What is trauma?
Trauma and/or PTSD symptoms can result from distressing and emotionally painful events that lead a person to feel helpless, overwhelmed, and unable to cope. Although what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another, the more threatened someone feels emotionally or physically, the more traumatized a person will be.
A variety of situations may cause this type of post-traumatic stress, such as life-threatening incidents like car accidents or natural disasters, violent crimes like assault or rape, combat exposure, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or verbal abuse, or loss of a loved one through death or separation. Trauma can also be caused by shaming, humiliation, bullying, or recurring events that expose a person to psychological distress.
When a person is overcome with extreme physical or emotional stress, the brain is unable to properly process or “digest” the traumatic experience and the nervous system becomes hyper-aroused. As a result, biological changes occur in the brain and the deeper parts of the mind may continue to respond as if the disturbing event is still occurring. This negative influence can affect emotions, thinking, relationships, behavior, and even physical health.
Experiencing something traumatic can disrupt our sense of who we are and we may no longer feel safe and secure with ourselves, those around us, and the world in general. A world that is seen as unpredictable and dangerous can change a person emotionally, spiritually and physically. Personality changes and symptoms of anxiety or depression are common effects of trauma, as well as feelings of emptiness, feeling different from everyone else, feeling damaged, or feeling shattered and broken.
Emotional symptoms of trauma:
- Feelings of shame, guilt, or self-hatred
- Anger, irritability, moodiness
- Loss of interest
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Low self-esteem or self-worth
- Anxiety and fear
- Feeling detached or numb
Physical symptoms of trauma:
- Easily startled
- Panic attacks or racing heartbeat
- Chronic pain, headaches, muscle tension
- Fatigue, difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares
- Decreased concentration
- Feeling unreal or out of the body
What is treatment for trauma and PTSD like?
Effective treatment for trauma and PTSD will allow for integration of the traumatic feelings and memories in a safe and supportive environment at a pace that is comfortable for the client. You do not have to re-experience or re-live the trauma, as current research supports that this can be counter-productive for treatment.
Using methods from cognitive, experiential, humanistic, and psycho-dynamic perspectives, we can integrate the traumatic memories and feelings into your “normal” memory so they no longer hold the “emotional charge” they once did. EMDR and Rapid Resolution Therapy are both especially powerful at integrating the memories and helping a person to process through the traumatic material. Successful treatment will result in the person no longer reliving the images, sounds, and feelings associated with the traumatic event. Although this is not a magical process that happens overnight, active participation, open-ness, and dedication to the therapy process will help the symptoms of traumatic stress subside. I also may use hypnosis and mindfulness techniques to enhance the therapeutic results, but these methods are used as needed or when appropriate and are certainly not required to achieve positive results.
Ultimately, successful trauma treatment will help you restore a feeling of safety and allow you to resolve the negative feelings and symptoms that were associated with the trauma. By making sense of what happened and identifying the effects it had, you can better understand yourself and you can feel more empowered to make healthy decisions in your life. You will experience improved life satisfaction, renewed motivation for work and pursuing fulfilling relationships, and enhanced meaning or connections in your life.