As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Amy Serin.
Dr. Amy Serin applies her expertise to heal a multitude of mental health problems both in and out of her integrative care clinics. In the last decade, Dr. Serin’s clinics have healed thousands of people and after consulting with militaries and international global crises responders, she set out to prevent and end post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on a global scale. This led to the breakthrough discovery that a component of PTSD treatment could actually be used outside of doctor’s offices and embedded in non-invasive wearable technology to relieve stress at any time and calm brain wave activity. She then co-founded The TouchPoint Solution in late 2015 to give access to this technology to everyone needing stress relief. Dr. Serin’s first book, The Stress Switch, will launch in February of 2019 and highlights the truth about stress, her journey, and her efforts to solve the stress epidemic. Dr. Serin lives in Arizona with her two sons and Goldendoodle, Scout.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I love people. And I love neuroscience. What I didn’t love was being a 27-year-old stressed out business developmental professional in Los Angeles with virtually no work-life balance. I realized that being frazzled and unfulfilled wasn’t the life I wanted to keep living and I yearned to create more meaningful work. I left business, completed a doctoral program, built integrative care clinics, and have been working to heal trauma and improve lives for the last 12 years.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
Being a neuropsychologist means I understand brain and behavioral relationships. Those difficult feelings people have before, during and after divorce are all modulated by brain functioning. Understanding that and integrating it into therapy with divorced adults over the last decade has helped shape my therapeutic modalities so people can truly heal from divorce and ensure their children can thrive without developing life-long problems resulting from the divorce. And I too am divorced so I know first-hand the difficulties.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my very first training experience I was thrown into doing therapy for older adults. I had no idea what I was doing. I told an older woman who unbeknownst to me was refusing to take responsibility for anything in her life and her primary therapy goal was to take steps towards taking action in her life rather than being passive. My advice to her when she was complaining about nothing happening in her life was to “Trust The Universe.” That was definitely not the right thing to say. I learned that therapy is not about advice from my perspective- it’s about meeting the patient where they are and helping them grow in a productive direction and that is different for everyone.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Try not to relive your adolescence. Divorce wreaks havoc on your neurochemistry. It can cause PTSD, identity problems, and what one patient calls “the crazies.” It’s probably temporary- and that’s good news. But it’s important to not make decisions within the first year of divorce that will have long-term negative consequences. Want to start cross-fit and connect with old friends? Great. Designing your new tattoo while trolling facebook and connecting with all of your married high school crushes? Not so great. It’s normal to need a neurochemical boost during and after divorce. Try to do it productively and you’ll be better off in the long run. I have a patient with piercings who contributed to breaking up a marriage with her high-school boyfriend and his wife who wishes she had taken that advice.
- Get therapy ASAP and take care of yourself. Most people don’t realize that divorce can cause PTSD and can trigger new addictions or re-trigger old ones due to the stress and prolonged difficulty of it. I usually recommend EMDR therapy for people who even contemplating divorce. The mere thought of it means that something needs to be healed or dealt with and the more you take care of yourself emotionally during the entire process, the better off you’ll be.
- Access your support network and build one up if you don’t have people you can count on. Events like divorce can be polarizing and you’ll learn who your true friends are. Minimize contact if you need to with people who are well meaning but judgmental or harsh. You need real support and lots of it during and after a divorce to thrive. If others don’t see your point of view or aren’t helpful- try not to dwell on it and turn towards support and kindness wherever you can. There’s a lot to be found. One of my patients was surprised that her favorite sister shunned her during the divorce and sided with her ex-husband while other family members loved her and supported her and suspended judgment. It helped for her to realize that people react to other’s life stressors in multiple ways. It’s not uncommon for others to try to pinpoint blame so they feel less vulnerable in their own lives. I once had a patient feel guilty for judging her brother for his actions in his marriage she thought led to his divorce only to realize when her marriage fell apart that she was only trying to feel secure. She was able to patch up her relationship with him and had a new sense of understanding of the complexities of divorce.
- If you feel like you have tunnel vision and all you can see is darkness, I want you to trust that there is a light. Sometimes you just have to trust and keep moving through the process. Remember even if divorce wasn’t your choice, splitting up and healing can mean a resurgence of parts of your lost self and space to thrive like you’ve never experienced before. If you can transmute the pain and be better for it, you can thrive in the long run in ways you’ve never imagined.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
I see people engaging in long-term legal battles that have more to do with their anger than a real need to resolve anything productive for the benefit of themselves or the children. The most upsetting thing I see is a splitting of the children and manipulation to try to get back at the ex-partner. This usually hurts the children and the parent who is trying to split them. Kids need all the support they can get during and after a divorce.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
I like the book “Not Just Friends” by Jean Coppock Staeheli and Shirley Glass for people who have experienced infidelity in their marriage and who want to make sense of it or try to decide whether to work on the marriage or move on. I also like “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson and The Gottman Method for helping understand and improve relationships.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
The more I know myself, the more I can help break down my barriers to real love and encourage others to do the same in their relationships.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on expanding my neuroscience technology into couple’s therapy and in mediation meetings. When one or both partners are stressed out, productive conversations and real problem solving in the relationship (or after the relationship) isn’t possible. Being able to reduce stress in real time during active therapy or discussion without shifting attention now makes it possible for people to self-regulate instead of staying in fight or flight reactive mode and I think that will go a long way in helping people prevent divorce, recover from divorce, and be reasonable as they try to work together after divorce.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is my dream and why I invented TouchPoints. If you lower someone’s stress response in real time they are less irritable, more rational, less fearful, better performing. Imagine that on a global scale. Imagine a world where traumatized kids whose parents are divorced can regulate themselves and don’t grow into reactive, aggressive, impulsive adults. Imagine what your life would be like if every time you felt stress and wanted to avoid something you wouldn’t be afraid and would take the risk and reach your full potential. Imagine if you could be calm instead of irrational and didn’t say those terrible things you say in the heat of the moment when stressed? Imagine if after a mass shooting or war we could use technology and prevent PTSD or treat it immediately after? I want you to imagine those things and understand that with our current neuroscience we can accomplish just that. We just need to get relief in people’s hands.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oprah, of course. She’s brilliant. Heartfelt. She understands the human condition and wants people to thrive.