Physician Trauma and Healing from Post Traumatic Stress with Nona Jordan

by Coach Jill Farmer | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience

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“That we have the ability and capability to heal post stress. That we can, in fact, come back to and maybe even be better in the aftermath of trauma.” -Nona Jordan

In today’s episode, Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer talks with Nona Jordan about trauma and healing. We learn that everyone experiences trauma differently and what we do when we have those experiences can either keep us trapped in those feelings or set us free. Nona explains the difference between Trauma with a capital T and trauma with a lower-case t. She talks with Jill about the benefits of community when dealing with traumatic or tough events in life, and how she has observed that in other cultures around the world. And most importantly, we learn that we can heal from Post Traumatic Stress and Nona gives us actionable tools we can use to begin on that path of healing. 

Nona Jordan holds a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from Harvard Extension School. She is also a Master Coach, yoga, breath, and meditation instructor, and former CPA. Nona has lived and traveled all over the world, most recently in Zambia, which fundamentally changed how she experiences living in the western world. Nona brings all of her experiences together to create generative space for professionals who are ready to take healing and empowerment to the next level by unraveling the scarcity wound both personally and professionally.

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Books mentioned in the show:

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris, MD

What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD & Oprah Winfrey

Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success by Michael Ungar, PhD


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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Nona: That we have the ability and the capability to heal post-stress that we can in fact come back to and maybe even be better [laughs] in the aftermath of trauma.

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Jill: Hello and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, one of the lead coaches at DocWorking and co-host of the podcast. Today, I am really excited to be joined by Nona Jordan. Nona is a friend, and a mentor to me, and an expert on conversations around trauma and healing. Nona holds a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from Harvard Extension School. She is also a Master Coach, a yoga, breath, and meditation instructor, and a former CPA. She’s lived and traveled all over the world. Most recently in Zambia, which fundamentally changed how she experiences living in the Western world. 

She brings all of her experiences together to create a generative space for professionals who are ready to take healing and empowerment to the next level by unraveling the scarcity wound both professionally and personally. Nona, tell us a little bit about why, especially, in recent years, you have focused some of your attention on trauma professionally. Tell us a little bit about your story that led you here.

Nona: Yeah. So, I’m going to go to the way back, way back when I was a financial reporting manager doing SEC reporting for publicly traded companies. It was around the time of 9/11, and there was also a huge earthquake that happened in Seattle at that time, and I happened to be in a building that was pretty severely damaged from the earthquake, and ended up with some really scary symptoms. I couldn’t sleep, I was super anxious, I just was having a really hard time like a car would go by at work, and the building would start shaking, and I would start shaking. So, I went to a therapist/provider that could diagnose, and she was like, “Oh, you have PTSD.” I was like, “What? [laughs] I’m a professional. I can’t possibly have PTSD. What are you talking about?” 

Then, I asked her like, “Okay, well, what do we do? How do we take care of this?” She said, “There’s nothing you can do. You’re going to have it the rest of your life.” I was like, “That cannot possibly be true,” and that really sent me on a path of looking at yoga and meditation, and things that really weren’t necessarily being looked at, at that point in time. But that has become fairly mainstream self-treatments, when you’re experiencing trauma. I can say with a lot of faith right now, years later, I’m not going to say how many, but years later that I do not believe, nor would I think any doctor, I see say that I am now suffering from post-traumatic stress. 

So, I became interested in it in the last few years in my coaching practice, because as the world gets more stressful, I noticed more symptoms of trauma showing up in my clients. These were not clients that were experiencing what we might think of as big T trauma or really serious events. It was an accumulation of things. Some of them had high ACEs scores, some of them did not. What I was finding was that, it was important to present that so they understood what was happening, and so, they could then choose a way forward. We can work on self-directed healing practices for you, and then you can also get the support of a therapist or a doctor who is skilled in working with trauma.

Jill: Excellent background and helps your own lived experience that you turn that into a way to focus the way that you can help and support other people. I think that’s very powerful. So, let’s backtrack. I know a lot of folks, a lot of our physicians listening understand what we’re talking about when we say ACEs, but just in case somebody isn’t, let’s talk about what we mean in this conversation around trauma. What are ACEs and what is their impact? 

