Mental Resiliency In Trauma Events With Kim Smith

Kathleen Mills

Kathleen is a creative and gifted therapist who has extensive experience in helping children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of issues.

SUMMARY: Life Tree Counselor Kim Smith talks with Kathleen and Phillip about the impact of traumatic events on a persons mental resiliency.

Episode #51 | Kim Smith | Mental Resiliency During Trauma

Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Kim Smith-Life Tree Counselor


Kathleen Mills: Hi, Phillip. How are you?

Phillip Crum: I’m very good, I am. I’m still Phillip Crum. You’re still Kathleen Mills.

KM: Yes.

PC: Did you put the coffee pot on?

KM: Yes.

PC: All right, good.

KM: (Stifling laughter) Sorry, I had too much.

PC: You’re sitting in the chair again, aren’t you?

KM: But I will say today I’m drinking a coffee from Detroit called Big B Best Coffee and it is awesome.

PC: Really.

KM: Yes. I brought some down from Dallas the last time I was in the great state of Michigan.

PC: Coffee from Detroit, huh?

KM: Big B coffee.

PC: They grow it up there?

KM: Something. It’s a chain up there in Detroit and it’s lovely.

PC: Hmmm. All right.

KM: Next time you’re in Detroit.

PC: Get your water turned off up there if you’re not careful.

KM: (Laughs) You could get your water turned off here, too, if you’re not careful. How are you doing, sir?

PC: I’m very good.

KM: Good.

PC: Very good. Very good.

KM: Anything happening with you today?

PC: Lots is happening. Lots is happening. Got a lot of good people I’m talking to about content marketing programs and I think I’m going to keep some of them.

KM: That is excellent. You get to pick now.

PC: So the coffee pot is on. The coffee cup is full. Detroit is battling with its problems.

KM: Yep. But it’s still a great, great city.

PC: And you’re originally from up there.

KM: I’m from Detroit, the great state of Michigan.

Kim Smith: I didn’t know that.

KM: Yes.

KS: Wow!

KM: It’s showcase time today, Phillip. Did you know that?

PC: I do know that it’s show number 51.

KM: Yay!

PC: Five one.

KM: We’re over the hill now – officially! Kim Smith.

KS: I’ve been over the hill for a while.

KM: Safety in numbers is always good.

PC: It’s always very traumatic to me – catch that? –

KM: Ta da!

PC: To have Kim Smith in the studio.

KS: It’s traumatic to have me here?

PC: Yes! I’m trying to segue here, okay?

KM: No, I think we’re talking about it’s traumatic to be 51. Episode-wise, age-wise, anything-wise.

PC: It’s traumatic to be 55. Yes. But but but.

KM: And it’s more traumatic if you’re older than 55. Yeah. Kim Smith, how are you?

KS: I’m doing well. How about you, Kathleen?

KM: I am great. It’s good to see your smiling face today.

KS: Thank you.

PC: You were stuck on the highway this morning. What’s going on out there?

KS: Just bad rush hour traffic, I guess.

PC: Anybody have a wreck?

KS: I have no idea. I didn’t see one but I think Keller Springs has the shortest light in the world.

KM: It does. You’re right.

KS: And so lots of traffic backed up there.

KM: You are right. I never thought of it but it’s a very short light.

PC: What are we talking about today?

KM: We’re talking about how Kim got her resilience back on after battling traffic this morning, aren’t we, girl?

PC: So what is resilience, as it has to do with trauma?

KM: And where can I get some?

KS: Well, in my last podcast I talked about post-traumatic stress and so I’m kind of going to piggyback onto that today. I’m going to talk about resilience, or one’s ability to bounce back from trauma. And I will give you the official definition, which the American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of threat.”

PC: My dad calls that a thick skin, boy.

KS: That’s what it is, basically.

KM: I call it being brave. Get your brave back.

KS: Yes, definitely.

PC: Grow a backbone?

KM: Well, yes.

KS: That can be one way to look at it. I’m going to start off by telling you a little bit about some studies and Dr. Steven Southwick who’s a professor at Yale University, and he’s an expert on PTSD and the subject of resilience or bouncing back from trauma. So scientific research shows that genetics can play a pretty big part in a person’s resilient abilities. And I won’t bore you with too many details.

PC: Well, you’ve already gone Yale on me here, so you might as well with the-

KS: Well, basically DNA studies have shown several different genes that regulate your nervous system and determine your response to stress. I know you’ve heard of cortisol and all of that good stuff. You probably heard that in those weight loss infomercials, how cortisol causes you to gain weight and all that good stuff.

PC: Why is she telling me?

KM: She’s looking right at you.

