Trauma involves the actual or extreme threat of physical harm, psychological harm, sexual assault, and / or childhood neglect. This can take the form of:
- Acute Trauma – one-time encounter with violence (e.g. isolated experience of sexual assault)
- Chronic Trauma – prolonged exposure to events recurring over a period of time (e.g. domestic violence)
- Complex Trauma – harm experienced in childhood (e.g. child abuse or neglect)
- Historical Trauma – trauma experienced by earlier generations contributing to a cycle of abuse and vulnerability
- Structural Trauma and Toxic Stress – life course of structural racism, oppression, discrimination, and chronic stress
Impact of Trauma
The age of exposure, intensity, and length of the event(s) can all influence the level of impact. A person may experience effects immediately, or after a period of time.
Interpersonal violence (harm done by one person to another) can be the most difficult kind of trauma to navigate – especially if the offending person is a loved one, such as a partner or parent. These experiences tend to be more disruptive to our fundamental sense of trust and attachment.
Trauma during childhood can be especially challenging, because these developmental ages influence how an individual interprets their identity and surroundings (Is the world safe or scary? Can people be trusted? Do I have value?). If something bad happens in the external world, children can develop a core belief that trauma occurs because of who they are inherently.
Harmful experiences can bring on acute symptoms, often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms can range from hyper-arousal and re-experiencing to dissociation, avoidance, and withdrawal. People can feel ‘stuck on’ (panic; flooding; inability to relax; easy to startle; etc.) or ‘stuck off’ (disconnection; depression; lethargy; etc.) – sometimes swinging back and forth.
Trauma – particularly chronic and complex trauma – can also bring longer term impact. Prolonged exposure to harm can disrupt an individual’s natural alarm system, as well as make it difficult to identify and regulate emotion.
These events can influence how a person sees themselves, as well as the world around them. A lingering sense of self-blame, shame, and guilt can become kindling for a fire that never seems to go out.
Resilience and Treatment
The good news is people are highly resilient. Individuals have tremendous capacity to cope successfully in the face of change, adversity, or risk. Resilience is hard-wired in all of us, and can also be cultivated.
Many who encounter trauma will recover entirely on their own, often with social support, coping skills, and an ability to make meaning and purpose from their life experiences.
For those who continue to experience lasting effects, there are options for healing and repair. This is where our work together comes in.
Research has proven psychotherapy to be the most effective form of treatment for trauma. Three of the most supportive therapies are:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques with a trauma lens
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Whatever the specific modality used, the support, guidance, and assistance of a therapist can be transformational in healing.
If you or someone you know identifies with the experiences and symptoms illustrated above, it is worth exploring opportunities for relief. Please get in touch to learn more.