Nona: Right. So, ACEs are Adverse Childhood Events, and there’s a scale, and a way that you can self-diagnose basically. What level of childhood events that were adverse you experienced? I want to say it’s above seven is considered pretty freaking traumatic. So, my ACEs score personally is like an eight, and so, it’s not unusual. I think actually, you and I were talking about this the other day, there’s a great book by a physician, it’s called The Deepest Well, and her name is escaping me right now. But it’s a great book, and she talks about being actually at a physician’s conference, and talking about ACEs, and the impact that it has. 

Because what happens is, if you have ACEs as a child, and you may not experience any kind of symptoms, but the afterburn of ACEs is pretty serious. It can create health problems, it makes us more sensitive to little T traumas in the future, and that can create big T trauma in our bodies. So, it can have a really lasting effect the higher your ACEs score is. In this book, she talks about this conference of physicians, and she’s talking about these findings, and how all the physicians are like, “Oh, yeah, those other people who experienced that.” She was like, “No, actually, we all experience ACEs to some degree or another.” So, anyway, I thought that might be interesting. If people who are listening as physicians haven’t read that book, it’s an excellent book.

Jill: Yeah. Nadine Burke Harris is her name. 

Nona: Thank you. 

Jill: Well, first of all, I’m going to back up a little bit on ACEs. So, a lot of times people will say, “Yeah, well, I didn’t have divorce in my life as a child, my parents stayed together, I was not abused, I did not have any of the other things that are categorized in those adverse childhood effects. So, therefore, I must not have trauma.” You talk about trauma with a little ‘t’ and trauma with a capital T. Can you help us better understand what we mean by those two different kinds of trauma? 

Nona: Yeah. So, let me back up a little bit and say that in my view and the reading I’ve done, there’s actually no such thing as a traumatic event. We and researchers can look at specific types of events like car accidents, being at war, being assaulted, those would fall into the category of– those are big T traumas that are very likely to end up impacting you. But no event is inherently traumatic. More people than not walk away from those types of events or even small ‘t’ trauma and have no impact. We are extremely resilient beings. [giggles] 

But what happens is, is that, if we experience little ‘t’ trauma over and over and over, and what I mean by that is like, the things that we experience in everyday life, even ongoing slight harassment at work, ongoing sleep deprivation, ongoing financial distress, you know, these little things that happen over and over, and become circumstances in our life that do not get processed, and I’ll say more about that if you’d like, but that don’t get felt, and processed, and acknowledged, basically become trauma in the body. So, if we shut down our fight-flight response, and we don’t go all the way through to the end of that experience, we’re basically holding trauma, and that is actually what becomes trauma. 

It is not the event itself. We can’t say, like Jill, you might be in a car accident and you’re fine, and I might get in a car accident, and I’ve shut down, and I am having anxiety, and I’m having depression, and I can’t sleep. Those are all the afterburn, that’s the trauma stuck in the body. But you may have gotten out of the car shook, yelled at the person who hit you, had a good cry, slept it off, talked about it, and then you’re done. 

Jill: Yeah, I think that’s so interesting, because Gabriella Dennery, one of the other co-hosts of the podcast and a physician herself will talk about the trauma of medical education, the grueling nature of medical education, and just, you know, whether it’s the micro aggressions that are the buildup of those harassments, whether it is just getting yelled at, the sadness of dealing with people’s very challenging emotions, patients very challenging emotions for the first times, those can build up to leave trauma behind in the body. 

I think a lot of times, again, as physicians, it’s like, “Well, if I wasn’t the one who was stabbed in the experience of the person I was helping the emergency room then that trauma has nothing to me without understanding that it elicited emotion that needs to be processed. 

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Jill: So, let’s talk a little bit about how we process some of the after effects of experiencing traumas, whether they’re the lowercase t or capital T variety. 

Nona: Yeah, I think the first thing of course is being willing to feel it. Being willing to go back and actually experience the feeling. That can be so challenging. We just don’t do that very well in [laughs] our culture. It just doesn’t happen. So, going back and really allowing yourself to feel it, and not only that, it can be overwhelming, and I think oftentimes, it’s helpful to get support and have a therapist to be sitting in the room with somebody who’s a professional when you’re doing that. Because my experience of that, if you tend to be a suppressor, and if it’s a lot of little ‘t’ trauma, that’s probably true. So, what happens is, it’s like, your body psyche is like, “Ooh, oh, oh, we’re going to feel an emotion. Let’s honk all of this stuff that we haven’t felt on the back end of it and so, it’s way out of proportion.” 

