Trauma

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”

Trauma is BIG. It can take us over or sneak up on us after years of lying dormant, wreaking havoc on our lives and relationships. It can be life-altering, violent events, such as being involved in a mass shooting, being a victim of a sexual assault, or being injured and/or a witness to a dangerous accident. Other times, it can be less violent in nature but involve a perceived threat of life, like a loved one battling an illness, a family member being involved in a car accident, or the perception that your safety and livelihood is being threatened in some way. Further, trauma can be relational and attachment based – we can actually be TRAUMATIZED by not having emotionally healthy and safe attachments as children with our primary caregivers. The common thread of trauma is that regardless of the event, traumatized people typically struggle to make sense of what happened. It is not until we can make sense of our trauma that we can experience relief from it.

Whether you have experienced any of the previously mentioned events or perhaps another troubling event, you might notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
    • Nightmares, flashbacks, triggers (something you experience post-trauma reminds you of the event and you have an abreaction to it), constantly thinking of the event
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
    • Depression, survivor’s guilt, poor concentration, unwanted thoughts, irritability, anger, isolation and detachment, existential anxiety, sadness
  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
    • can lead to physical symptoms (muscle tension, exhaustion and fatigue, migraines and headaches, gastrointestinal problems)
    • being easily startled can lead to stress and anger, as well as poor concentration and doing daily tasks

Essentially, to cope with the trauma, the body kicks into “high gear” to protect itself. Our bodies cannot sustain that level of adrenaline and constant preparation for danger, however, so we burn out fast. Hence, the many negative symptoms. Indeed it is NORMAL to have stress reactions after a traumatic event – our bodies SHOULD have some response to perceived dangers and threats. However, you should seek help from a medical doctor or mental health clinician if you notice symptoms lasting longer than three months or symptoms that severely impair your overall functioning and negative impact your quality of life.

What can you expect from treatment at The Trauma & Healing Foundation? The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as well as Veteran’s Affairs (VA) advise a combination of the following treatment approaches: talk therapy, EDMR, and medication. Though we do not prescribe medication at The Trauma & Healing Foundation, we can refer you to trusted psychiatrists should that be something you are interested in. What we can help with is providing talk therapy and EDMR.

Talk therapy may involve some re-telling of what happened, but it is an individual process and not something that has to be done in a highly detailed way. Your therapist has experience working with trauma and will use his or her judgment to move with you at a pace that will not re-ignite your trauma or worsen your symptoms. Trauma is a specialty within the mental health field and is not something all therapists have experience in. It is important that you find a therapist whom you trust and is competent in this area of expertise. Additionally, your therapist will work with you to challenge unrealistic, negative thoughts and help you reintegrate yourself into everyday life. S/he will provide resources for support outside of therapy as well – yoga, relevant books, coping skills, etc.

If deemed appropriate, we may suggest EMDR, which can be done with our EMDR trained therapist, Carol Adkisson. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is one of the few evidenced based trauma focused treatments, meaning it has been highly researched and can be very efficient and effective.

What is EMDR and how does it work? After trauma, people with PTSD often have trouble making sense of what happened to them. EMDR helps you process the trauma, which can allow you to start to heal. In EMDR, you will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while calling to mind the upsetting memory. You will do this until the way you experience the memory shifts and becomes less distressing. The NIMH describes the stages like this:

            “During the first stage, you will learn about physical and emotional reactions to trauma. You and your provider will discuss how ready you are to focus on your trauma memories in therapy. To prepare, you will learn some new coping skills. Next, you will identify the “target”, or the upsetting memory you want to focus on, including any negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations related to the memory. You will hold the memory in your mind while also paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like your provider’s moving finger, a flashing light, or a tone that beeps in one ear at a time) until your distress goes down. This will last for about 30 seconds at a time, and then you will talk about what the exercise was like for you.Eventually, you will focus on a positive belief and feeling while you hold the memory in your mind. Towards the end of treatment, your provider will re-assess your symptoms to see if you need to process other targets.”

Starting therapy can be a scary process. Starting therapy to deal with trauma can be even scarier. You likely have some valid concerns and we understand your reservations – why go and re-open a painful memory? In our experience, repressing and avoiding your trauma can be harmful to your mental and physical health. It can lead to anxiety and depression, and it makes being in relationships especially challenging. When we start to talk about our past, however, is when we can make sense of it and decrease its control on our lives. You will never be forced to disclose more than you are comfortable disclosing – it is not in our interest as clinicians to force you to describe your trauma in a way that will trigger you or re-traumatize you. We are not here to judge you or have pity on you – we simply are here to support you in your journey towards healing. You are not alone in this journey either. It is estimated that 70% of adult Americans will experience at least one traumatic event in his or her lifetime. Roughly 8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives as well.

If you think you or a loved one may benefit from trauma focused therapy, or if you have any questions about the process of starting to process your trauma, please contact us at (909) 452-7684 or email us at info@traumahealingfoundation.com.