Trauma Counseling and Therapy
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the likelihood of living through, experiencing or witness trauma is high. There are different levels of trauma and different people may respond and react differently to trauma, even when people go through the same event.
Trauma results from exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening that can have lasting adverse effects on an individual functioning and their mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual well-being.
Although the experience of trauma can have negative long-term effects these can be treated and healed. Individuals can learn through Counselinghow to build resilience and even open the door to post-traumatic growth. You may never be the same, but you can become stronger and develop a greater understanding and appreciation for yourself and the world.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that can overwhelm the individual ability to cope and can result in feelings of helplessness and diminish one sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions.
Traumatic situations that cause post-trauma symptoms can vary dramatically for each individual. What is traumatic is subjective and it is important to remember that it is defined more by the response than it is the trigger. This is how small t traumas (bullying, divorce, neglect) can have a similar impact as Big T traumas (war, physical/sexual abuse, natural diesters etc.).
There are no objective criteria that will tell us whether someone will experience post-trauma symptoms but here are a number of circumstances that can result in them such as:
- Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
- Childhood neglect
- Living with a family member with mental health or substance abuse disorders
- Sudden, separation from a loved one
- Series illness
- Physical pain or injury (e.g. severe car accident)
- Natural disasters
- Witnessing death
- Physical or sexual assault
- Domestic abuse
- Incarceration within the criminal justice system
- Discrimination, racism, oppression
- Violence in the community, war, or terrorism
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)
Although trauma can occur at any age it can cause debilitating long-term effects on a child’s development. Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) have been shown to occur in all sectors of society with 62% of adult’s experiences at least one ACE and 25% of Americans experience more than 3 ACEs.
Experiencing trauma especially when younger increases your chances of also experiences chronic health conditions and health-risk behaviours. Experience trauma can increase your chances of developing a substance abuse disorder, attempting suicide, developing a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, contracting a sexually transmitted infection and increased risk of smoking. The reason for this increased risk is that people often use coping mechanisms to alleviate the physical and emotional pain they feel from the trauma. Sometimes they cope with unhealthy behaviours such as eating, tobacco, drugs and alcohol use. These coping mechanisms might provide some relief but also contribute to mental health disorders, social isolation, anxiety, and chronic diseases.
Questions to Ask Yourself After Experiencing Trauma
A number of people will downplay their trauma symptoms due to feeling embarrassed or ashamed or like they should just be able to “get over” their trauma. Many people suffer for way too long as they do not recognize how serious these symptoms can be. Trauma is one thing that does not heal with just time it needs effective treatment from a trained trauma specialist.
If you have been through trauma here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are experiencing trauma symptoms:
- Do you have continued thoughts and memories of the event?
- Do you try to avoid thinking about the trauma or avoid memories of it?
- Do you have flashbacks of the trauma?
- Do you find it difficult when anything triggers the memory of the event?
- Do you have recurring dreams or nightmares about the event?
- Do you have a difficult time remembering all the details of the trauma?
- Do you have negative beliefs about yourself like “I am bad” or “people cannot be trusted?”
- Do you blame yourself for the trauma?
- Are you in a continued state of feeling shame, guilt, fear, anger, panic, or horror?
- Do you have less interest in activities you used to enjoy?
- Do have you have a hard time experiencing joy, love, happiness, satisfaction, contentment?
- Are you having a hard time sleeping?
- Do you have anger outbursts?
- Do you feel numb or dissociated sometimes?
- Do you have a hard time concentrating?
- Are you in constant worry that something bad is going to happen?
- Do you behave recklessly or engage in self-destructive behaviour?
If you said yes to a number of these questions you may be struggling with trauma symptoms, and it may be beneficial to seek supportive Counselingto heal the underlying trauma that is causing them. Since a lot of trauma is relational it can be hard to trust someone enough to help you heal, this distrust in others or the belief it can’t be healed is also a symptom of trauma.
