Trigger warning: the following article contains information of a sensitive nature that may be distressing to some individuals.
What is trauma?
Trauma is a broad term that describes experienced events that evoke fear and distress due to a threat or a perceived threat to an individual’s safety. Physical trauma involves a serious injury to the body that penetrates through skin and often causes damage to internal bodily structures. Psychological or emotional trauma describes “a severe shock to the mind” caused by an external event that evokes a psychological response of severe distress and may result in difficulty coping after the event.
The causes of trauma vary widely. They include (but are not limited to):
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Domestic violence
- Natural disasters
- Severe illness or injury
- The death of a loved one
- Witnessing or experiencing an act of violence
- Childhood maltreatment
- Living or working in a war zone
- Interaction with the criminal justice system
- Exposure to an act of terrorism
Common reports from those who experienced a traumatic event involve feelings of being overwhelmed by physical sensations, as well as feelings of confusion, uncertainty, and fear during the traumatic event. These primary reactions also involve the activation of an individual’s innate survival response (i.e., fight, flight, or freeze). Common secondary reactions to traumatic events may quickly develop into something more complex. For example, it is common for individuals to attempt to understand and gain meaning from their traumatic experience but have trouble doing so. Secondary reactions to the traumatic event may evoke emotions such as guilt and/or shame.
Trauma is also strongly linked to memory. In some types of traumatic experiences, individuals may have a very vivid and detailed recollection of the event(s). In other cases, individuals may have a very vague or non-existent memory of what happened. It is also important to note that the presenting symptoms of trauma do not only relate to the traumatic event, but also to the unique characteristics of the individual, such as their personality, the quality of support they receive, and their current and previous life circumstances. Such individual differences also largely predict a person’s secondary reaction of the traumatic event, including the way they are able to process the traumatic event.
Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose.Michele Rosenthal
What is trauma counselling?
Trauma counselling helps an individual process the traumatic event/s and assists in the management of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that have resulted. There are many types of evidence-based and effective trauma counselling. They may be used individually or in combination, depending on the therapist’s training and the individual’s needs. These include:
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Schema therapy
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy
- Narrative therapies
- Exposure therapy
Generally, individuals will initially learn ways of calming and grounding themselves so they feel safer and more stable, before the trauma is explored and processed more fully.
What are the symptoms of trauma?
Each person and traumatic event is unique, which means that everyone experiences a response to trauma differently. Below is a list of common symptoms associated with trauma:
- Feeling on edge and on the lookout for danger
- Feeling easily startled
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling a racing heartbeat when reminded of the trauma
- Changes to diet (overeating or undereating)
- Decreased libido
- Intrusive thoughts and memories
- Nightmares about the trauma
- Trying to stop thinking about the trauma
- Difficulty with concentration and memory
- Having a negative perception of yourself, others, and/or the world
- Fear or anxiety
- Sadness, depression, hopelessness and/or despair
- Suicidal ideation
- Anger or irritability
- Numbness and dissociation
- Loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
- Avoidance of people, places, or activities that are a reminder of the trauma
- Substance abuse
- Withdrawing from others
When should I seek professional help for trauma?
You should seek professional assistance if any of the following apply to you:
- Your symptoms are very distressing
- Your symptoms have been present for more than one month
- Your symptoms interfere with your home, work, study, relationships, or social life
- You use substances like alcohol or other drugs to cope
- You have had thoughts of harming yourself or others.
Getting help for managing trauma is important to help with, or avoid the emergence of, other comorbid symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or addiction, and to help you gain control over your life again.
We welcome hearing from you either via the website, a phone call, or an email, so that we can provide the support you need to heal and flourish.