KS: No! No no no. Trust me – I can’t look at anybody in regard to that. I’d be looking back at myself.

PC: Cortisol.

KS: Right. That’s one of our stress genes. But several different genes regulate the nervous system, and those determine our response to stress whether it’s an over the top response causing us to panic or want to run away, hide. Whether it’s not sufficient enough – maybe some people don’t get in the fight or flight mode when they need to, in the face of danger.

PC: I’ve always had a stress problem. Do you think my genes are too tight?

KM: Definitely.

KS: (Laughs) Are they wound up too tight?

PC: Mmm hmm. You probably don’t want to go there.

KS: I like that play on words. But they also can determine, some people have a healthy genetic background for resilience and they just naturally adapt a little more healthily during times of stress. But there are neurological factors that occur naturally, such as that keyword cortisol levels, and the level of development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. And that also contributes to how we respond in fight or flight situations and whether or not that response is healthy. But, that being said, whether you’ve got those genes or not, whether you’ve got those designer genes or not, everyone-

KM: Good job, Kim.

PC: You forgot to tell her I do the jokes here.

KM: No, I think she’s onto you, buddy.

KS: I’m going to borrow that from you, Phillip. But everyone can learn or train to be resilient whether or not that naturally occurs with you or not. And studies have shown that we can train our brains to be more resilient by actively doing things like mindfulness meditation, just basically meditating and thinking about your emotions and how your thoughts relate to those, being aware. And you can also learn how to do cognitive reappraisal. And those can increase that activation of that prefrontal cortex in your brain.

PC: What’s the difference in the two – mindful-whatever and cognitive-something?

KS: Cognitive reappraisal? Well mindfulness meditation is more of a calming technique where you’re mindful of the, maybe, issues that are causing emotional breakdown and you allow yourself to be aware of those.

PC: So it’s becoming more self-aware.

KS: Right. Very much so. Cognitive reappraisal, however, is reframing of thoughts and memories so maybe a memory triggers negative emotions or panic or fear. Memory of some sort of violence or any kind of trauma basically. Cognitive reframing is a shift in your perception of that event and learning to allow yourself to process it differently so that when you do that you have a different psychological and physiological reaction.

PC: Reprogramming your thought process and your responses.

KS: Exactly.

PC: Like a computer.

KS: Very much so. But back to that whole left prefrontal cortex thing – this is the last boring thing I’m going to say, I promise… that’s not true – But that allows a person to recover more rapidly from negative emotions like anger and fear. So when you practice those things and activate that left prefrontal cortex – I can’t say that quickly.

PC: Well, that’s the fourth time you’ve said that big word, so apparently you can.

KS: I know, right. But yeah, so practicing that stimulates that part of your brain and it becomes more natural for you to utilize the resilience in your brain, basically. Like I said, it’s something anyone can achieve but it has to be cultivated through practice. And by that I mean you have to mentally practice resilience in order… and you practice it when you’re not in a catastrophic event, obviously. When you’re in a calm environment, that’s when you practice it because when that event or trigger comes up, you’re not going to have the awareness and wherewithal to be able to activate those things. So if you practice it in times of non-stress, when stressors come up then it will become more natural to you.

PC: So what you’re telling me, I think, is that resilience is already there in your brain. Is it missing from anybody? Just missing, like perhaps empathy is missing from some people, or a conscience is missing from some others?

KS: There are people that, sure they have pathology that are maybe have tendencies, sociopathic tendencies, those things where it’s probably more of a challenge. I won’t say that it’s impossible for people who may face some adversity like that to develop it. It would take a lot more practice and it would have to take a willingness to do that. People have to be willing to practice this and put it into place. It’s not going to happen on it’s own, generally.

PC: So it’s already there, but we’re exercising it to reinforce it, much like an athlete would do what they call muscle memory.

KS: Absolutely. Absolutely. You train during your off-season or off-time and that way when game time comes then you’re ready.

PC: Am I getting any credit hours for this? CEUs?

KM: Yes.

KS: Sure. Absolutely.

KM: Is that where the brain games are beginning to really popular? You know, there are some brain training apps that you can put on your smart phone that helps with the resiliency or the emotional-able to gain stronger emotional coping skills.

KS: Sure. Sure. And of course, depending on what types of apps you might be referring to. Some of those may stimulate the intellectual or creative sides of people’s brains. And others, like you say, would work to kind of awaken and exercise the parts of your brain that do recover for emotional purposes.

KM: You know I did a health fair yesterday in a company and they’re adding on a brain training games as part of their benefits package that employees can download – a mobile app site – to deal with exactly what you’re talking about, Kim.

KS: That’s really cool.

