What is Trauma? Types, Symptoms, and Treatments
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 7, 2022 counseling for trauma, help for trauma victims, resilience to trauma, therapy for trauma, trauma, trauma counseling, trauma informed care, trauma therapy, types of trauma, what is trauma0 comments
When you hear the word trauma or trauma counseling what comes to mind? It is common for people to hear the word trauma and think of those one-time catastrophic events (car accidents, assault, robbery, natural disasters, etc.) that result in major injuries like broken bones, head injuries, or lacerations, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, increased startle response, etc. This perception of trauma causes people to minimize their suffering and postpone receiving treatment that helps them heal and increase their quality of life.
So, what is trauma, and who experiences it? Trauma is anything that overwhelms the mind and body and happens too fast, too soon, or too much. It causes physiological, neurological, chemical, and hormonal changes that impact memory and cognition; often resulting in:
- Emotional dysregulation
- Lack of trust in yourself, others, and the world
- Mental health illness
- Chronic pain
- Inflammatory disease
What Types of Trauma Are There?
“Big T” traumas, like those catastrophic events listed above, are the most obvious and lead people to seek treatment to help them learn to cope and move past the event. “Little t” traumas are the things we experienced regularly throughout our lives that we may have been conditioned to accept as part of life or growing up. Some of these experiences may include:
- Being bullied
- Witnessing violence
- Lack of constant care during childhood
- Lack of emotional validation
- Having a caregiver who struggled with mental illness and/or substance use
- Incarceration or having a loved one who was incarcerated
- Experiencing discrimination due to race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation
- Lack of autonomy
- Lack of affection
- Being isolated, yelled at, or controlled by others
This does not mean that everyone who has experienced these things is traumatized. Traumatization is dependent on several biological and environmental factors that influence perception and physiological regulation.
What Kinds of Trauma Counseling Can Help?
What kind of help is there? Trauma is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon that traps itself in the body and the brain keeping you in survival mode at a physiological level. Trauma treatment is an evidence-based technique that walks you through specific stages of treatment to ensure a felt-sense of safety, agency, and autonomy, empowering the client to take control of their lives leaving the past in the past. Certified trauma specialists and professionals can help unlock the trauma trapped in your brain, muscles, nervous system, and adrenal/endocrine system so that you can feel safe in your body and the world. Some of the effective treatments include but are not limited to:
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) targets upsetting life experiences that have not been stored properly in memory areas of the brain and are triggered more easily by similar events or negative personal beliefs. Unprocessed or blocked traumatic memories need help from therapies such as EMDR to become processed or unblocked.
IFS (Internal Family Systems) is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy (SP) integrates the body and movement into traditional talk therapy to address and heal ongoing psychological and physical difficulties.
Narrative Exposure Therapy: With the guidance of the therapist, a patient establishes a chronological narrative of their life, concentrating mainly on their traumatic experiences, but also incorporating some positive events. It is believed that this contextualizes the network of cognitive, affective and sensory memories of a patient’s trauma. By expressing the narrative, the patient fills in details of fragmentary memories and develops a coherent autobiographical story. In so doing, the memory of a traumatic episode is refined and understood.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a short term evidence-based treatment for PTSD and other related disorders. CPT is based in cognitive theory and helps individuals to recognize the impact that the traumatic event has had on their thoughts and beliefs, feelings and behaviors.
How Do I Know if I Should Seek Trauma Therapy?
If you experience any of the following it may be beneficial for you to see a professional who can help you sort through your experiences and move forward in life:
- You are easily startled
- Flashbacks or nightmares of the event
- Feeling afraid but not knowing why
- A generalized distrust in yourself, others, and the world
- You notice a pattern of unhealthy relationships throughout your life
- Feelings of restment
- Unmanaged anger
- Avoidance of certain people, places, or things
- Unexplainable body aches and pains
- Chronic pain, inflammation, or fatigue
- Easily triggered
- Persistent feelings of sadness
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, reaching out to a professional can help you determine if trauma therapy is right for you.
Written by Autumn Walsh, MSW. Autumn is accepting patients at our Pittsburgh location as well as online.
