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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with members of the military, but the problem extends well beyond soldiers and veterans: According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, more than 7 million Americans currently suffer from PTSD.

Dr. Jill Gover, of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs, explained the difference between general trauma and PTSD.

“A lot of people experience trauma,” Gover said. “It doesn’t mean they have PTSD. Most of us associate PTSD with war. War is such a huge, catastrophic event that is outside the general course of human experience. That’s one of the definitions that distinguish that kind of trauma as post-traumatic stress. Most of the time, it’s associated with war, extreme abuse or torture. The other large category (consists of) people who’ve been sexually or physically abused, especially as children.

Mac McClelland is a journalist who went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. After the assignment ended, she was diagnosed with PTSD, and later went on to write a book titled Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story.

“I noticed I had symptoms while I was still there,” McClelland said. “… When I was having symptoms, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this is post-traumatic stress disorder’—I was freaking out. When I got back to San Francisco, I was there for a day before I saw my therapist, and she was the one who said I had symptoms of PTSD. It was very obvious and clear that something was terribly wrong.”

McClelland said she never thought her profession would expose her to PTSD.

“Like most people, I associated PTSD as being related to combat veterans,” McClelland said. “… I didn’t know hardly anything, which I think is true for a lot of people, but I think awareness is better now. I thought it wasn’t even possible for people to have PTSD other than combat veterans, when, in fact, rape victims, sexual-assault survivors and abuse survivors are a way bigger population of people with PTSD than combat veterans are. It’s just not in our cultural knowledge or understanding.”

McClelland said she took a holistic approach to her treatment.

“I was going to a lot of therapy. I was seeing a somatic therapist, which focuses on a lot of sensations in your body,” she said. “I went to that for years, and I still see a therapist who does that. I never took any pharmaceuticals. For me, that was really helpful. I also do yoga, and there’s a lot of research that yoga is very useful in treating PTSD. (I’ve taken) kind of a holistic approach and changed what my life looks like, which not everyone has the option to do. I make a lot more time and space for self-care, which I’m very lucky to be able to do.”

Gover said one of the most effective treatments for PTSD is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “EMDR is a psychotherapy for PTSD. EMDR can help (patients) process upsetting memories, thoughts and feelings related to the trauma. By processing these experiences, (patients) can get relief from PTSD symptoms.”

Gover used plumbing to make an analogy. “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is like Drano: It just flushes that memory. That’s the easiest way I can explain it. Looking at the clinical trials that the Veterans Administration has done with it, it’s very effective.”

Gover said there is no typical recovery process or timeline for PTSD.

“It really depends on what the trauma was,” Gover said. “You might have somebody who had a very horrific one-time sexual abuse experience as a child, and afterward, there were PTSD symptoms. But let’s say that person came from a healthy and intact family system, and the child was relatively healthy, and nothing else about the personality development was disturbed in any way. That would likely take a lot less time to heal from than, say, a child of the same age who came from a very dysfunctional family where there’s substance abuse, and then was repeatedly raped in a family system for years. That healing of PTSD would take much longer. It depends on who the individual is—the resiliency, the environment to support them, and how intense the occurrence and frequency is.”

McClelland said she urges anyone with trauma-related issues to seek help.

“I went to see a professional on day one. It made all the difference,” McClelland said. “Otherwise, I’d be flailing and struggling the whole time. I’d definitely advocate seeing a professional, especially someone who has a trauma-specialty background. I live in a really small town in Oregon, and we have amazing trauma-focused therapists here … but not all therapists specialize in trauma; it is a specialty. But therapy is expensive, and not everyone can access it.”

Gover said there are definite risks when PTSD goes untreated. “Somebody with PTSD who doesn’t have it treated is more likely to have problems later on in their relationships; problems professionally focusing on work and employment; and problems with substance abuse.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good resources available locally for those suffering from PTSD or trauma-related problems.

“There’s a good amount of therapists in the Coachella Valley who have expertise in treating trauma,” Gover said. “We’re very fortunate that the Riverside County Public Health department has evidence-based, trauma-informed therapy available. … Of course, we have the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, which has clinicians trained in trauma-informed therapy. (Many) of the therapists in private practice in this area have some training in PTSD. I would recommend any therapist with a specialty in treating trauma.”

For more information on the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Scott Hines Mental Health Clinic, call 760-416-7899, ext. 1, or visit thecenterps.org/index.php/services/mental-health-clinic.

Published in Features

“You know daddy loves you. … This has to be our secret … just between us. Mommy wouldn’t understand and might keep me away from you.”

Words like these are too often said to little kids—and not just little girls. It happens to boys, too.

Cathedral City resident and Rancho Mirage family therapist Carol Teitelbaum and her husband, Robert, have started programs too address the abuse of children … all children.

The statistics are mind-blowing regarding how many children are abused on a regular basis by the people they trust the most, including parents, teachers and clergy.

Boys are much more likely to hide their fears and think there’s something wrong with them … something they should hide.

Carol and Robert hold workshops for men who’ve been victimized, some of whom are so ashamed that it’s taken years of failed marriages, substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors to make them realize they need help.

“It happens to boys too!” is their mantra and the name of their conferences, where nationally known speakers (often also victims) let these wounded men know there’s no shame on them … only on the perpetrators.

