Overview of Trauma
What is Trauma?
Trauma constitutes an emotional reaction triggered by a catastrophic occurrence, such as an accident, sexual assault, or natural disaster. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, it is common to experience shock and denial. Individuals may grapple with unpredictable emotional responses, recurring flashbacks, strained interpersonal connections, and even physical manifestations like headaches or nausea.
Some individuals exposed to traumatic events may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These symptoms can significantly impact their daily lives, relationships, and overall well-being.
What causes Trauma?
Different experiences may cause trauma in individuals. Some experiences may include:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Physical injuries
- Adverse childhood experiences
- Loss of a loved one
Symptoms of Trauma
Some individuals may exhibit symptoms immediately after traumatic events or show symptoms years after the events. Symptoms can vary between individuals and vary in intensity over time.
Individuals who have experienced trauma may have the following symptoms:
- Avoiding specific places, people, conversations, or activities
- Being on high alert and overly watchful
- Persistent negative thoughts about oneself or others
- Mood swings
- Dissociation where individuals feel detached from their bodies or world
- Unexplained physiological symptoms (stomachache, pain, headaches)
- Socially withdrawn
- Suicidal thoughts or self-harm (If this is an emergency, please dial 988)
Treatments for Trauma
How is trauma treated?
Psychologists can provide various therapy services such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Written Exposure Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Your doctor will work with you to see which treatment is the best for you.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) helps children/adolescents and their families cope with the emotional and behavioral effects of traumatic events. This includes teaching relaxation and stress management skills, challenging negative thought patterns, and gradually processing traumatic memories.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) focuses on understanding and challenging distorted thoughts related to the traumatic event. It typically involves the individual writing a detailed account of the traumatic experience and then working with the therapist to identify and modify unhelpful thought patterns.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help individuals process and alleviate the emotional distress associated with traumatic experiences. Individuals are guided through a structured process that involves recalling distressing memories while simultaneously focusing on stimulation, often in the form of controlled side-to-side eye movements. This tends to be a helpful approach for individuals who are especially sensitive to discussing the details of their trauma.
Prolonged Exposure (PE)
In Prolonged Exposure therapy, individuals are gradually exposed to their traumatic memories or situations they have been avoiding in a controlled and systematic manner. The goal is to reduce avoidance behavior and desensitize the individual to distressing memories or situations, ultimately leading to a decrease in symptoms.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a comprehensive and evidence-based form of cognitive-behavioral therapy used to address various emotional and behavioral challenges. DBT focuses on enhancing emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness skills. These strategies aim to manage intense emotions, reduce self-destructive behaviors, improve relationships, and increase their overall quality of life.
Additional Help for Trauma
In addition to professional help, individuals with anxiety may benefit from:
- Regular, sufficient sleep
- Regular exercise
- Good nutrition
- Regular social connection with others
- Using compassionate self-talk
- Setting realistic, attainable goals
- Breathing exercises or meditation
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– Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), American Author
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Why seek help from a psychologist rather than some other type of therapist?
- Psychologists are among the most rigorously trained mental health professionals. Psychologists complete doctorate level coursework, several years of clinical rotations/practicums, a year long predoctoral internship, & a year long postdoctoral fellowship.
- In addition to having the highest level of training, psychologists are licensed to complete psychological assessments (often with comparative normative data to help you understand and target a specific concern) to fully understand a concern. Psychologists often see this initial assessment as the key to designing an informed, individualized, and focused treatment plan.
- Psychologists also receive extensive training in research in order to ensure only treatments that have been studied by researchers and shown to work, are used.
- Psychologists often have medical / healthcare backgrounds and work closely with physicians and other medical providers when biological interventions are incorporated into treatment (e.g., medications).