Transforming Trauma: The Importance Of Mental Health Counseling | Christine LePosa, MA, LP...

Christine LePosa is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, with a Supervisory designation in the State of Ohio, who works with children, adolescents, and family systems to help heal traumas from the early developmental stages of life; arguably some of the most critical years in a human’s overall development. Her work not only helps families navigate difficult situations, but destigmatizes mental health treatment and linear ideas of what it truly means to heal. 

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Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

The early developmental stages we go through as babies into adolescence have a major impact on our growth and who we become when we enter adulthood. These critical years are what mold our personalities, attitudes, and views on life. When a child experiences an environment of trauma, or goes through a traumatic event, that development can be negatively altered. 

Christine LePosa is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a Supervisory designation in the State of Ohio. She specializes in working with children, adolescents, and family systems as they navigate trauma and other general difficulties. She entered the field of professional counseling after having her own success being in counseling as she grew up.  

“Growing up I found talking to a counselor or social worker during times of extreme challenges or high stress was very helpful. When I got to the point in my life where I was looking at potential careers, I reflected a lot on how much help I received from those various professionals, and realized I wanted to do that for others, essentially giving back the gift that I had been given.”

“I specifically work with children and adolescents. As I was entering the counseling profession, I wanted to focus on that population, because the things that happen to us in early development, the relationships we have, and the things that we see within our environments, all have a major impact on us and how we think, feel, and relate to others. Getting support, whether it’s from counselors, social workers, or any other trusted adult during those early developmental years is critical, not just for our growth, but for our future as well.” 

“My other area of specialty is working with family systems. I recognize that individuals are not developed in ‘vacuums’. We are constantly surrounded by people, whether it be with a biological family, adopted family, foster home, group home or just your general community. However one defines their family system, there’s always a great impact from that system on the child, and vice versa; it’s a bidirectional influence,” LePosa explained. 

For LePosa, it’s integral not only to work with the child, but the family system as a whole. She explained that you can take struggling children out of the system and give them as many tools, supports, or medications as you can to help them, but if they are returning to a toxic environment, they are likely to remain at risk of experiencing those same challenges again. 

LePosa’s other main area of expertise is trauma. Trauma refers to any significant experience that a person has encountered directly, has witnessed, or has repeated exposure to that is of a threatening nature and is highly stressful for the individual. Each person experiences trauma differently, and how one is impacted by that trauma is also vastly different. 

How people present their symptoms in reaction to their trauma can vary drastically. The initial onset of those symptoms can either happen directly after a traumatic event, or it can take place days, weeks, months, even years later. The same idea applies to the duration of those traumatic responses, as some are able to find a level of coping after counseling and other means of healing, while others may face related challenges for their entire lifetime.

LePosa emphasized that while trauma is such an individualized and complex issue, research in the field of mental health counseling is advancing rapidly. Public attention placed on the complexities of trauma responses gives counseling professionals the opportunity to constantly learn, grow, and provide valuable support for these children and families. 

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

“I strive to provide recommended care that specifically caters to the unique experiences of the individual patient or family system. That could mean catering to their age, stage of development, upbringing, and various cultural factors. These are all the things that we, as counselors, need to take into account when we are caring for our patients.” 

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

“A significant part of the profession is also taking into account what we call ‘protective factors’ and ‘risk factors,’” LePosa stated. 

Protective factors encompass the patient’s own internal resources, strengths, positive qualities, skills, knowledge, as well as the support they have around them; family members, teachers, coaches, clergy members, or their community as a whole. 

One’s community can be a major resource for struggling individuals in terms of support like healthcare, community centers, athletic leagues, and music programs. Knowing what those protective factors are and how the individual is utilizing them in a holistic fashion is important. 

Risk factors refer to numerous aspects of an individual’s life such as their family dynamic, one’s environment, various forms of abuse, exposure to substance abuse, absence of economic resources, bullying, or an overall lack of adequate care. Being aware of what those risks are and how they might impact treatment is important to gain a greater understanding of how to help these individuals cope with their trauma.

“When it comes to receiving counseling, there is still an existing stigma that counseling can only look one way, and if it does not yield immediate results, it will not have long term benefits. Some people base their opinions of mental health treatment on the experiences of those around them, when each counseling experience is unique. With all of the individual complexities of each person and situation, it only makes sense that the treatment would be just as specialized.”

LePosa expanded on this sentiment by explaining that, simply put, everyone is different. We all have a specific set of strengths and weaknesses that make us who we are. When we look at counseling options, we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds and remember that “one size fits all” does not apply. 

“For example, if I am working with a very young child who has a limited vocabulary due to age or other factors, it would be difficult to utilize advanced cognitive therapy techniques when counseling them. 

Cognitive therapy is about working with an individual’s thoughts, identifying the emotions attached to those thoughts, and transforming them from unhelpful and false to truthful and helpful. That course of treatment is not necessarily going to be successful for someone who has a limited vocabulary, or cannot express themselves through words. Therefore, there needs to be an adaptation. 

Instead, I would likely choose a more expressive modality of treatment, such as art, music, movement, playtime, or other creative means. These mediums are often used in young children who do not have an extensive vocabulary yet, and in many other applicable contexts,” LePosa explained. 

It also goes back to the previously mentioned points regarding the individual’s protective and risk factors. That information is integral for formulating a specific treatment plan. 

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

“When working with people with trauma, I think about it in two separate categories: ‘Bottom Up’ and ‘Top Down’ methods. ‘Bottom up’ emphasizes somatic aspects of trauma. In contrast, ‘Top down’ highlights the cognitive components of trauma.”

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

Within both the ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ methodologies, there are amazing evidence-based approaches that have been successful for many people in many different situations. 

