Stormy, windy weather may trigger nervousness and fears created by Hurricane Dorian. Photo: C. Leinbach

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Ask a Mental Health Professional Installment No. 3

By Earle Irwin

Question: Every time I think I got this when it comes to the aftermath of the Dorian flood, something jumps outta nowhere to bite me. Like this tropical storm. The durned nightmares have started again, and it takes me halfway through the next day for my nerves to settle down.

My question is two part—how long is this going to last and yeah, yeah. All along my family has been telling me to go talk to you, but now you’re only here for a couple more months. Is there any good you can do me in that little bit of time? Plus, I really don’t want to rehash all this stuff.

Response: If you have periods of time during which you think you got this—in other words, you are not troubled by images or memories of the flood and you are able to focus on day-to-day activities–then you definitely are recovering!  Dorian was a trauma that cannot easily be put aside. Your brain remembers details of Dorian and has stored them as warning signs, or triggers: If this happens (big wind, for example), be vigilant because it may be Dorian again! Then your nervous system revs up, ready to fight off the danger, or to take flight from it (you remember “fight-or-flight response” from high school biology, right?).

When you heard Tropical Storm Arthur was coming, maybe you heeded some of those warning signs and took precautions. And now Arthur has passed, and you survived! The next time you experience a similar trigger, your brain now has more information which you can draw upon to reassure yourself that, yes. I can survive. I may not like that this is happening, but I got this!

Regarding your questions about counseling—how much time does it take and is rehashing the details necessary? In guiding folks through trauma recovery, I follow a four-step restabilization approach that can progress quickly, quite possibly in four sessions or fewer.  

Step One is Recap. Rather than ask you to recount the details of the incident, I ask how are you affected now by what you experienced? In what ways are you continuing to react?

Step Two is Review. Of those reactions, which ones do not serve you well? How are those thoughts or behaviors interfering with your present satisfaction with your life? 

Step Three is Repair. Let’s identify fresh solutions—new ways of thinking about your situation. What skills and strengths do you already possess that you can apply in new ways or with more intensity? What supports are available to help you accomplish this?

Step Four is Reinforce. By this session, you’ve had opportunity to apply the solutions and practice the skills identified in earlier sessions. How is this working for you? At this point we brainstorm again to tweak anything that’s not working as well as you’d like. You leave with a plan for how to continue to handle stressors, practice new skills and draw upon resources.

So yes. There is time. I did just give you the basic outline of how to recover from trauma and you can use this information to guide your own self-help. Yet please consider me a resource who can facilitate the process for you, help you stay on track and offer you encouragement along the way. Call, text, or email now and let’s get started. 703-863-1243 or And, there’s no charge.

(Resources: “Coping with Crisis: A Counselor’s Guide to the Restabilization Process,” by Jim Burtles. Loving Healing Press, Ann Arbor MI. 2007)

Earle Irwin, a retired clinical nurse specialist, is on Ocracoke through July to help islanders cope with Dorian aftermath and any other issues they may be dealing with.









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