What Is Trauma?
At its most basic, trauma is an event or series of events that overwhelms your psyche and coping mechanisms leading to a multitude of unpleasant psychological symptoms. Trauma is very complex. What is experienced as traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another person. Whether something is traumatizing for us depends on several factors including our coping mechanisms, psychological resilience, family and personal history, context, social support, and a host of other factors. Some possible traumatic experiences include:
- Domestic violence and abuse
- Sexual assault and abuse
- Witnessing a violent act against another person
- Military service / war
- Childhood abuse
- Uncontrollable environmental events such as fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc…
- Loss of a loved one
- Traumatic grief or separation
- Emotional abuse or psychological mistreatment
Trauma can affect anyone of any race, age, ethnicity, culture, psychosocial background, and so on. It can be a single event, a series of events, or a chronic condition. Additionally, you may experience the event(s) directly, witness an event, feel personally threatened, or even simply hear about an event to experience trauma.
Impacts and Symptoms of Trauma
Trauma can have devastating emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal effects causing immense suffering. It can impact your ability to function at your job as well as interfere with your daily life and social relationships. People who have experienced trauma often feel terrified, powerless, and out of control. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, substance abuse, and social phobia are common comorbidities. Common symptoms of trauma include:
- Panic attacks
- Flashbacks (having a scene from the traumatic repeat itself as though it were happening in real time)
- Rumination (feeling like your thoughts are on repeat)
- Perseveration (inability to stop thinking about something, feeling as though you are on a “hamster wheel”
- Inability to concentrate
- Inability to focus
- Slowed thinking
- Mental hypervigilance
- Sleep problems
- Muscle aches
- Reduced appetite
- Physical hypervigilance
A person with trauma typically experiences some combination of the above symptoms. Each person’s experience is different, and you do not need to have all of the above symptoms to be experiencing trauma. Trauma is something that sticks around and feels overwhelming. Despite your best efforts, symptoms return, causing you to worry excessively that you are not safe. One of the defining features of trauma is this feeling of being helpless in the face of something terrifying.
What is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that some people develop after exposure to a traumatic event or stressor. People suffering from PTSD often experience nightmares, flashbacks, and dissociation where they believe they are experiencing the trauma all over again, particularly if they encounter a triggering event. PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but at times, may not appear until months or years later. While PTSD is the most well-known diagnosis for trauma, it is important to note that you may be experiencing the effects of trauma without a full-blown PTSD diagnosis. You may have an acute stress disorder or a subthreshold reaction to an event.
Treatments for Trauma
There are a number of evidenced-based treatment modalities that were developed to treat trauma-related mental health conditions. Trauma-informed care psychotherapy approaches are those that understand how trauma impacts an individual and takes care to prevent retraumatization by identifying known triggers. Working with a therapist can help you develop a sense of safety so that you can begin to work through your traumatic event(s). It is important to do this with a trained mental health professional to prevent your symptoms from overwhelming you. Therapists are trained to work with a variety of factors including your history, current behavioral struggles, negative thoughts that may be impacting you, as well as any other complex issues contributing to your distress.
How Teletherapy Can Help
Trauma and psychological distress associated with traumatic events have shown good response to teletherapy. Many of CHE’s providers are trained to work extensively with trauma. If you feel you are suffering from PTSD or any other form of trauma, we are here to help.