Trauma can be defined as “an emotional experience, or shock, which has a lasting psychic effect.” Even though the traumatic event has passed, the reaction to it has not. Many different types of experiences can have a traumatic impact on a person. Some of those experiences include:
- Any act of violence in which you felt your life or safety was being threatened
- Witnessing violence against another person and feeling helpless to intervene
- Sexual abuse
- Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados
- Political violence or terrorist attacks
- Domestic abuse
- Criminal violence (ex: mugging)
- Child abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Car accidents
- Sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one (ex: suicide or heart attack)
Often people who have experienced any of the above experiences, as well as a multitude of others, find that they are struggling to cope for weeks, months, even years after the event has passed. Some common symptoms of trauma include:
- Re-experiencing symptoms
- The intrusion of the past into the present in the form of memories, flashbacks, and nightmares
- Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
- Intense physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
- Avoidance of trauma related stimuli (ex: being scared to drive after a car accident)
- Negative thoughts or feelings that have worsened after the trauma
- Inability to recall key features of the trauma
- Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
- Sadness or depression
- Decreased interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Difficulty feeling joy
- Feeling isolated or alone
- Arousal symptoms that began or worsened after the trauma
- Irritability or aggression
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Heightened startle reaction
How can therapy help you to cope with trauma and the difficult symptoms you are experiencing as a result?
First and foremost, after a person has experienced any type of trauma, is to ensure safety. Before any healing work can be done, the victim must first be assured of their safety. That can mean providing resources to escape a batterer as well as ensuring that someone has a safe place to stay after their home has flooded in a hurricane. One must be physically safe in order to begin the work of psychological healing.
Of equal importance is helping the victim to establish a trusting relationship with the therapist. Talking about trauma can be painful, anxiety producing, and sometimes embarrassing. It is important that victims of trauma experience a genuine sense of alliance and collaboration with the therapist. One must feel that they can express their feelings without fear of shame or judgment.
Victims of trauma often need to tell their story multiple times to help them come to terms with it. They often find that friends and loved ones have difficulty hearing their story. They are often encouraged by friends to “just get your mind off of it” so that they do not have to think about it anymore. A therapist understands a victim’s need to tell their story and express their feelings repeatedly. And a therapist has the tools to be able to tolerate even the most abhorrent of experiences – things that are often difficult for loved ones to hear.
In addition to allowing the victim to talk about the trauma, a therapist can help teach strategies to cope with the trauma. Some of those strategies include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Deep breathing exercises
- Mindfulness practices
- Talking about secondary consequences related to the trauma such as relationship struggles or stress at work
If you are experiencing negative symptoms related to a trauma, please call for a free 15 minute phone consultation. 281-456-3941
Allen, J. G., (1995) Coping with Trauma; A Guide to Self-Understanding. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.