KM: And it’s like 10 minutes a day, three times a day, and there’s different games that they can do on their smart phones to help increase the resiliency and emotional handling of things.

KS: So employees can play on their smart phones and not get in trouble at work?

KM: Yeah, their smart phones are telling them how to be a little bit more wise I suppose.

KS: That’s pretty neat. That’s forward-thinking it sounds like,

KM: Yeah.

PC: Workplace violence reduction program. So what else you got on the Yale list over there?

KS: Well, so there are several parts of developing resilience. One is cultivation- or the first part of cultivating that involves being cognizant of what triggers your negative emotions. So if you’re afraid of snakes and that’s something that’s going to trigger fear in you, you’ve got to know that you’re afraid of snakes. You’ve got to admit, “Hey, I’m afraid of snakes,” and be aware of it. Otherwise, when the snake comes around the corner, you might have that reaction but you may not have the forethought of, “You know, I’m afraid of snakes so I’m going to prepare for when I run into one.” So we all experience negative emotions and difficult times and stress, but when they affect you to a degree that your life is interrupted by them, and they affect maybe your work ability or your relationships, that kind of thing – that’s when they become problematic so you have to be aware of what your own stressors are and what triggers the difficulties. Once you’re aware of them, you can start to map out a plan to develop resilience for those. The second part involves that thing we talked about a minute ago, and this is cognitive reframing or reappraisal/reframing it’s kind of the same thing. In order to reframe things cognitively, you have to practice thinking differently about them. So you can utilize a counseling setting to help with this – obviously counselors can walk you through that process and help you in a safe environment. You could also use workbooks, so on cognitive behavioral therapy, that can give you kind of a map. There are workbooks out there that help you utilize your brain and show you how to reframe things. One example of cognitive reframing might be this: After being laid off from a job you start to experience very negative emotions. You tell yourself, “I have no real value. My skill set is outdated. Nobody’s going to hire me.” Those thoughts lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy and kind of send you on a downward spiral. And really kind of sends your motivation to do anything about your issue. So an example of reframing your thoughts in a case like that would be, “Well, I was actually one of the top salespeople in my department when I was working there before the layoff, so that shows I have some abilities. And there were many skilled or respected people who also lost their jobs – not just me. And I can always take some classes to update my skill set if I need to.” So those are some thinking differently about the situation/reframing those thoughts about the situation. And notice the situation doesn’t change – you’re still laid off from your job, but you’ve just processed that information differently.

PC: Well, now you’re happy about it.

KS: Well, maybe. Some people might become happy about it. Some people at least may learn that it’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to them and that they can, they do have the ability to cope with it. So emotions change about the situation though, when you reframe the thoughts involved. So this is part of learning how to bounce back. And over time and practice in situations of adversity, using this and doing it repetitively helps someone make it more of a habit so that you don’t have to struggle with it.

KM: So bouncing back really does require a person to really think through this very differently than what they’re accustomed to doing previously.

KS: It does. It does.

KM: That’s powerful.

PC: I have a question. I’ve heard doctors say before – doctors, psychiatrists and a range of them – use the term, “Talk therapy.” And I think to a lot of people, talk therapy sounds like, “Let’s get together and share,” and especially I’m going to say for the guys, that sounds like nothing. So my question is, is what we’re talking about the cognitive reprogramming in relation to fixing a wide range of problems, or addressing those problems, is that what they’re referring to as talk therapy?

KM: Oh, absolutely. It’s a huge part of that. In fact, I tell clients when they come in, the first session I generally tell them, “I’m going to get some information from you. I want you to tell me what you’re struggling with, what you’re wanting help with, and then we’re going to map out a game plan as to how we’re going to tackle getting you to where you want to be. And so that game plan is developing ways to help them rethink and shift their cognitive thoughts.

KM: So you’re very concrete/sequential with your clients to developing a strategy and a therapy that’s going to re-map so they can become more resilient?

KM: Right. Absolutely. And there’s a lot to be said for just being there in the moment and listening and letting them get a lot off their chest because that’s a release for them. But I think an important and key part of that is helping them develop this plan to become resilient. Because if they can see that there is a plan in place, that motivates them to work towards recovery and helps them see an end. And when they see results from this, that gives them the ability to do this for themselves and the awareness that this really does work.

KM: So the power of the therapy is the therapist having the X and the Os all on the grid sheet and we’re going to do this game plan? And the client- it’s an active, collaborative process. It’s not just talking if that’s what you’re saying, Phillip.

KS: Absolutely.

PC: Well see, it makes sense to me if we’re going to reprogram the thought process – reframe it, whatever – and that changes the outcome, how I feel, and that’s not a bad thing because laying in bed at night with your gut churning and trying to figure out where your next X is coming from is a feeling and it’s not one I like.

