Health Tip – When Holidays and Trauma Collide – What to do?


Dr. Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W.

A more comprehensive version of this post can be found here.

By Dr. Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W., Director of Clinical Training, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

December 2016 – The holiday season may be stressful for all of us. The idealistic pictures of happy families offered by the media might be out of sync with the truth of our lives. Recent events have made many of us, especially those who have suffered from violence and trauma, feel angry, unsafe and vulnerable. According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk*, “we now know that more than half of the people who seek psychiatric care have been assaulted, abandoned, neglected, or even raped as children, or have witnessed violence in their families” (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p.24). They may have experienced war, terrorism or violence. These experiences can lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression, despair, fears for safety, and physical illnesses.

There are many ways all of us can support survivors of trauma during these difficult times. Here are a few suggestions:

Professional counselors listen, validate, and support people in learning how to deal with the aftereffects of trauma. Counselors help trauma survivors find ways to feel as safe as they can and to handle the emotions and memories that torment them. Counselors encourage them to reach out to supportive people and communities. Professional counselors acknowledge that trauma is real – and do not offer false reassurances or dispute survivors’ experiences. They are not crazy; they are experiencing the mind and body’s normal response to intolerable stress.

Many of our neighbors feel unsafe. What can the rest of us do? Here are six ideas:

  1. Listen and support those who are afraid.
  2. Ask how you can help.
  3. Reassure the children.
  4. Support groups taking positive action to make our communities safer.
  5. Take care of your physical health.
  6. Connect with a sense of meaning this holiday season.

Shifting your attention from fear and anger to positive actions is the only way forward. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers professional counseling, psychiatry and a broad range of mental health services for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email

*Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books. 2014.

A more comprehensive version of this post can be found here.