PTSD and Complex Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a server response to trauma that is characterized by these three main symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the event
- Avoiding any reminders of the event or feeling emotionally numb
- Hyper-arousal which is a very sensitive starlet response and hypervigilance
The brain and body get overwhelmed by the trauma in a way that makes it hard for regulation and emotional processing. For trauma to develop into PTSD it also has to be distressing enough to severely impacts one’s ability to function in different domains of life.
PTSD is generally related to a single event or a series of events in a short period of time. PTSD does not adequality account for those who have experienced chronic trauma that occurs over an extended period of time. Therefore, there has been growing support for an additional disorder known as Complex PTSD for those who have lived through consistent traumatic experiences which can make it harder for them to identify as trauma but results in them living in a constant state of anxiety or numbness.
Complex trauma can stem from traumas such as:
- Experiencing childhood neglect
- Experiencing physical or sexual abuse at an early age
- Frequent changes in caregivers such as growing up in the foster care system or being adopted
- Domestic Violence
- Being bullied or targeted by multiple predators
Those who struggle with Complex PTSD will suffer similar systems to those with PTSD but will also include:
- Negative Self-View: They may struggle with self-compassion or seeing themselves in a positive light. They may feel guilty, ashamed, worthless, helpless. They often feel isolated and different from other people.
- Difficulty Controlling Emotions: It is common for those with C-PTSD to not feel comfortable processing their emotions. They may experience explosive anger, persistent sadness, intense anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
- Difficulty With Relationships: There is often a distrust in others and a negative view of themselves which can make it hard to have healthy relationships. They may be attached to unhealthy relationships due to repeating trauma patterns and feelings of unworthiness. Chaos may also feel more familiar in relationships and thus why may be more drawn to this than a secure relationship that would feel unfamiliar. They often struggle with an insecure attachment system which impacts their ability to communicate and feel safe in intimacy and connection.
- Loss of Meaning: This can include losing one’s core values, beliefs, faith or hope in the world and in others including in themselves.
- Detachment From the Trauma: Parts of them may suppress their trauma through depersonalization where they disconnect from themselves and the world around them. Feeling numb and disconnected.
How Trauma Impacts the Brain and Body
Trauma happens when you experience an event that is physically or emotionally harmful or even life-threatening. The body’s ability to cope can be overwhelmed. Even after the event ends the trauma can have a lasting impact on one’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Understanding how trauma impacts the brain and body can help with understanding how it can be healed.
Traumatic events can trigger the release of adrenaline that can activate the bodies, fight, flight or freeze response to help prepare one to run, defend oneself or surrender to possible death. The fight, flight or freeze response is automatic and works to keep you alive, it is a survival response. When activated a lot of energy can move through the body.
The fight or flight response will continue as long as you can run or fight back. When you get caught or you cannot fight or escape you will experience a freeze response. This is when your nervous system is too overwhelmed and has no other options for survival. This is when most trauma occurs. Some people may feel like they could have done more but when freeze occurs it was often your best chance of survival.
When you experience the adrenaline release and move into the sympathetic “fight or flight” response your prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is the part of the brain that controls your cognize skills, emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, language, judgement, and motor control. This part of the brain is responsible for executive functioning which means it helps with decision-making, self-control, and problem-solving that is in alignment with long-term goals. When this part of the brain shuts down life can become very overwhelming.
When you experience trauma is leaves an imprint of the stressful event in the brain. The memory of the event is stored in the amygdala which helps protect you from ever entering a situation similar to the trauma. The amygdala though does not store it as a story, it stores the emotional significance of the event in our five senses. So, the memory can be fragmented into the visual images, sounds, touches, tastes, and smells of the event. If the event is not stored properly in the past the memory can continue to be activated and felt in the body and mind in a fragmented and stressful way.
Since a traumatic event is stored as sensory fragments it can be hard to verbalize or attach language to it or when you do it does not fully encapsulate the trauma. The physical body is what is holding the trauma. The trauma energy is stored in the body and can be triggered by sensory and physical input. The brain can misinterpret things as dangerous when they are similar to the sensory information that is connected to the memory of the traumatic event.
