What is trauma?
Trauma is, by definition, the emotional or psychological response to either a single traumatic event or series of events, and is a response that is entirely natural. In many cases, trauma will resolve in time. For these individuals, life continues unhindered. However, there are other cases where the trauma does not resolve, the symptoms persisting long after the event has taken place. For these individuals, the effects can be debilitating, and trauma therapy may be needed to deal with and explore this trauma.
When we experience a traumatic event, certain regions of the brain – the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex – become overactivated. These are the parts of the brain involved with the fight-flight response. When trauma does not resolve it is because these parts of the brain remain overactive. The traumatized individual, therefore, remains in constant fight-flight mode.
For this individual, their fear response can be triggered by the smallest stimuli, and so everyday life can be distressing.
If this is the case, trauma therapy will be helpful.
Types of trauma
One definition of trauma relates to its origin, dividing it into two types: acute and chronic.
Acute trauma results from a single, highly stressful event. Examples include a car accident, a sexual assault, a physical assault, or a natural disaster. Chronic trauma, on the other hand, results from prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include domestic violence, bullying, or childhood abuse.
Another definition of trauma relates to the severity of its symptoms, again dividing it into two types: ‘little t trauma’ and ‘big T trauma’.
As you may imagine, the symptoms of ‘little t trauma’ are less severe and may not be as obvious. For example, an experience of divorce could result in a ‘little t trauma’. However – if left untreated – ‘little t’ traumas can accumulate over a lifetime, resulting in more serious symptoms.
One well known type of ‘big T trauma’ is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can result from either acute or chronic trauma.
Another well-known type of trauma is developmental trauma. A child, if exposed to prolonged trauma in early childhood, will suffer deficits in their development. The causes of developmental trauma include the examples above, but also include traumas specific to childhood such as neglect, abandonment, or any other form of prolonged abuse.
What are the symptoms of trauma?
Not everyone who experiences trauma will experience it in the same way. The type and severity of symptoms will depend on any number of variables such as the nature of the event, the type of support they receive during and after the event, the individual’s level of resilience, and so on. For example, the symptoms for an individual experiencing developmental trauma will be different to those of a well-developed adult who suffers a single traumatic event.
To find out more about the symptoms of trauma, click here.
How can trauma therapy help
Remember, experiencing trauma is a natural response to difficult events, and it is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but you may feel it is holding you back in life. Trauma therapy can get you moving again.
Trauma research shows that psychotherapy is one of the most effective treatments available. Whatever damage trauma has caused, working with a trauma-informed psychotherapist or psychologist can help.
Counselling for trauma can help you process your feelings around the event or events, providing a safe, collaborative space in which to explore your difficulties.
Trauma therapy can help you with:
People who experience trauma often have difficulty regulating their emotions. Anxiety and stress are typical responses to traumatic events. Related emotions may be guilt, shame, anger, or depression. If, long after the traumatic experience, your emotional reactions are out of proportion to present day events, you may be experiencing what is referred to as emotional dysregulation.
Trauma therapy can help address and explore your dysregulated emotions, empowering you to regulate them.
Reducing fear and avoidance
Certain people or situations may remind you of the traumatic event. This can lead to you avoiding those situations. Avoidance can leave you with a sense of isolation or of failure, adding to the original trauma, leading to a downward spiral.
Attending therapy for trauma can help you confront the trauma, overcome your fears, and improve your coping skills.
Challenging problematic beliefs
Because of trauma you may develop problematic thought patterns about yourself and the world around you. As such, trauma can begin to define who you are and how you act.
For example, you may believe some version of “I must not be a good person because bad things only happen to bad people.” Therapy may instill a different belief such as, “Bad things sometimes happen to good people, even those who did nothing to cause it.”
Or, traumatic events can disrupt your sense of safety. Subsequently, you may find it hard to trust people. Again, therapy can offer a different perspective such as “even though I was hurt in the past, most people are decent and trustworthy. It’s okay to give them a chance.”
Disconfirming problematic beliefs in this way, developing a different perspective, reduces the intensity of trauma-related emotions such as shame, guilt, or mistrust.
Someone who experiences trauma may have their experience diminished, told their emotional reactions are unreasonable or unacceptable. Another individual may disclose a trauma only not to be believed. Yet another individual may disclose a trauma only to end up – even though they are the victim – feeling that they are to blame. These reactions only add to the original trauma, making you feel ashamed or guilty.
Trauma therapy helps validate your experience, offering the understanding and acceptance you need to start the healing process.
Types of trauma therapy
Certain types of therapy deal specifically with trauma. For example, trauma-focused CBT or EMDR, which is a process using rapid eye movements to reduce the effects of trauma. At Spectrum Mental Health, members of our team of psychotherapists and psychologists are trained in these and a range of other trauma-informed techniques, and can provide you with the trauma therapy you need.
If you would like to arrange a consultation with one of our trauma-informed therapists, please do not hesitate to fill out the Request an Appointment form on this page, or get in touch to find out more about how our trauma therapy services can help you.
Find out about other trauma-related difficulties here.