A fireside chat with Dr. Sheela Raja on how to overcome trauma and improve wellness – New Dentist Blog


Photo of Cathy Hung, D.D.S.

Blogger Cathy Hung, D.D.S., is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon training in New Jersey. She is an alumna of the ADA Institute for Variety in Management and a wellness ambassador with the ADA Wellness Ambassador Program, which is supported by the ADA Dental Crew Wellness Advisory Committee of the ADA Council on Dental Apply. She is a speaker, author and life coach on range, fairness and inclusion and feminine management. She was the recipient of the tenth annual Lucy Hobbs Challenge Awards’ Humanitarian Award.

Sheela Raja, Ph.D., is a scientific psychologist and affiliate professor on the College of Illinois at Chicago. She is presently the director of the UIC Resilience Heart, serving to college students to enhance behavioral well being of their private {and professional} lives. Dr. Raja makes a speciality of post-traumatic stress dysfunction and trauma, and her analysis and coaching focus is within the space of trauma-informed well being care. Dr. Raja is the writer of the books “The Resilient Teen”1 and “Overcoming Trauma and PTSD”2, and she or he did a two-part webinar for the American Dental Affiliation on the way to develop emotional resilience.3,4 On this hearth chats session, I interviewed Dr. Raja to realize perception on how trauma impacts us and the way we will develop resilience expertise for our wellness.

Photo of Sheela Raja, Ph.D.

Dr. Raja

Trauma-informed well being care5

Q: Dr. Raja, may you discuss how you bought concerned with educating about psychological well being in a dental faculty resulting in the event of the resilience heart at UIC?

A: I’m a scientific psychologist. I used to be employed within the School of Dentistry 15 years in the past to show behavioral science ideas, starting from coping with anxious sufferers, breaking unhealthy information, coping with antagonistic occasions, working with folks with consuming problems and trauma histories. Through the years, my analysis specialty has turn into trauma-informed well being care, that means when persons are traumatized or chronically burdened, how can we assist them to have interaction in care and never re-traumatize them? A part of good trauma-informed care is self-care. You possibly can’t deal with different folks except you’re feeling effectively and taking good care of your self. After the pandemic began, I attempted to do one thing extra focused for our college students; it match into my experience and coaching and the scholars stated they needed extra sources.  Supplier resilience suits into the umbrella of trauma-informed well being care in order that we will higher serve our sufferers as a result of that’s our finish customers.

Poisonous stress and aggressions

Q: Dr. Raja, you talked about in your resilience webinars that minority teams skilled a better fee of burnout, in accordance with statistics from the American Medical Affiliation. Why do you assume that’s the case?

A: We’ve got a number of information now about how poisonous stress — for instance, ongoing racism, ongoing sexism, homophobia and transphobia — is damaging. In my discipline, folks have began to maneuver away from the time period “microaggressions” as a result of they’re simply “aggressions.”  They take a toll on us, not solely by way of our psychological well being but additionally physiological well being. When COVID occurred, it hit weak populations first. Susceptible populations are sometimes those which are essentially the most underserved and essentially the most discriminated in opposition to. Susceptible populations are usually minority teams in our nation. When COVID started, many minority teams felt, “My plate was already full, and now I’ve to cope with this extra stress.” Some others won’t have felt as touched by the each day stressors of COVID, particularly within the first couple of months, however our minority populations undoubtedly felt weak in a number of methods. You don’t simply shake it off.  The implicit and specific bias and racism improve your coronary heart fee and activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and when that occurs chronically, it impacts our bodily well being in addition to our psychological well being.

Guilt and disgrace

Q: If you expertise aggressions as you talked about earlier than, oftentimes you additionally expertise damaging emotions. In your books and webinars, you focus on guilt and disgrace and the way they’re completely different. Might you elaborate on that?

