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First Responders and Traumatic Stress

First responders and military personnel have a much greater exposure to traumatic and emotionally provocative events in their work than the average person. Automatic reactions such as anxiety, tension, confusion, overwhelm, insomnia, irritability, isolation, and burnout are common responses to occupational stressors and trauma. Intense emotions like rage, guilt, and grief are also common reactions that can trigger anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress among military and helping professionals.

Despite more recent institutional efforts to acknowledge the previous emotional burden, first responder and military cultures have historically treated occupational stress and related emotions as something to ignore, control, or bury in order to keep moving and providing help for others. Unaddressed, however, these emotional difficulties can gradually deplete our autonomy, coping efforts, emotional and physical health, relationship quality, and occupational functioning. Burnout, hopelessness, PTSD, isolation, and suicide are some of the more extreme outcomes from the unaddressed emotional toll of these professions. The previous difficulties can be compounded for individuals who also have a history of unaddressed developmental trauma.

Dr. Elliott specializes in helping members of various professions (e.g., Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, Calgary Police Services, Calgary 911, Calgary Fire Department, EMS, Canadian Border Services Agency personnel) work directly with these automatic responses and their unique emotional systems in order to restore their emotional health, autonomy, and functioning in life and the workplace.

 

Treatment Resistant Depression

Psychotherapy approaches are generally quite effective for most people presenting with psychological difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Nonetheless, there are still lots of individuals who have partial or no treatment response to psychotherapy or medications. There are also people who benefit during treatment, but relapse after treatment concludes. Treatment Resistant Depression involves clinically depressed individuals who do not respond well to available first-line treatments, such as one or more antidepressant trials and/or a trial of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) found in many treatment settings. Many of these individuals often have complex and chronic health issues, anxiety difficulties, negative coping strategies, and related disability.

 

Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) is brief experiential therapy model with a good evidence base for various mental health problems, including Treatment Resistant Depression. The approach involves helping clients recognize and build tolerance for addressing emotional factors in the onset and persistence of their depression. A standard course of ISTDP for Treatment Resistant Depression is a minimum of 20 sessions, including a two-hour initial trial session. Feedback informed therapy progress and outcome monitoring is used to maximize effectiveness over the course of treatment. Dr. Elliott is one of a small number of clinicians practicing ISTDP in western Canada.

 

Parental Stress and Attachment

Parenting is one of most challenging roles in life with many new parents experiencing sleep deprivation, isolation, and stress while trying to address their child’s needs. Parents can obviously benefit from supports for their own well-being and mental health during this major life challenge. Importantly, the benefits of such supports reach beyond the well-being of the parent directly to the child. As the centre of a developing child’s world, the parent’s emotional health is a major determinant of the parent’s capacity to tune in, understand, and respond sensitively to their child’s moment-to-moment needs. Anything that significantly undermines this parental capacity to respond sensitively, such as anxiety, frustration, or being detached, can lead to more distress and dysregulation in the child and interfere with parents and children enjoying a positive connection.

 

While a segment of parents can benefit from educational material or psychological consultation on the central role of attachment, parental understanding, and responsiveness in a child’s regulation and early development (www.circleofsecurityinternational.com), sometimes individual therapy is more beneficial for parents. The transition to caring for a child naturally activates parents’ feelings and memories from their early experiences with their own caregivers.  In some cases, unresolved feelings and related reactions from these experiences can interfere with or overwhelm parents’ capacity to understand and be with their own child in a sensitive manner (https://vimeo.com/145329119). When this occurs, a course of emotion-focused therapy, aimed at resolving these parental attachment feelings, can improve parents’ well-being and capacity to be with and enjoy their child. Dr. Elliott offers therapy geared specifically for parents with the previous concerns.