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What is psychological trauma?

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

We all have heard the term trauma, but what does it actually mean? Trauma can be defined as the aftermath of distressing experiences or events that have lasting effects and impact your ability to cope. Trauma comes in many forms: it may come from the aftermath of domestic violence, war, sexual abuse, assault, natural disasters, having a miscarriage, or going through challenging times with family members, for example. Trauma can have different degrees of severity and is not always the result of something as serious as domestic violence, but the effects all share something in common: they leave you feeling chronically distressed and put you at risk for mental health issues such as depression.

Several different types of trauma include: 1) Acute trauma – This type results from a single dangerous or distressing event. 2) Chronic trauma – Results from repeated exposure to highly traumatic events. Examples of chronic trauma include child neglect, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. 3) Complex trauma – Results from exposure to multiple traumatic events. 4) Secondary trauma This type of trauma results from witnessing the trauma others experience. Mental health professionals and first responders may be prone to this type of trauma. Common responses to trauma: · Hypervigilance– feeling jumpy or on edge. · Inability to sleep · Difficulty trusting others · Flashbacks · Nightmares · Depression · Fear · Loss of appetite or overeating · Physical symptoms such as nausea or headaches Signs and symptoms of Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Post traumatic stress disorder is unique from a “typical” response to trauma. PTSD symptoms are more severe and long-lasting. When people experience trauma symptoms for three days to a month, they are diagnosed with acute stress disorder, not PTSD. For many people, PTSD-like symptoms will gradually reduce with time. PTSD does not always look the same for each person who experiences it. Some people with PTSD have fear-based experiencing, like flashbacks, while others may have an ongoing depressed or anxious mood.

Someone who has PTSD may experience: • Recurring dreams of the traumatic events • Intrusive thoughts related to the trauma • Re-experiencing of the event (flashbacks) • Avoidance • Feelings of paranoia • Feeling unsafe • Guilt or shame • A quick temper • Feeling detached • Concentration difficulties Treatment of Trauma The good news is that if you have experienced a traumatic event or ongoing trauma, there is help. Processing your experience with a therapist can provide you support and a safe space to gain an understanding of what has happened to you. Trauma therapy can also help you address unhelpful coping strategies such as substance abuse or disordered eating that you may have developed due to the trauma. A trauma therapist can also connect you to other resources that may be of assistance to you. Benefits of trauma therapy include: • Learn healthy ways to cope • Help you replace negative thinking • Restore a sense of hope for the future • Reduce symptoms of trauma such as flashbacks • Build your confidence • Reduce your fear Trauma can have lasting effects far beyond the traumatic event or ongoing traumas you have experienced or witnessed. Some trauma survivors may feel like what has happened to them is not as severe as what happened to someone else, but comparisons are never helpful. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms of trauma, you may greatly benefit from an assessment as well as trauma therapy. It’s important to remember that we can all recover from trauma with proper treatment and support.

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