A: Disgrace is about who we’re: after we look again and say, “Take a look at me. I made all of the unhealthy choices, and I’m not a great individual.” In my e-book “The Resilient Teenagers,” I discussed that disgrace will also be the results of prejudice or stigma. It’s not as a result of you could have carried out one thing unsuitable. Guilt, however, has extra to do with a scenario. I look again, and perhaps I might have carried out issues in another way. I realized from the scenario. Disgrace has to do with the way you decide your self as an individual and guilt has to do with the way you dealt with a scenario. Guilt helps us be taught; disgrace retains us caught. We should always notice that generally we will be taught from a scenario and develop from it, however if you’re experiencing bigotry or prejudice, then clearly resilience includes society needing to vary, not simply the person and their perceptions of the scenario.

Numbing conduct

Q: Once we get house on the finish of the day, we would pour ourselves a glass of wine to unwind after we really feel burdened. You talked about in your webinars that that is thought-about “numbing conduct.”  I believe a number of instances this kind of coping conduct with stress is unconscious: We don’t notice that is numbing conduct. How can we keep away from what is usually unconscious?

A: There are a number of completely different expertise. In my e-book, I talked somewhat about increasing your emotional vocabulary. For instance, if you’re any individual who tends to stuff your feelings somewhat bit, you would possibly wish to preserve a listing of emotional phrases in your cellphone to broaden your repertoire of the way to establish and label your emotions. All of the phrases for joyful, all of the phrases for excited, for instance. Set a timer in your cellphone, say, 3 times a day. Examine in with your self to establish what you’re feeling. One other means known as self-monitoring, which is a flowery means of claiming to put in writing issues down on a structured foundation. For instance, when you are likely to have a glass of wine a number of instances every week, write down the time of the day, how a lot you might be ingesting and perhaps what emotion you’re feeling. You’ll uncover one thing about your self — for instance, it’s actually when I’m drained that I’m ingesting loads, not when I’m upset or depressed. This is step one in the direction of breaking out of numbing conduct.

Breaking habits

Q: In your expertise, do you agree when folks say that it takes 21 days to interrupt a behavior?

A: The unhealthy information is that the 21 days are usually for less complicated objectives. For extra complicated objectives like chopping again on ingesting, these are likely to take two or three months to actually really feel like they’re routine. The opposite factor is that it’s OK to present your self time to create a brand new behavior as a result of this can be a pure a part of change.  Some days are good, and a few days should not as nice. That is the distinction between guilt and disgrace.  You can not have a look at the curve as a straight line. There are some days with little slip backs, however you have a look at the general development, take delight in your successes and be taught from errors.

Resilience versus stoicism

Q: What’s resilience, and the way do you are feeling about stoicism? You talked about in your webinars that stoicism is just not resilience and that stoicism is completely different from energy. Might you elaborate on that?

A: In my e-book, I outline resilience as a set of expertise that show you how to develop a wholesome thoughts and physique, methods that show you how to develop robust and wholesome emotional connections and a way of objective, and a set of practices that show you how to cope in wholesome methods throughout instances of stress. Resilience isn’t all scented candles and yoga. From a psychological standpoint, resilience is extra about: Can you rise up and do what you might want to do to operate after one thing very troublesome or difficult? Stoicism, however, feeds into emotional avoidance. I joked that if anyone had the signal “Maintain Calm and Carry On,” I would are available in and rip it up. We will’t actually develop and replicate and alter with stoicism as people, establishments or tradition if we simply preserve marching ahead with out studying from the previous and tapping into our emotional reactions. There may be a number of energy in emotional vulnerability. By having the ability to say, “I’m unhappy, I’m devastated, I’m anxious, I’m apprehensive,” we will then determine the way to finest remedy issues in progressive methods. If we don’t title it, it turns into avoidance. Sadly, I believe we reward stoicism, particularly in well being care tradition, and it’s detrimental to psychological well being.

Submit-traumatic progress

Q: You talked about post-traumatic progress in your seminars and books. Might you clarify what this time period means?