For more information, visit www.creativechangeconferences.com, or call 760-346-4606. If you are a man who needs help, consider attending a free group counseling session, held on the third Tuesday of every month. Call to sign up.

Do boys report sexual abuse as often as girls?

No, no, no. This why we are working so hard to educate the public, speaking at middle schools, high schools, recovery centers and conferences. Boys have been taught not to express their feelings, buck up, don’t cry … don’t be a sissy. Being boys, they are embarrassed that they couldn’t take care of themselves, no matter how young they are. Another issue is it might have felt good, as sensual touch does feel good. Boys get so confused and start to think maybe it was their fault, and they might have wanted it. There is so much shame.

Why are boys so afraid to tell someone who might be able to help?

More than 90 percent of perpetrators are familiar to the victim. It is very difficult to be believed when it is your word against a family member, (or a) pillar of the community such as priests, coaches, teachers, Boy Scout leaders—and especially if the perpetrator is a woman. Many of the men in our group tried to tell, but were told they were crazy, that (the) person would never do anything like that. One young man I see … told me that he was called “fag” by friends—and that did even more damage to him.

What kind of emotional and physical damage is done to these kids that affects their lives as adults?

The emotional abuse is usually the most damaging. More often than not, there are no visible scars. The emotional scars are so damaging. Women who are abused often report feeling like damaged goods, but rarely ever say they are not “real women.” Men report they do not feel like real men. After being abused, men often repress their feelings, especially anger that turns to rage. The repressed feeling often gets triggered by something in the environment—smell, sound, touch, taste, etc.—and they end up raging: road rage, domestic violence, physically abusing their own kids. The use of alcohol and drugs becomes the way to feel “normal.”

Men and women who were sexually abused often have great difficulty having intimate relationships. When you are holding a secret, it’s difficult to let someone really see you … look into your eyes. They might see the truth. It’s difficult to have self-worth, because the child feels like it was their fault, and there must be something wrong with them.

Why are men so afraid to tell?

Straight boys are afraid they will be thought gay. Gay boys are afraid people will think they wanted it. They’re afraid they won’t be believed, and they’re embarrassed they couldn’t protect themselves.

What happens at your conferences? Do men feel less burdened and better about themselves?

An incredible energy builds at the conference. From speakers to participants, I keep being told, “This is such a safe place. … It feels good being here.” Social workers and therapists have also told me, “I came to learn, but ended up doing my own work.”

Last year, John Bradshaw, a most notable speaker, said when he started to do his workshop … he felt so safe he wanted to share his own story. That was quite a compliment! During our “psychodrama,” men from a local recovery center did their own work … and when they were done, their fellow patients hugged them and cried together. These are some of the toughest guys out there, learning how important it is to feel their feelings if they want to heal.

Some of the members of our own It Happens to Boys group are speakers who share their personal stories with the audience. This vulnerability seems to put everyone else at ease.

What can be done to prevent child abuse? Will shining a big, fat klieg light on the perpetrators keep them from continuing their crimes? Or would an injection sterilizing them stop the drive that creates these monsters?

The only thing that will make things change is education of both children and adults. If we are all watching, reporting and noticing changes in children’s behavior, things will change. There will always be perpetrators! The problem is that our society doesn’t want to talk about this problem … or do anything about it. When you mention that child abuse will be the topic of a program, hardly anyone shows up. An organization that came to the desert had a huge event planned, with lots of (planned) media attention on TV, radio, print. They asked me to speak, and told me they were expecting hundreds of people. I said, “No, that won’t happen!” They asked why I was so negative. … I simply said I have many years of experience dealing with this, and I know how hard it is to get people to show up and support the cause.

When we speak at schools, we let students tell their story privately by filling out 3-by-5 cards and dropping them in a box in the front of the room. We then pull some out and get to as many as we can during the hour of the class. … I have to tell (children) I am a “mandated reporter,” and if they tell me … I have to report it. Sometimes that card is the first time they ever told anyone. We tell kids this could be the most important day of their life, and that they could get help and change their destiny. We get letters of thanks and many good stories later on.

Tell me more about your support groups, and how you can be reached. When is your next conference?

We meet on the third Tuesday night (of each month) at 7 p.m. at my office. Our group has grown from four when we started to a roster of 48 today. Every time we speak somewhere, at least one or two men or boys come forward and say, “This happened to me.” At any one group, at least 20 men are there now. We can be reached by phone: 760-346-4606. Our website is www.creativechangeconferences.com.

The sharing and growth of the men in our group is so amazing. They share such intimate details, and help each other in every way. Straight men who were uncomfortable with gay men are now best friends. They realize we all have the same problems with relationships and communication.

It Happens to Boys’ next conference: We’re branching out to L.A. on Feb. 28, (2014) and March 1 at the Pasadena Hilton. There will be incredible speakers. We have a one day one here in the desert on March 21 at the Doral.

Also, there will be a movie screening of Unlikely Friends (on Nov. 1, 2013). This is the most incredible documentary … and the director will be here for a Q&A. It will be a fundraiser for our It Happens to Boys group. (Visit www.creativechangeconferences.com, or call 760-346-4606 for more information.)

Published in Local Issues