Trauma & Recovery
A FEW TYPES OF TRAUMATIC EVENTS
· Severe physical injury
· Serious illness
· Natural disasters
· Terrorist attack
· Parental abandonment
· Witnessing a death
· Sexual assault
· Domestic abuse
Death of a loved one (unless sudden or violent death), loss of employment, and a relationship break-up can be extremely difficult and painful to handle. However, they are typically considered as a normal aspect of a human life. To be classified as 'traumatic' an event must involve physical threat to yourself or other people.
TRAUMA RELATED SYMPTOMS
Psychological symptoms a person can have after having a traumatic experience can be separated into four areas; Mental, Emotional, Physical and Behavioral. These symptoms include but are not limited to:
Having involuntary thoughts or memories about the event
Lack of concentration
Getting exhausted very easily
Increased heart rate
Sweating more than normal
Avoiding anything that can remind the event
Cannot stop focusing on what happened
Overly absorbed with recovery
Cannot function at work
Eating a lot more or a lot less than normally
Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol)
Even overdoing it with cigarettes and coffee
Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders
Unfortunately in many instances exposure to a traumatic or stressful event can lead to the development of a mental health disorder. PTSD is the most widely known but there are a few others.
According to the DSM-V* these include:
Reactive attachment disorder
Disinhibited social engagement disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Acute stress disorder
There is not a definitive reason as to why some people develop PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not. Most professionals agree that individual differences in physical, genetic, psychological, and social influences affect the development of PTSD.
However, even if it does not develop into a mental health disorder neglecting to effectively process a traumatic event can have some very strong reactions in some people and may even become chronic. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to put our mental health secondary to everything else. This is one of those cases where pushing feelings aside or willing it to go away doesn’t work very well and can have severe consequences. It’s important to toggle these feelings early on to prevent prolonged disabling symptoms.
The most popular and research-based forms of therapy for PTSD are:
Coping, skills-focused treatments
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
I can discuss in-depth each treatment separately in a different article but most treatment protocols put people suffering from PTSD in a position where they have to face their original trauma. In this way the therapist tries to guide them so that they can process the intense emotions related to the traumatic event and help them develop alternative coping mechanisms to the debilitating symptoms.
Most clinicians agree that unlike a specific phobia (e.g. arachnophobia, claustrophobia etc.) a traumatic event is either impossible or too risky to recreate. Therefore, the emotions and thoughts pertaining to the trauma are worked through imaginal exposure. Imaginal exposure can take many forms depending on the approach of each different psychological therapy.
For instance, a part of Cognitive therapy is to establish a narrative about the traumatic event. Then, the client and therapist work together to correct all negative assumptions involving the traumatic experience such as placing blaming on one’s own self or having feelings of guilt.
A common complication during PTSD treatment is that often clients have unintentionally and unconsciously repressed some parts of the event. These include emotions or things that happened and it can be very scary to have them coming back to memory and reliving them. To some extent this can be prevented by delivering therapeutic interventions soon after the traumatic event rather than delaying seeking help.
If you are experiencing any trauma related symptoms I strongly suggest that you ask help from a professional to avoid any more severe consequences to your psychological health. And definitely DO NOT isolate yourself from other people. A strong and healthy support system can protect against a lot of unwanted psychological distress.
*American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
Barlow, D. H. (Ed.). (2014). Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual. Guilford publications.
Barlow, D., & Durand, V. (2011). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Nelson Education.
Marios Shialos, BSc, MSc
Licensed Counseling Psychologist [Reg. No. 598]