What is Trauma?
Trauma is a term used to describe a person’s emotional response to a severe, distressing event that shatters one’s sense of security and safety. Highly frightening events such as assaults, car accidents, combat, or natural disasters typically contain an overwhelming amount of stress that disrupts mental health, nervous system and neurological functioning.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), approximately one in eleven people that have survived or witnessed a traumatic event will develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime.
The term trauma is often used beyond the criteria for PTSD and refers to relationship traumas, reactions to a crisis such as the ongoing pandemic, and other acutely distressing experiences.
Trauma symptoms can be acute or chronic. It is important to address PTSD symptoms early, so you can start the healing process, and get your life back on the track.
What are the Symptoms of Trauma?
The most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are:
After the traumatic event, the brain keeps the memory of the event in the short-term memory (stuck in replay) rather than moving it into long-term memory. Having the trauma sit in the immediate, short-term memory (which is normally reserved for day to day functions), keeps people constantly hyper-vigilant for danger and the entire nervous system is constantly on guard as a result. This experience would be exhausting and obviously distracting, making it hard to get work done or feel normal in social situations.
As a result, people experiencing trauma symptoms often socially isolate or feel uncomfortable in social situations---even around friends and family. They tend to report feeling “not like myself,’’ joyless and ‘off in space’ (dissociation). Some people are overtly emotionally disturbed---they may experience crying spells or violent outbursts. Others become numb, foggy-minded and emotionally flat. Substance abuse is a common secondary issue. There is a real domino effect on all areas of people’s lives.
Other atypical signs of trauma may include body pain, severe migraines, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, and a rapid weight loss.
These unusual signs and symptoms of PTSD may lead to inaccurate diagnoses. It is, therefore, particularly important to understand the signs of trauma, so you can get the appropriate trauma treatment.
What are the Benefits of Trauma Treatment?
The good news is that trauma treatments have research to support their effectiveness. There are several popular treatment approaches used by therapists. Traditional talk therapy is less effective than a specialized treatment protocol. I will outline the types of trauma treatment below. None of them are superior to the others; they are all excellent and have research to support their efficacy. We have therapists on staff with certifications in each of these trauma treatments. I’ve personally had great results with the Cognitive-Behavioral/Mindfulness protocol.
What to Expect from a Trauma Therapy Session?
Processing emotion, neurologically, biologically, and cognitively, is essential in trauma recovery and healing. The goal of trauma therapy is to reduce symptoms and teach skills to manage triggers. Many people experience a full recovery. The intrusive thoughts and feelings will subside as the brain moves the traumatic event out of your short-term memory and into your long-term memory.
Therapy sessions will be more structured than traditional talk therapy. The therapist will be focused on symptom reduction. As the symptoms become more manageable, therapy will focus on creating meaning and restructuring thought patterns.
Many patients feel scared of re-experiencing their trauma in therapy. In fact, avoidance of directly talking about the event is a hallmark of PTSD. It’s true that therapy does expose people to the anxiety, but therapists are well trained to incorporate anxiety management into the session and use exposure to the trauma in small steps. The sessions should feel emotionally evocative but tolerable—and you should walk away with a sense of learning and mastery. It’s wise to surround yourself with extra support when embarking on trauma treatment. Journaling and meditation are great adjuncts to therapy.
Some of the most successful PTSD therapy treatments involve Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and the Trauma Resilience Model.
In short, the main aim of CBT therapy for trauma is to decrease symptoms by using strategies to relax the body while introducing small amounts of exposure to the symptoms, then incorporating various interventions in the moment, then returning to relaxation at the end of the session. The goal is to work on the trauma but keep the client’s nervous system within a window of tolerance. The goal is to train the brain that the person is no longer in immediate danger so it will stop sending false alarms through the nervous system. Many bio-based interventions are used to calm and retrain the nervous system.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR therapy focuses on disturbing emotions and thoughts that result from a traumatic event rather than on trauma itself. This therapy approach can be used in all stages of trauma treatment, from the beginning to the end of treatment. Three stages of the recovery process for trauma include:
Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM)
The Trauma Resiliency Model is rooted in research on resilience. This is a skill-based treatment that teaches people about the neurology and biology of trauma and how to bring the body and mind back into balance.
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