I’ve certainly had that. I don’t know if you’ve had that, Jill. But when you’re like something really minor happens and you get angry, and then the flood of emotions is way bigger than what you’re actually experiencing in the moment, that’s often a sign that you have unprocessed, unhealed trauma, when you have those outsize responses in the moment. So, feeling it is one. Another one that’s very, I think accessible is exercise. Doing the exercise with the intent of in fact moving that energy. I like to think back to those moments. I’m a big kickboxer. I know you’re a biker. But I like to kickbox and I will imagine things that upset me, and I’ll box and oftentimes, I’ll end up crying. That has been a really great outlet for me, and it’s also something that maybe Burke Harris talks about in her book as well is regular exercise really can prevent trauma from lodging itself in our bodies, but also can help us process it. 

Peter Levine’s work, which I know you had a woman who talked about this growling, this can be really fun. Actually, do strength training, I like to growl and strength train. Any kind of vocalization is very, very helpful. Twisting towels, things that are somatic, pushing on walls, and letting yourself feel what you need to feel from the past. So, those are some, let’s say, simple ways to address and move that energy on your own. Again, though, I think it’s important to say that having someone to facilitate that, the therapist or psychologist is really important, especially, if you have a lot that’s built up.

Jill: Really great ideas. And I, based on learning from you and other people in this sphere, I’ve really noticed it makes a big difference. Recently, you’ve mentioned I was biking. We were on a trip and I had what I would call an outsized reaction to. There were people who weren’t listening to the directions of the person who is in charge of us, and I was really enraged, and I realized that comes from old stuff in my past of not being taken seriously when I knew that a situation wasn’t great, and somebody just walked over and ignored me over and over and over again. I knew that, and so, when I was riding my bike, when I could really recall those old memories in addition to the thing that had frustrated me in the moment, it wasn’t comfortable. But that exertion at the same time of feeling the emotions that came up from the narrative that was running in my brain. 

When I got off my back later, I could feel that I had regulated again that my body was calm, my breathing was nervous, I could think it was no longer tense or tight, and I could feel and think about the situation and I didn’t have that charge, I didn’t have that heat around it, and I think, it’s really a powerful technique. Sometimes, people like, “Oh, quit telling me to exercise, but there’s some really benefits to our mental health around this as well.”

Nona: Oh, my gosh. I mean that’s such a great example of that and the work and how important it is and how helpful it can be. Absolutely. I’m a believer.

Jill: So, I want to talk about a couple more things that I think can be helpful to physicians. Sometimes, people avoid conversations around trauma, or they’re worried about being labeled with trauma, or the impact of trauma, because exactly what you experienced all those years ago from the professional based on what they knew at the time, which is like, “Oh, no, PTSD, you’re broken, you’ve got this thing, you’re afflicted.” So, we know now that that’s not really how it works. We don’t necessarily have traumatic events in our life that break us and then we’re just screwed. So, let’s talk a little bit about what we know now that would prevent hopefully a professional from thinking or saying something like that. Like, you just got it, you’re stuck.

Nona: Right. Well, I would hope that anybody who’s working in that field now would not say that. I know that the military has stopped using the word ‘disorder’ at the end of post-traumatic stress. For that very reason, because they understand that the brain in the body can heal. So, I think that there’s going to be stigma attached to it until more people are knowledgeable about this. The more that people actually accept their own experience and are willing to share it, I think, that’s really helpful. It de-stigmatizes it and makes it more normal. Trauma is really a human experience and we are ultimately very capable. Our bodies are incredibly capable of healing from trauma. If you watch an Impala that’s gotten caught by any kind of cat, and it somehow gets freed, it goes off, and it shakes, and then it’s fine. 

We have that same capacity as mammals. [laughs] So, we know that now, and we also know that the same types of things that apply to resilience, apply to post-traumatic growth, a lot of the same mechanisms are at play, they’re different, but that we have the ability and the capability to heal post-stress that we can, in fact, come back to, and maybe even be better [giggles] in the aftermath of trauma. So, the more that people can talk about that and share it, and have providers that believe that, that are educated about it, I think, the better off we’ll all be. 

