What are the Symptoms of Trauma?
The symptoms of trauma or PTSD (Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder), can be diverse, and are often
overwhelming. Some people may experience intrusive flashbacks
and vivid nightmares, high anxiety, or panic attacks. Others may
have difficulty concentrating, rapidly changing and intense emotions,
strong anger or rage. It is common to experience the extremes
of either vigilance, or numbness, as well as difficulties with
sleeping or eating. Substance abuse, compulsive self-harming behaviours,
and dissociation can also occur.
Those with a history of early or prolonged trauma,
may have additional difficulties: trust and intimacy, a
distorted sense of self, body image problems,
intense guilt and shame, troubled relationships, and general
difficulties finding meaning in life.
Who can Benefit from Trauma Therapy?
People who are experiencing PTSD
symptoms following a traumatic event, or have a history of early
trauma usually benefit from trauma therapy.
How Trauma Therapy Works
Trauma therapy is a three-stage process that aims to resolve
the effects of trauma. These carefully paced treatment phases
often follow a non-linear path; there may be overlaps as one progresses:
- Stabilizing and managing reactions: The client
learns to manage flashbacks and intense emotions until they
are confident in their ability to stay in control of their emotional
state. At the same time, the client works on creating a strong
support and resource network. At this point substance over-use,
and self-harming behaviours begin to be addressed, as the client
has developed healthier ways to manage her/his emotions
- Processing the traumatic memories: Once a
sense of safety has been created, work can begin on processing
the traumatic events, all the while maintaining a sense of and
focus on the present life. At this stage one can re-establish
an understanding of who was actually responsible for the trauma,
of the issues related to boundaries, power, justice, and meaning.
Work begins on building trust and improving relationships.
- Rebuilding and Reconnecting: In this stage
clients work towards expanding their world, building new relationships,
or re-connecting with old ones, trying out new ideas, building
assertiveness skills, re-learning how to enjoy the newly found
states of calm in their lives and incorporating joy, hope and
optimism into their future.
Other Symptoms due to Severe, Prolonged
People with a history of abuse may also experience a range of
dissociative symptoms, which may cause a lot of difficulties in their
day-to-day lives. These symptoms range from relatively mild difficulties
with concentration at one end of the continuum, to Dissociative
Identity Disorder at the other end. Therapeutic work with dissociation
is a specialized area which aims to increase one's tolerance for
painful affect, and reduce or eliminate the need for dissociative barriers. Most
elements of the three stages of trauma therapy can also help people
who experience dissociation.
Why should I go to a Trauma Specialist Rather than a General
Trauma therapists are trained to recognize the specific effects
that trauma has on the brain and its function, the way it manifests
through the trauma symptoms, and the rationale for using specific
interventions to deal with those symptoms.
For people who have undergone abuse as children, trauma theory
also shows how abuse and the circumstances around it interact
with child development to create a particular, problematic style
of handling life's challenges. Trauma therapy is a focused and
a usually effective approach to reversing the many effects of
trauma, (such as the intrusive symptoms of PTSD, addictive behaviours,
a damaged ability to trust and to enjoy intimacy).
Other Treatments for Trauma
Many clients find EMDR (Eye movement desensitization reprocessing) a useful tool
in their trauma work. Read more about EMDR.