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Coping with traumatic or upsetting events

by Julie Payne, MA, LMFT

When we have experienced a traumatic or upsetting event we tend to think that if we talk

about it or think about it, it will make things worse. So many times people find different ways to distract themselves from their intrusive thoughts. Some people may turn to healthy outlets of exercise and socializing with friends or family or even volunteering. Others may turn to unhealthy outlets of alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy relationships. Either way these outlets only mask the events and they still linger deep inside us. We think that we have been able to get past whatever that upsetting or traumatic event was and that it is no longer an issue. We might even be able to live normally for many years. But unknowingly those events that we think we have been able to put behind us have really been eating away at us from the inside. We might have times where we feel anxious or depressed and can’t explain where it is coming from. We might feel like we snap at loved ones and are much angrier than before. We might have trouble sleeping or concentrating. We might even start having medical problems and illnesses. Think of the event as a beach ball that you hold under water. You can hold that ball under water and you might be able to do so for a long time, but eventually that ball is going to surface and when it does it is going to make a big splash. This causes us to feel everything all at once and it hits us hard so we tend to stuff it back down to the bottom. You get tired of holding it in and it becomes harder and harder to do so. Now if you take that same beach ball that you have held under water and slowly with help bring that ball back up to the surface it won’t make a big slash and can be pretty manageable. Seeking the assistance of a therapist can help you move that beach ball slowly up to the surface so your life isn’t so impacted by the release of it. Therapy is a safe way to work through previous traumatic or upsetting events in a way that can help us overcome rather than bury those traumatic or upsetting events. The therapist will help you learn coping skills so you know what to do when those uncomfortable and upsetting feelings occur. The process itself can be difficult and upsetting at times but it cannot re-traumatize you. Through the therapeutic process you will start to see other areas of your life improve. It is important to select a therapist that you will feel comfortable with and that has received special training in treating trauma. Multiple studies have shown that Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a highly effective model for a variety of traumas, with outcomes showing faster improvement in symptoms and lasting longer than some other modalities. Another highly researched and effective therapy is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing). To start therapy to work on your trauma or to get more information about TF-CBT or EMDR please contact us at

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