If you or someone around you were experiencing the effects of trauma, would you know what to look for?
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.
It does not discriminate and it is pervasive throughout the world. A survey conducted by the World Health Organization found that at least a third of the more than 125,000 people surveyed in 26 different countries had experienced trauma. But those numbers are just for instances that have been reported; the actual number is probably much, much higher.
There are no clear ways to evaluate exactly which types of events will cause post-trauma symptoms, or in which people the symptoms will appear. Often traumatic experiences will involve a loss of control, being betrayed, abuse of power and sensations of helplessness, pain, confusion or loss. Traumatic events do not only happen in wars, natural disasters and physical assault; they can happen as a result of traffic accidents, hearing a disturbing story, workplace harassment, and the loss of a loved one. Different situations can lead to profound affects and different experiences. Symptoms can vary dramatically from person to person, and they are not simply related to known triggers.
Trauma is what happens when the stress of a situation outweighs the individual’s resources to cope. When traumatic stress overwhelms a person, he/she can lose all orientation to pleasure and play.
Not every person who is exposed to traumatic experiences will develop post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and some people may develop symptoms such as sadness, anger, fear, shame, which may lead to nightmares, insomnia, emotional outbursts and difficulty in relationships – but not every symptom will appear for every person, and the time and rate may differ dramatically between people. Some symptoms could disappear after a few weeks, and others could be ongoing. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addiction may be physiological conditions linked to traumatic experience.
Contrary to popular belief, the experience of trauma does not correlate with a weakness of personality or spirit. ANYONE can experience trauma – it is a normal physiological, mental and biological response to an unusually distressing or disturbing event. Traumatised people can be of any age, any gender and from any profession.
The belief that internal strength, machismo or emotional fortitude can stave off trauma is an outdated and entirely unrealistic thought pattern that our culture absolutely must surrender if we wish to address ongoing health epidemics, including suicide and drug abuse. People who attempt to ignore signs of trauma do not make trauma go away. Rather, they may often develop further acute symptoms that show up in other ways both emotionally and physiologically, as Dr Gabor Mate highlights in the book When the Body Says No. This can increase the burden on families and our mental health system overall.
There is no one clear ‘cure’ for trauma nor any quick fixes for the suffering associated with them. But there are many effective therapies that can make symptoms less intense, and over time can assist the individual to integrate the experience.
Trauma survivors are best served by working with a therapist who is trauma-focused or trauma-informed. Most trauma-informed therapists will employ a combination of therapy modalities, and work from a framework which includes asking “what happened to this person?” Trauma-informed therapists do not ask “what’s wrong with this person?” because we believe that it is the disintegrated experience of the disturbing event that is causing symptoms, and has nothing to do with who the person is, or how stoic they may or may not be.
In actual fact, a stress response to a traumatic experience is the body’s right physiological response, not wrong. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with a person who is experiencing the effects of an overwhelming stressful experience. The person’s autonomic nervous system and physiology have responded in the best way they knew how in order to survive.
Working with a trauma-informed therapist allows the person who has experienced the stress to safely filter their reaction to what has happened to them and learn to integrate the past.
If you or someone close to you is experiencing signs of possible trauma, you can help by opening up a conversation about what trauma might look like. It’s not always helpful to tell a person that they have trauma (after all, you’re probably not qualified to make that diagnosis…), but by giving the person who has experienced a distressing situation the chance to view their symptoms through a trauma-informed lens, you may be offering them another point of view, that could then generate help-seeking behaviour. The benefits to help-seeking from trauma-informed therapies are numerous, not only for the individual, but for our entire community.
If someone in your life is in crisis, phone Lifeline : Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention : 131114
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The article Trauma Services at BHT was published by Hollie, for Braidwood Holistic Therapies.
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