National PTSD Awareness Day: Facing Facts with Dr. Shively
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7-8% of the nation’s population, and June 27th draws attention and provides opportunities to educate people about this very prevalent mental illness that can happen to anyone.
Randy Shively, Ph.D., is a psychologist in the state of Ohio and Director of Research and Clinical Development at Alvis. He works directly with Alvis clients who battle PTSD and have criminogenic treatment needs. At Alvis, he provides treatment to clients, training to staff, and he conducts applied research.
In practice, Shively has found that PTSD is frequently related to individual, case-by-case mental health situations. “Those who have post-traumatic issues also have other mental health disorders that are often co-occurring,” explains Shively. The other disorders include depression, phobias, and panic attacks. Clients dealing with PTSD are sometimes referred to an outside treatment resource because many are at Alvis for 4-6 months and they need to be connected to resources and treatment that will continue after the client has moved on from Alvis.
Anything that interferes with one’s feeling of safety can lead to trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, or natural disasters. Shively finds that in Alvis’ specific population of clients, physical abuse, severe neglect, and fear of abandonment are prevalent—many clients with justice involvement have undergone relational trauma with members of their families.
An ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences, Kaiser Permanente and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has found that the more traumatic events a person has been exposed to, the higher the likelihood of a person experiencing mental health illnesses and physical problems throughout their lifespan. “Trauma-informed care has actually become a best practice…we’ve started developing trainings at Alvis to actually give all our staff help in how to respond to clients, universally, that could have trauma history, and we know that a significant percentage of our population who have been incarcerated have experienced multiple traumas within their lives - some within the corrections system.”
Those with PTSD symptoms exhibit discomfort toward a variety of things that lessen their quality of life, and, as described by Dr. Shively, they “often have trouble in relationships because people, places and things can trigger deep feelings of insecurity, so fears often keep them from people who care about them and for them. With this diagnosis, there’s often a lot of avoidance.” This avoidance includes any potential triggers that may conjure up feelings of past traumas. Additionally, sleep problems, startle behaviors, eating problems connected with depression, and nighttime fears may occur.
Above all else, Dr. Shively finds that it is paramount to recovery that staff calmly respond to these exhibited behaviors. “It’s important to realize and be careful of how we respond to folks when we see abrupt negative behaviors, because often they can be resolved with trauma informed care and their fear, insecurity, and stress is getting played out in the moment.”
There are a variety of misconceptions about PTSD. As previously mentioned, many people with PTSD have anxieties and triggers regarding relationships, which can lead some to incorrectly perceive them as oppositional or difficult. Another common misconception is that PTSD can be entirely cured, or eliminated. Typically, it can be managed, similar to an addiction, but it can also get triggered years later. Immediate results from treatment are not always possible—working through a traumatic experience can take months, or even years. Some people may be surprised to learn that staff who work with clients in recovery for traumatic experiences can develop trauma themselves from exposure through supporting that client. According to Dr. Shively, Alvis provides mental health supports and community referrals to address the needs of staff.
Over time, Alvis has developed an integrated behavioral healthcare model. “In the past, we sent clients to another provider, outside of Alvis, and that interfered with the continuity of care,” Shively says. Alvis professional staff, who know the clients well, provide in-house services, allowing better communication and higher quality services.
Being informed about PTSD and its impact on everyday people can be crucial to a person’s recovery. “We could push them over the edge if we’re not being empathetic in how we respond,” Shively warns. He also highlights that education is critical for staff to understand PTSD clients, and for clients to understand their own mental health processes. “When we understand our own underlying problems, it helps us cope in better ways,” says Shively. Connecting clients to outside resources and drawing attention to the reality that other people out there in the world have experienced similar symptoms and diagnoses can help them feel less alone and more empowered to manage their symptoms of trauma.
A key source of motivation for Dr. Shively comes from clients. In a role that he has tailored over the past 28 years, he expresses that 4-5 former Alvis clients from years ago still call him once or twice a month just to check in. “It does matter that you’re present.” The current behavioral healthcare services at Alvis allow clients to receive optimal treatment in an empathetic, understanding environment. “Sometimes staff may not see how important they are in the overall scope of things, but we’re doing things here that other states aren’t even trying.”
People who deal with PTSD face stigmas and societal challenges that can hinder their ability to manage their illness and recovery. Alvis combats these stigmas and encourages everyone to support survivors of traumatic experiences.
“Our population [the individuals served by Alvis] are very misunderstood in the community,” Shively emphasizes. “We really do need community support. For some clients dealing with their mental health symptoms is a long-term, lifelong problem.”
The more support that someone has, the more successful they are likely to be in the future.
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.