A: Submit-traumatic progress is when we’ve got been by means of one thing actually troublesome, and we glance again and combine it into our story and may establish how we’ve got grown. This doesn’t imply, “I would like this to occur to me once more.” For instance, no one would invite COVID into our world once more, however given what occurred within the final three years, maybe I had the chance to begin my very own enterprise or get extra concerned with my youngsters in class. This stressor has helped me develop and alter and challenged me in some methods. Submit-traumatic progress is carefully associated to resilience. Resilience is discovering methods to outlive and adapt below stress, whereas post-traumatic progress is a solution to discover that means in what we’ve got skilled.

Social assist

Q: How can we assist ourselves by means of troublesome instances with the intention to turn into extra resilient?

A: Resilient folks know when to ask for assist, and there are several types of social assist. For instance, you want no less than one or two folks in your life you possibly can discuss to when you want them to simply pay attention, and that is emotional assist. There are different kinds of assist which are undervalued for my part. For instance, if you’re sick and another person is filling in for you, that’s instrumental assist.  There may be additionally informational assist: people who find themselves good sources on the way to run a apply or the way to get a mortgage, for instance. Lastly, generally, there are people who find themselves simply enjoyable to be with, and that is known as companionship assist. I encourage folks to do a social assist audit. Look again in your life yearly and say, “The place am I at with these kinds of assist?”

Constructing resilience on a systemic stage to stop burnout

Q: Dr. Raja, would you inform us extra concerning the Resilience Heart at UIC? You talked about that there are pupil ambassadors who assist others to construct resilience. What’s the ambassador’s involvement?

A: The pandemic exacerbated what’s already taking place with the psychological well being disaster. In contrast with 15 years in the past, my college students now are extra open and vocal about destigmatizing psychological well being, which is according to nationwide statistics on the youthful era. There may be a lot extra of an consciousness of psychological well being and the way it goes together with bodily well being and wellness. What I did was ask for volunteer college students for our ambassador program and educated them on the scholar companies obtainable on campus, equivalent to the way to report racial discrimination, sexual harassment, home violence and so forth. The coed ambassadors function sources for different college students and give you their very own programming that they assume their cohorts could be serious about. For instance, one of many ambassadors was into health, so she organized a enjoyable discipline day for brand new college students, offering snacks and taking part in video games and sports activities as a solution to construct the scholar group again after the pandemic. I benefit from the completely different concepts they convey to the desk and the way they make it related clinically and developmentally. Resilience needs to be supported on a systemic stage. For those who can construct some self-efficacy into folks’s jobs, respect selections and make some methods of taking breaks and sick time, these issues matter in a giant means as a result of people who find themselves essentially the most vulnerable to burnout are those with the bottom stage of energy: the youthful generations and other people from traditionally marginalized teams.

Wellness and DEI (range, fairness and inclusion)

Dr. Raja lastly burdened, “Psychological well being and wellness in our well being care workforce can not occur with out range, fairness and inclusion. I’ve come to deeply admire all of the struggles we’ve got had, as we’ve got grown to develop a middle the place psychological well being and wellness go hand in hand with DEI efforts.”


  1. Raja, S. (2021). The Resilient Teen: 10 Key Expertise to Bounce Again from Setbacks and Flip Stress Into Success. New Harbinger Publications.
  2. Raja, S. (2012). Overcoming Trauma and PTSD: A Workbook Integrating Expertise from ACT, DBT, and CBT. New Harbinger Publications.
  3. American Dental Affiliation. Raja, S. (2022, April 19). How can dentists develop emotional resilience on this planet filled with stress? Retrieved Jan. 14, 2023, from https://ebusiness.ada.org/education/viewcourse.aspx?id=670.
  4. American Dental Affiliation. Raja, S. (2022, Could 18). Growing your personal emotional resilience/wellness plan. Retrieved Jan. 14, 2023, from https://ebusiness.ada.org/education/viewcourse.aspx?id=674.
  5. Purkey, E. (2018, March). Trauma-informed care. Canadian household Doctor, 64, 170-172.


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