time?” may seem rather trivial, but it may uncover the fact that a person is not giving themselves enough self-care, they may not be socialising, exercising, baking….or doing any of the things they used to enjoy. Therapists could use this opportunity to encourage the person to find ways to incorporate a little more joy into their day, or devise an exercise plan which will help improve their sleep. As I already mentioned, the cards are unique to each individual using them.
- Have the cards helped you?
Writing the questions was a very difficult task. As all of the FINK authors will know too well, it forces you to look deep inside and face issues you often want to bury. My goal with this set of cards was rather simple. Could I take any of these questions and start an honest conversation with my own mother and father? Tough one. I’ve since looked through the pack with my family, and we all agree that these are some of the hardest things any family could ever have the misfortune to talk about. These are the questions we all sought to avoid answering at the toughest time of our lives, and yet they were the most necessary for healing. In this respect, the cards have helped me break the ice on an issue that is painfully difficult to discuss. It’s a start. The healing journey for anyone who has faced trauma and tragedy is a long one, but with help, guidance and carefully chosen tools, at least the journey can begin.
- What was the hardest part of the writing process?
Narrowing down the questions to 48! Once I got started, the questions just seemed to flood out of my pen. The process released many emotions I thought I’d begun to address, and so it was all very revealing to me. The really difficult part was trying to be objective and select the questions that would be most useful for the largest number of people. With something like this, it’s hard not to be personal, so I always had to bring myself back to the core question; “How will this help?”
- What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves unable to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event?
Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the help you need. There are so many amazing people working on behalf of victims and people facing trauma, there really is no need to go it alone. On my website I list a whole host of resources that people can connect with. Of course there’s also a detailed resource list contained within the pack. From my own experience Victim Support, Anxiety UK and MIND really should be the first point of call. Their experience is invaluable, and for some people their help is literally nothing short of a lifeline.
- Apart from talking therapies, do you have any other suggestions for how people facing trauma can start their healing journey?
Exercise is key. Making the effort to move, even if it’s only getting out for a five minute walk really helps to get perspective. For me, Yoga was a godsend. It helped me to notice when I was holding my breath, where there was tension in my body, and it reminds me to be present in the moment. You can’t breathe in the past, or in the future; there’s only the here and now. I can’t recommend it highly enough for people dealing with trauma. Just recently, I discovered that some practitioners are trained in what’s known as “trauma yoga” a very specific discipline designed to help people release what my teacher refers to as “the issues in the tissues!” I wish I had had access to this resource at the time of my trauma. I know it would have helped me immensely.
- How have the people who supported you through your trauma reacted to the cards?
Despite my terrible tragedy, I’ve been very lucky to connect with some of the most wonderful human beings you could ever wish to know. I’d like to thank Barbara Tudor from Escaping Victimhood for her never-ending optimism, joy and poignant words of advice, and Catherine Owen who is currently the Head of the Homicide Service for Victim Support. Both of these women have amazing strength and courage. Without their help and belief I might be in a very different place today. I’ve also had some wonderful feedback from The Breathe Network in the USA, and would like to thank Lisa Boldin for her unique observations and kind help throughout the writing process.
- What gives you joy?
The things that give me the greatest joy are the things that we’re all so guilty of taking for granted. I’m lucky to have good health, and to have survived my experiences with most of my sanity intact. I love living in a beautiful place where I have access to the wonders of nature right on my doorstep. Of course my family are of the utmost importance to me. My beautiful nephew is a gift, and I hope to remain happy and healthy so I can inspire him to grab life with both hands and live it to the fullest.
- What do you hope for the future?
I was asked this question by my counsellor at a time when the future was neither here nor there to me. I started my day, I ended my day. Thinking about the future simply wasn’t on the radar. It was all about getting through the next few hours one step at a time. I’m glad to say that things have moved on quite some way since that point. I decided to include this question in the pack as it such a profound one for us all. So to answer…..I look forward to growing my business and using the knowledge I’ve gained to help others who may not be lucky enough to have the support that I did. I look forward to travelling again (something I’ve been unable to do since all this happened.) However, I never take anything for granted, each day is a gift, and so I try to live in the moment.
- How can people get in touch with you?
I’m always available to help anyone who has faced terrible trauma, but having said this I’m not a trauma “expert”. As a naturopath I use a combination of herbs, diet and exercise to help people get back on their feet and find a place where they can begin their healing journey. It’s never easy, and you will never be the person you were before. Healing takes many forms and means different things to different people. All you can do is support people and point them in the right direction. If you’re interested in my work you can find out more at www.thefreelancenaturopath.com
- Any last words of advice for people who are thinking about purchasing a pack?
Recovery from trauma is hard, but carrying around pain and hurt is just as difficult. Making the decision to take back your life is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. Choosing to tackle your thoughts and emotions head on is a brave step. You can’t change what’s in the past, but you do have power over your own future. The best way to honour yourself is to live your life to the full. Being a prisoner of your own mind will not serve to make you or the world a happier, better place. Remember, that the longest, hardest journeys always start with one small step.