For example, one of the ‘top down’ models would be Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and one of the ‘bottom up’ methods would be Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. It is the responsibility of those within this profession to obtain and share a versatile toolbox of techniques, treatments, and therapies to help as many people as possible.

Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy are two of the more commonly used therapy modalities when it comes to the “bottom up” and “top down” methods that LePosa was discussing. These two methods have yielded many positive outcomes among various populations, so it was integral to hear LePosa explain more about these two types of therapies, when they are typically used, and how they work:

“TF-CBT and EMDR therapy are similar in the sense that they are both very specific in their use. Each one has particular stages/steps that one follows, and both of them are known as ‘evidence-based practices,’ meaning they have both been used in trial settings and have proven to be successful when used with certain populations of people.”

LePosa explained that EMDR utilizes what is called ‘bilateral stimulation,’ such as moving a stimulus back and forth and having an individual track that stimulus with their eyes. Essentially, what that process is doing is taking information, memories, thoughts, and experiences that get stuck in the lower part of the brain, and moving them up the information highway to the front part of the brain. There, the brain can make better sense of those experiences, link them to other adaptive information, and essentially learn and grow from them. 

Simultaneously, the goal is to minimize the distress that was previously attached to those particular memories. Bilateral stimulation causes the different sides of the brain to communicate with one another, which allows the stuck information to move to a different part of the brain, where it can become helpful, not harmful. EMDR does not erase those thoughts, memories, and/or experiences. It simply moves them and links them to other information in an adaptive way.

“Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), on the other hand, is similar to traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in that it focuses on cognition, or thoughts, as well as behavior,” LePosa said.

“The cognitive part refers to taking these thoughts that are maladaptive to the individual, and transforming them to more helpful, true, and adaptive thoughts. In turn, those thoughts then influence the emotions and behaviors. 

The behavioral aspect of this modality refers to the use of coping mechanisms, positive actions, and healthy routines to manage difficult thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. There is bidirectional influence between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, so when you make positive changes to one, it positively impacts the other. 

What is unique about TF-CBT is that there is a strong family systems component. It incorporates the family and provides them with education, skills, and resources to better communicate between the child and the family to produce the best possible outcomes.”

“It is incredibly important to be able to come to this work with a diverse set of skills and flexibility to apply those skills as needed.” 

LePosa then went on to discuss society’s modern views on mental health and counseling. One of the biggest events that impacted these modern viewpoints is the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a shared traumatic event that all of humanity experienced. While it was a very difficult time, people like LePosa were there to help us all cope and come together. 

One of the benefits that came out of the pandemic was the sense of connectedness that we all shared as humans. This was a worldwide health crisis that impacted everybody, and was something that we were initially navigating with little to no information. 

“The Pandemic gave us a sense of connectedness to humanity, as we all collectively moved through that time together. In addition, there were acute stressors that were different among individuals, families, and communities. However, we all had some form of significant disruption to our routine, our jobs, finances, and everyday relationships.”

Oftentimes when we have new acute stressors that appear daily, such as during the pandemic, it can exacerbate already existing mental health conditions, LePosa explained. People who experienced those added stressors with their pre-existing anxiety, depression, or other mental health ailments, may have been more motivated to seek out services to help them. Additionally, LePosa described how the growth of telehealth was an unexpected benefit to the field that came out of that time of isolation. 

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

“While there are numerous benefits with in-person counseling, I understand that there are people out there who simply cannot access that kind of care for a variety of reasons. Maybe they live in a rural area with little to no access to transportation, or they have commitments related to work or childcare. Whatever the case, some people experience very realistic barriers, and as telehealth grows those services become increasingly accessible to them.” 

Christine LePosa Clinical Counselor

LePosa discussed how, in the years since she became a counselor, she has seen changes surrounding societal views on mental health and mental health services. “In our modern western culture, there is still stigma, negative feelings or beliefs, toward counseling, which can stem from a variety of things. However, I think as we are learning more about mental health and distributing that information more globally, people are growing in their knowledge, understanding, and awareness. 

As humans, we fear what we do not understand. So the more we learn about mental health and the more accessible we make that information to the public, there is less fear and more willingness to accept and embrace these services as something that is not only helpful, but healthy and courageous.”

One of the biggest stigmas surrounding this field is the idea that seeking treatment or counseling is a sign of weakness. As more evidence and information regarding the successes of treatment are made available, society as a whole is moving towards the general idea that seeking help from a professional can be a sign of strength.

A stigmatized group that we often do not think about is men. There is still very much an attitude that it is not acceptable for males to have vulnerable feelings, and that it is only acceptable for them to express certain emotions, such as anger. This idea that you have to limit your emotional capacity based on your gender is, unfortunately, still very prevalent in society today.

Within certain ethnic and spiritual groups there is also the belief that any mental health issue should be dealt with internally, whether that means through the individual, the family, or the community. Inviting other helping professionals to be a part of that healing process can be discouraged.

“We also have to remember that counselors, medical health professionals, teachers, and others who devote their lives to serving others, have their own challenges, and constantly giving oneself to others can be very draining. Something we all need to emphasize in our day to day lives is self-care.

There is the classic metaphor of making sure you put on your oxygen mask on the plane before assisting others, and while it can seem cliche, it is true. We have to care for ourselves so we can best care for others. 

As counselors, we are the tool that we bring to this work, so we must be consistently sharp and ready. It is vital that we get enough sleep, eat well, practice positive habits, and do anything else that we can to feel whole,” LePosa concluded. 

Christine LePosa has recently created a website that emphasizes her entire philosophy regarding counseling, and will act as a hub for those seeking mental health resources and services related to trauma.

The website itself will include diverse content for children and families experiencing various traumas, but can also be utilized by counselors and other professions seeking new learning and tools. You can check out the website now at riseresources.net, or by clicking here!