Jill: Let’s talk a little bit about post-traumatic stress growth. You talked about the military, getting rid of that term ‘disorder.’ What do we mean when we talk about post-traumatic stress growth?

Nona: The thing about post-traumatic growth like trauma, it feels like it breaks people. [laughs] It’s hard especially, big T events. Little t events over time, just wear you down. It’s like death by thousand cuts. So, it’s maybe harder to recognize, but particularly in the military, they’ve seen this phenomenon where men and women come back from war, and they have experienced horrific things, and they hit bottom like right there, like at the bottom, and a lot of times their lives fall apart, and they aren’t the same people that they were, and when they put in the work, and they process it, and they move through it, what we’re hearing from those soldiers who do that is that they feel better, and they are more than what they were before trauma. 

So, that is what is really meant by that post-traumatic growth and it’s still being studied. It’s still not really understood super well. You get to the end of your resilience, and then you end up with trauma. Then, you have an opportunity to move through that trauma and strengthen yourself, and your sense of self, and go into post-traumatic growth.

Jill: Finally, as a military spouse now for a long time, you have had the opportunity to live in a lot of places around the world. What do you notice about the way the cultures that you’ve lived in, or experienced, or observed process of trauma compared to the way we do it in our US culture or Western culture here if anything?

Nona: Wow. That’s such a great question. When I was first in Zambia, I read this book by Michael Unger. I want to say that’s his name, and it’s like change your world, and he’s a psychologist, and he went to Japan to study people who lost their families in the tsunami after Fukushima. What he found that stunned him was that people did not actually receive individual assistance and help. They were put into families and communities, and they proceeded with life as it is. When he would have conversations with these people who had lost their families and lost their homes, they may not have been happy about where they were, but they were not experiencing trauma. That’s a very communal, collectivist society. So, there’s a difference, I think, between collective focus societies and individualistic societies. 

But one thing I know, and from living in Zambia, and from watching, I wasn’t in Burundi, but my husband shared a lot with me about what was happening in Burundi, and that sense of connection and community really sustains people. In fact, it’s one of the things that is indicated as super important in resilience. The connections that we have and how rich and meaningful those connections are, is very healing. Like how honest can we be with people about what’s going on? Do we feel loved and accepted, do we feel like we belong? So, that is a really big piece, I think of how cultures that tend to be more collectivist deal with trauma. They tend to think of it more as like we’re going to wrap this person up, we’re going to keep them going in society, they’re going to stay engaged, they don’t just go off to lick their wounds like we tend to do. We tend to hide it, we tend to feel ashamed, we tend to want to go away and hide. [laughs] 

So, those are some differences that I think are really important to note. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but I do think we have something to learn that maybe just going and sitting with somebody one-on-one isn’t maybe going to be the best. Maybe we need to be in the groups. When you notice the military does have a lot of group work for the people that are coming home who’ve experienced trauma.

Jill: That’s fascinating. Really, really unique perspective. And so, thank you for that. Nona Jordan, you’ve just really given us some fascinating, and meaningful examples, and explanations around what we mean by trauma. It’s become a buzzword a bit in the last couple of years, which I’m grateful for, because I think as you said, the conversations need to be happening. I love that Oprah has a bestselling book right now with Dr. Bruce Perry, What Happened To You, which I think is really helping us to normalize these conversations, and I find it to have been a helpful one. I know also, some of your work centers on equity and inclusion as it relates to all of this as well. So, tell us what you have working in that sphere and how people can learn more about that in you.

Nona: Yeah, you can find me and my work at So, I do individual coaching as well as right now, I’m getting ready to run a course called Elevating Equity, which is really focused on people who are in positions where they’re coaching others, leading others, or just working with executives to look at the structures of whiteness, and how they sustain racist systems in our organizations, in our lives, even for those of us who are like, “But I’m not racist. I know, neither am I.” So, that is really what that program is focused on really an opportunity to look at. Gosh, I would even go so far as to say the trauma of race as it lives in our white bodies. So, we cannot do harm when we go out in the world and we’re around by BIPOC.

Jill: Excellent. Thank you so much for the work you do in the world, and for this conversation today. It has been really enlightening. I’ve learned a lot and I know our listeners have as well. We really appreciate you being here, and we want to thank all of you for tuning in. We really do appreciate you joining us each and every time for DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Until next time, I’m Jill Farmer.

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Amanda: This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe, and thank you for listening.

Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

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