This means that anything internal such as thought or feeling or something external like a situational place, sound or smell can be enough to remind the brain of the past trauma. The brain will then want to warn you of the danger even when there is not any in the present moment. This is how random things can trigger a trauma response, you can feel like you are in the past because something in your mind or around you reminded your brain of the trauma that is not processed.
Trauma dysregulates the body which can result in a lot of people disconnecting from their bodies and their minds by dissociation and numbness. Sometimes when someone experiences trauma it can feel like the body betrays them due to its inability to regulate and process the experience.
How To Cope with Triggers
The first step to working with trauma triggers is becoming aware of them. Many people work to avoid them but then life gets really small because anything could trigger the trauma memory. If you can begin to notice when your body or mind is being triggered and pulled back into a trauma you can begin to feel more control by recognizing the signs and patterns and working to create more safety and regulation in the mind and body instead of being hijacked by it.
Here are some strategies you can use to help when feeling triggered:
- Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness can help one become more aware of one’s thoughts and feeling in the moment which can help decrease the feeling of distress. Meditation also helps to strengths the mind’s ability to be present without judgement while making more space for calmness and connection.
- Use Relaxation Techniques: Different techniques such as grounding exercises, breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation techniques can all be helpful in helping the body to regulate which is a key part of healing trauma.
- Self-Compassion: Noticing the parts of you that are suffering and holding them with kindness can help in trauma recovery. Trauma often takes away one’s ability to be self-compassionate and healing involves taking back this ability.
- Journaling: Writing down one’s thoughts can help decrease intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares. They can also help with tracking feelings, sensations, and symptoms that can be shared with your therapist.
- Seek Support and Resources: Getting involved in support groups and supportive people and connecting with a counsellor who specializes in trauma can help. There are also lots of self-help books such as “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk and Healing Trauma by Peter Levine that can help you better understand trauma and how it can be healed in the mind and body.
Trauma Informed Counseling and Therapy Approaches
There are a number of different approaches that work to help heal trauma. Although there are many approaches it is important to find one that resonates with you and a therapist you feel not only safe with but also feel a strong therapeutic bond with. Trauma-focused treatment works to help you acknowledge and integrate the traumatic events in your life.
Here are some common trauma approaches:
Somatic Therapies: Somatic therapists work with the body-mind connection to heal trauma. They involve connecting to and accessing the trauma stored in the body and working to release it. A therapist trained in these approaches use a number of techniques such as grounding, boundary development, self-regulation, healing corrective movements, sequencing and titration.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR): This form of trauma therapy uses rapid-eye-movement and other forms of bilateral stimulation that mimics the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that helps to process memories. This form of therapy helps access the right and left hemispheres of the brain that is not possible when awake. When these parts of the brain are stimulated, and trauma memories are brought to the surface they can be processed and shifted to create a new perception of them that is less distressing.
Internal Family Systems (IFS): This form of therapy looks at the mind as having multiple parts of sub-personalities. The basic assumption is that there are no bad parts just parts that have been forced into difficult roles. Clients are taught how to access Self-energy a part of them that can heal the wounded parts that are often stuck in trauma. This brings the system into harmony and allows for Self-Leadership.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Trauma: CBT for trauma helps clients identify and re-evaluate unhealthy thinking patterns and symptoms that are causing distress. This helps people to reconceptualize their understanding of the traumatic experience and helps them develop a healthy understanding of themselves and their ability to cope.
Exposure Therapy: This is a form behavioural treatment for trauma. It identified the learned avoidance behaviorresponse to situations or thoughts that are connected to the trauma. Avoidance is a survival response but when it becomes too extreme a person’s qualities of life lessons as they lose connections to friends, relationships, work and activities. Exposure therapy helps reduce a persona fear and anxiety so they can participate and feel more confident in life.
If you know you have suffering trauma in your life and can relate some of the symptoms and experiences in this article feel free to reach out to LiveBeyond Counselingand Coaching. You can reach us online and we are also located in the Fort Worth, Alliance, Southlake, Keller, Texas areas.
If you are in need of counseling for relationships and are in the Fort Worth, Keller, Southlake, Alliance, Texas areas, reach out today.