Interested in Starting Trauma Therapy?
Fill out the form below or contact us at 412-322-2129 to begin trauma counseling.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 17). Infographic: 6 guiding principles to a trauma-informed approach. https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm
Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma: The innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. North Atlantic Books.
American Psychological Association (2017, July 31). https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/narrative-exposure-therapy
Psychology Today (2022, May 20). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/internal-family-systems-therapy
Bartella, A. (2011, October). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: A somatic path to treat trauma. The Trauma & Mental Health Report. Retrieved from https://trauma.blog.yorku.ca/2011/10/sensorimotor-psychotherapy-a-somatic-path-to-trauma-treatment/
Acute Stress Disorder
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 2, 2018 anxiety, anxiety therapy pittsburgh0 comments
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder is a form of anxiety disorder which develops shortly or immediately after exposure to a traumatic event in which real or threatened harm or injury was experienced or threatened to the self or other. Acute Stress Disorder differs from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder in the time from in which the associated symptoms are exhibited. To reach the diagnosis of Acute Stress disorder symptoms should be exhibited less than one month after exposure to a traumatic event. Similarly to PTSD, symptoms involve flash backs, re-imagining, dreams, distress or anxiety at exposure to visual stimuli related to the traumatic situation or event, including hyper-vigilance, and anxiety about the possibility of the event or danger happening again. The duration of the traumatic event and time of exposure or repetitiveness of the exposure effect the likelihood that the person will experience Acute Stress disorder as there are certain internal risk factors which may affect resilience to the development of the trauma. Treatment for Acute Stress Disorder often involves trauma focused therapy, EMDR, short term psychotherapy, mindfulness based therapy approaches even including meditation, acupuncture, all therapy and counseling services should be performed with a licensed professional counselor or mental health specialist.Learn More
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Therapy and Counseling
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 1, 2018 anxiety, anxiety therapy pittsburgh, cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, counseling for anxiety, counseling pittsburgh, help for anxiety, licensed therapist monroeville, licensed therapist pittsburgh, post traumatic stress disorder, ptsd, searching for a therapist in monroeville, searching for a therapist pittsburgh, therapy, Therapy and Counseling For Anxiety0 comments
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a form of anxiety disorder which stems from exposure to a traumatic event or situation which caused real or threatened injury to and this can also be caused by the witnessing of an event or situation which injured or threatened injury to another person. According to the DSM IV, there is a lifetime prevalence rate of about 8% for the development of PTSD. Muggings, rape, terror, hostage attacks, natural disasters, car accidents, are situations that can increase the likelihood that a person may develop PTSD.
As a therapy practice which also specializes in marriage and family counseling, we support the research which suggests that individuals who have experienced an infidelity in their relationship may also go on to develop symptoms of PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder.
There are certain occupations which put people at risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by exposing them to frightening and dangerous situations. Those who work as military/armed forces, policeman, fireman, and detectives may be particularly vulnerable for developing PTSD. Finally, there is a second form of PTSD, Vicarious or Secondary trauma, this form of trauma is caused by exposure to information related to traumatic events and is commonly seen in therapists, social workers, attorneys, judges and persons who offer support and services to those who have had trauma.
The Diagnostic Criteria for PTSD are;
- The person has witnessed, was confronted with or in some way threatened with death or serious injury to the self or others.
- The response to this event or threat was intense fear, horror, anxiety, and or helplessness.
- The events is then continually and persistently re-experienced in the form of imagery, thoughts, perceptions, the person may also experience frightening and recurrent dreams related to the traumatic event. The person will then attempt to avoid any associated triggers of the event and have an over all numbing and or a hyper-vigilance meaning they become hyper-aroused when exposed to triggers for the trauma. They also may have difficulty falling asleep, concentrating, regulating mood, and have an increased startle response. Individuals exposed to trauma may too are also at increased risk to develop mood disorders such as depression and are also at increased risk for developing substance abuse.
Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often involves Trauma Focused therapy with a licensed professional counselor or therapist as well as medication therapy in certain instances. Another form of therapy which has proven effective in clinical models is EMDR.