WHAT IS TRAUMA AND TRAUMA COUNSELING?
Everyone experiences traumatic events; it is not the presence of trauma but how the individual deals with a traumatic event that determines the impact it will have on a person’s life.
Trauma is seen as significant and in need of effective processing if the event is too large for an individual’s system to adequately process. The traumatic event can become “stuck” (dysfunctionally stored) in the central nervous system. Maladaptive responses, such as flashbacks, dreams, and many other symptoms can be triggered by present stimuli, and need to be processed.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), Trauma can be described as an event experienced, witnessed, or confronted by a person that: (a) “involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others” and the person’s response to that event; or (b) “involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror,” or, in children, is displayed “by disorganized or agitated behaviour”
Classification of traumatic events
Traumatic events are often classified as “big-T” trauma or “little-t” trauma. Big T-traumas are generally associated with discrete, identifiable events and usually involves distinct memories of the event. Examples of big-T traumas include the following:
- Someone who has suffered rape
- Severe childhood abuse
- Being diagnosed with a severe illness or catastrophic injury
- Unexpected loss of a loved one
- Has been exposed to, or has witnessed a robbery or seen someone being killed
Little-t traumas in contrast are associated with continual or recurring situations and have more global and lasting effects on the individual. They stem from situations that may seem insignificant or mildly distressing, but which can lead to extreme reactions. Examples of little-t traumas include:
- Physical uncomfortable experiences like dental procedures or dog bites
- Minor motor vehicle accidents
- Emotional painful experiences as criticism or verbal abuse
- Repeated failures at school, work or relationships
Long-term effects of unresolved trauma
Unresolved and/or repressed trauma can have a significant impact on the over-all functioning of an individual. The traumatic event can become blocked or “stuck” in the memory network of an individual in its original form, resulting in various traumatic or Post Traumatic Stress symptoms (PTSD). Unresolved trauma can manifest in many ways, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Intrusive memories (flashbacks)
- Obsessive – compulsive behaviours
What happens in therapy?
Trauma can be seen as those disturbing events which were dysfunctionally stored, whether big-T or little-t traumas, and negatively impact our quality of life. These traumas (if not functionally processed), are seen as the primary source of our current dysfunction. Trauma cause a disruption in our information processing system, leaving associated sights, thoughts, or feelings unprocessed and, subsequently dysfunctionally stored as they are perceived.
During trauma counselling, therapy techniques most often focus on activating the traumatic memory through visualization, discussing the memory and making sense of it through logical analysis, and then acknowledging the body sensations and reactions associated with the memory of the event. These therapeutic techniques result in the decrease or elimination of the negative emotional charges associated with the trauma, enhancing emotional wellbeing and optimizing daily functioning.
When do you need help?
Help should be acquired if the following are experienced:
- You re-experienced the traumatic event by recurrent and intrusive thoughts of the event, having distressing dreams of the event, feeling as if the event is re-ocurring, and experiencing psychological-and/or physiological distress and reactivity at external cues that resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
- You persistently avoid stimuli associated with the trauma, including thoughts, feelings, conversations, places, people, and experience a diminished interest in significant activities.
- There are persistent symptoms of increased arousal which might include difficulty falling and staying asleep, irritability or outburst of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance or exaggerated startle response.
- The emotional symptoms/impact following the trauma is having a significant or debilitating impact on your emotional well-being.
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance”. (-Viktor E Frankl)