KS: No, it’s no fun.

PC: So if you can reprogram the thought process and end up with a slightly different outcome that is better. Again like you said earlier, you may still be unemployed but at least you have a different way of looking at it. I know I figured out for myself not enough years ago but a few years back that just don’t make any decisions after four o’clock in the afternoon because it never works out. And we’re not talking, “Oh, so-and-so’s an alcoholic and nothing good happens after midnight.” Not that. Just regular, normal life – whatever that is – and when you get tired, you just don’t make the same decisions you do when you’re 100%. You just don’t.

KS: You’re right.

PC: And at night – same thing. When you’re tired and it’s dark, that somehow that’s even worse. I don’t make any decisions- the only decision I make after four o’clock is what am I having for supper? That’s it.

KM: That’s probably a good plan, Phillip.

PC: Everything else can wait.

KM: There you go.

KS: Right.

KM: Patience is part of this resilience I would think.

PC: So you mentioned, Kathleen, the workplace was doing things to improve the thought processes and whatnot. Maybe some of that has to do with resilience and recovering from not only trauma-based events in some capacity or just general thought processes and repurposing that. What else is the workplace doing to help employees deal with this wide range of problems?

KM: Right. Well, I think there’s a correlation between if you’re having some traumatic issues outside of work, it does come into the workplace while they’re doing their work performance. So a lot of companies now are really utilizing employee assistance programs to help immediately with any of those kinds of issues in a really quick way. And so there’s a very big thrust with corporations really honing in on the use of the employee assistance program because they really do want their employees to perform well. But more importantly they want their employees to feel good about just themselves and all that kind of stuff. So I think part of the whole resiliency part is really affecting the company’s, you know-

PC: Bottom line.

KM: Bottom line/work performance. And they’re seeing the value of the employee assistance program, no doubt.

PC: Healthy people make more money.

KM: Right.

PC: So yes, they’re interested in the health because we’re all here to make a buck. I don’t know what world you live in if you don’t think that’s true.

KM: You know, to be happy and be productive and really just enjoy life. I mean, I think that’s the power of what Kim’s been talking about.

KS: Absolutely. The third part of resilience is that you can allow yourself to learn from tragedy, learn from the trauma, and it’s interesting the number of people that I encounter that say, “You know I didn’t know the strength I had until I went through this particular traumatic incident.” And they discover their own internal strength and they learn new things about themselves and their abilities. And so to pull out the positives, even from a negative event, is very important to be able to do. Pull out either what you learned from it, just all kinds of different things.

KM: Perceived failures can be very powerful in retooling and just encouraging someone to get on a different path, which is very, very powerful.

PC: Again, why are you looking at me?


PC: Okay, so. Kim – if someone that’s listening says, “Okay, what do I do? Give me a checklist. If I think I have the opportunity to improve myself in this arena of resiliency, that’s what I need. I need to talk to somebody about that.” I know where we can find you, we can do that in a minute, but, ”What are my options here? What possibilities do I have?”

KS: Well, first of all you can, like I said, utilize therapy to help yourself develop resilience. Get some instruction and education from a therapist. You can check out books on coping, resilience. Key words are cognitive behavioral therapy that will show you the map to do that. And also keep a good network of supporters around you. It’s important to have friends, family, someone in your life that you can rely on in times of crisis to kind of build you up and help you get back on your feet.

PC: And I suppose you could always check with your employee if you have an EAP program, see what they offer.

KS: Absolutely. Those EAP programs are very beneficial and you can typically go to therapy at least for a couple of sessions or more without having to pay for it. Your employer pays for that for you so.

PC: So counselors are accessible from an EAP program?

KS: Absolutely. Yes.

PC: Alright, so where do we find you?

KS: You can find me at Life Tree Counseling Center and I am at 972-234-6634 ext. 305. Or You can make appointments with me on the website there – click on my counselor page.

PC: And miss Kathleen?

KM: Same place. My extension is 104 and ditto with what Kim said.

PC: All right.

KM: How about you?

PC: I can be found, my picture on the cork board at the local post office.

KS: Does it say, “Wanted”?

PC: I thought they took that down. No! I’m still Phillip Crum, content marketing coach. Phone number’s on the site. Give me a call if this type of marketing would be advantageous for your business. And if you don’t think it would, call me anyway so I can talk you into it. I don’t know. So thanks for listening everybody. Thank you, Kim.

KM: Thank you, Kim.

KS: Thank you, Phillip. Thank you, Kathleen.

PC: Very good stuff.

KM: Thank you, Phillip. You’re very welcome.

PC: We’ll see everybody next week. Thanks for listening, and on we go.

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