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/
5 Ways to Help Newly Adopted Children During the Holidays
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 15, 2021 Adoption, Guardianship, Child Anxiety, children mental health, grief, healthy holiday, holidays, holidays stress reduction, trauma, trauma counseling, trauma informed care0 comments
When most people celebrate the holidays, they are surrounded by loved ones telling stories and laughing over mugs of hot cocoa as they exchange gifts. During this time of holiday cheer, many children who were adopted are faced with the realization that they will not see any of their biological family during the holidays. It is a stark reminder of the grief and loss they have experienced up to and including being removed from their biological family’s home. It is important for adoptive parents to prepare for and remain aware of what they can do to help their newly adopted children during the holidays. Here are some therapist recommendations to follow:
- Talk about the holiday. Help your child understand what holiday traditions and festivities your family participates in and allow them to ask questions. Do you celebrate over many days or just one day? Are there religious customs? Who will they meet and will there be gift exchanges? Avoiding surprises will help decrease anxiety.
- Incorporate traditions that the child celebrates into your holiday. Whether it is an annual watching of Frosty the Snowman or a snowball fight on Christmas Eve, bringing a cheerful memory to life may make a child feel more comfortable. You may even get a smile. Through conversation, you may discover that your child doesn’t celebrate the same holiday you do. Make it a point to learn about their customs and show interest in celebrating them.
- Allow them to grieve. Despite your best efforts, your child may still pull away. This is not intended to be a reflection of their feelings toward you or their new family, but instead a way of coping through this difficult time. Make one-on-one time with your child to talk through what they may be feeling. Be prepared if they shut down the conversation or not know exactly what they need. Give enough space for “downtime” and do not force them to participate in any activities.
- Don’t chase the “perfect” holiday. This not only creates unnecessary stress for you, but also for your child. Be flexible, be realistic, and have a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned! This can also include unexpected responses from extended family who do not understand the child’s behavior.
- Stay Trauma-Informed. Educate yourself on trauma and the impact it has on the dynamics of a family. Trauma can often look like anger, hyperactivity, and defiance. Without an understanding of the effects of trauma, it is likely you will misinterpret your child’s behavior resulting in feelings of anger and resentment. There are many resources online to assist in Trauma-Informed Care such as attachmenttraumanetwork.org or childwelfare.gov.
In summary, there isn’t one right way to raise a child. Remember to give yourself grace and practice self-care! Your child will teach you more about yourself than you may have ever realized previously. With patience, knowledge, and empathy, you can create an open environment that allows an adoptive child to feel comfortable expressing their fears, triggers, and even their feelings about their biological family.
Written by: Teresa Gouch, a licensed professional counselor at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. Teresa specializes in trauma counseling and foster care/adoption counseling.
Providing Grace and Resilience to Trauma Survivors, How To – Help Guide.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 7, 2018 abuse, abuse resources, domestic violence, help for trauma victims, rape, resilience, survivors, trauma counseling, validation, victim blaming, victims0 comments
How to Provide Grace and Resiliency to a Friend or Family Member Who Discloses Trauma.
According to the United States Veterans Administration, about 50% of women and 60% of men will experience trauma at some point in their lives. Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a distressing event. Traumatic events can include witnessing or experiencing sexual or physical assault, violence, robbery, or attack. We are not all equipped with a vast understanding of psychology, and when a friend or family member turns to us with their memories of a traumatic event, more than ever we could benefit from some information on how to respond with validation, support, and compassion. The literature on trauma widely cites how important loved ones’ responses are to survivors’ disclosures of the events that they experienced. In fact, in a 2016 study by Lischner and Hong at the University of Washington, invalidating responses of friends, family, and others are correlated with an increased likelihood that the survivor will experience psychopathology including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With the number of people who have survived trauma growing each year, it becomes ever more likely that someone will turn to you with their memories of a traumatic event. Below we will highlight some invalidating responses and provide validating responses so that each of us can do our best to provide caring support to those who may approach us with their heavy burden.
Validation is defined as responding with empathy, agreement, acknowledgement that we believe what was shared and that it makes sense. We can validate many levels of expression and meaning, feelings as well as thoughts. As a couples counselor, I help couples use the tool of validation to comfort each other in conflict. Validation is powerful. Some validating responses are;
- ‘Thank you for trusting me enough to share this.’
- Summarize the memories that were shared, always referring to them as memories or experiences.
- ‘That must be so (painful, scary, traumatic, other feeling word) for you.’ Summary of emotions, this is to indicate a full understanding of the feelings that the person shared.
- ‘You were so strong and brave in sharing your experiences.’ This is a compassionate response that highlights their survival skills.
- ‘How can I support you further?’ Letting the person know that you are glad to discuss any of it further, that you want to be there for them in any way that they need.
Invalidating responses can cause survivors to feel anxious, depressed, panicked, overwhelmed, and called to defend themselves and their pain. Many trauma survivors cite that invalidation from family or friends of their traumatic event is at times just as distressing as the trauma itself. Invalidation can be consciously used as a tool to manipulate and coerce, and it can be unconsciously done because the recipient to the confidence doesn’t know how to respond or help. Some examples of invalidating responses are as follows:
- ‘Why are you bringing this up right now?’ Every survivor unfolds their trauma memories to different people and in varying times, when and how they will share their trauma and with who it feels safe to share.
- ‘Are you sure you remember this accurately?’ The first duty of love is to listen and validate, provide understanding, care, warmth, and support. It is not a good time to put them on the witness stand for cross examination.
- ‘The perpetrator remembers it differently.’ Attend to the survivor’s feelings first and save the fact checking for a different time and day. Even if you feel called to defend the person or event that is being discussed as the source of trauma, this survivor is sharing something very vulnerable and the immediate need for understanding and care would indicate that we should triage and be delicate.
- ‘Try not to think about it and put it behind you.’ This response indicates that the person’s experience of grief, pain, panic, anxiety, is something that can be dismissed. Working with trauma clinically provides opportunity to experience the depth of the memories and emotions to be reprocessed. There is much evidence that the more we think we should be able to dismiss our responses to trauma, the more likely we develop PTSD.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you recognize after reading this that you may have been invalidating to someone in the past. ‘We all do our best and when we know better, we do better.’ Maya Angelou
Please pass this along. Every day another person survives and attempts to thrive in the wake of pain and anguish. Each of us has the potential power to be a safe zone, to provide support, help, and healing for those who are making sense of traumatic events, we have the ability to provide resiliency against emotional pain and we can create a buffer and reduce the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
With resiliency and hope,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
*The is not a replacement for mental health support provided in a clinical setting by a licensed counselor, psychologist, or clinical social worker. If you or a loved one has experienced trauma and are working through its effects, reach out to a therapist near you.
Thank you to our editor, Dr. Stellan Wijkstrom.
For more reading;
Phan Y.Hong, David A.Lishner: General invalidation and trauma-specific invalidation as predictors of personality and subclinical psychopathology, Personality and Individual Differences. January 2016.