PTSD & TRAUMA
Get Therapeutic Support for Trauma
What is Trauma?
Many people think of trauma as something tangible, like a car accident, a death of a loved one, physical abuse, or even a natural disaster. However, trauma is very subjective, which is why it comes in all forms. It can be any distressing occurrence that is beyond the scope of someone’s ‘regular’ human experience. In fact, the actual event isn’t what makes something traumatic — it is the brain and body’s overwhelming response to that event. In the case of trauma, the response is managed by the body in a dysfunctional way so that it consistently reacts as if the event(s) is occurring each time there is a trigger.
How a situation impacts an individual depends on a variety of factors, such as their distress tolerance, coping strategies, past experiences, perceptions, expectations, social support, pre-existing mental health challenges, and more. Trauma is not always a single event, but something that can be experienced over time. For example, for some individuals, the COVID-19 pandemic and consequential lockdown have brought on symptoms of trauma.
If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, or are unsure, we encourage you to reach out for support with a trauma-informed therapist. This way, you can gain the tools you need to cope and manage your symptoms, and lead an overall healthier and more fulfilled life.
Trauma is typically categorized into two groups: big (or large) ‘T’ trauma and little (or small) ‘t’ trauma.
Large 'T' Trauma
Large ‘T’ trauma is easily identifiable — whether it’s a vehicle accident, assault, war, or act of violence. In these incidences, there is a significant element of helplessness, which contributes to the experience of trauma in the brain. There may also be a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a big ‘T’ trauma.
Small 't' Trauma
Small ‘t’ traumas (also called attachment trauma) are events that disrupt our emotional functioning and coping mechanisms. These can be just as harmful to the brain. While these occurrences may not be life-threatening by nature, they make us doubt our perception of safety and security. Some examples include infidelity, divorce, bullying or harassment, childhood neglect, emotional abuse, or loss of a core relationship. Small ‘t’ trauma is often cumulative in nature. One small ‘t’ trauma may not have a significant impact, but multiple ones over a lifetime or even a very short period of time can affect the person’s ability to cope. Just because it is referred to as ‘little,’ this does not diminish how it can impact the brain and someone’s ability to function. In fact little ‘t’ can also be referred to as ‘harder-to-see’ or ‘hidden’ trauma.
In all instances, the mind stores the traumatic event(s) differently than regular memories — they reside in the survival/reactionary part of the brain vs the thinking/logical part of the brain. If left unresolved, it may result in involuntary flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, emotional detachment, extreme anxiety, avoidance, fears and phobias, hyper-vigilance, chronic anxiety, and other symptoms.
Regardless of the type of trauma, each situation deserves compassion and empathy. If you are experiencing the symptoms of trauma, the professionals at Bhatia Psychology Group can help.
Symptoms of Trauma
Listed below are just some of the physical, emotional, and psychological signs and symptoms of trauma, however, everyone’s experience is unique.
Recurrent nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks
Avoiding disturbing memories, thoughts, and emotions
Avoiding things that can trigger memories of the event
Low self-confidence, self-worth, or consistent self-blame
Difficulty remembering aspects of the traumatic event
Dissociation or detachment from the current moment
Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or sleeping
Regular outbursts of anger or excessive irritability
Persistent negative emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, anxiety
Difficulty experiencing positive feelings, like happiness or love
Constantly feeling on-guard or hyper-vigilant of possible danger
Feeling in a constant state of fight or flight
Types of Trauma
Exposure to one overwhelming event or experience (ie. accident, natural disaster, single incident of abuse or assault, witnessing violence).
Chronic or repetitive trauma
Repeated and prolonged exposure to multiple distressing events (ie. child abuse, bullying, domestic violence)
Multiple traumatic events or experiences, which usually occurs in a close interpersonal relationship (ie. child abuse, community violence, ongoing neglect).
Similar to chronic or repetitive trauma, but occurs in the early years as an infant, child, or youth and can affect development and healthy attachments (ie. neglect, abandonment, abuse, assault, betrayal).
Vicarious or secondary trauma
Can impact a helper, worker, or therapist and is from empathetic exposure to someone else’s trauma, without directly witnessing or being involved with the event. Typically, vicarious trauma accumulates over time, whereas secondary trauma can occur more suddenly.
Historical or intergenerational trauma
Cumulative emotional and psychological trauma, which can be experienced over time by a specific cultural, racial, or ethnic group (ie. oppression, slavery, forced migration, colonization). Coping patterns in response to trauma can then be passed on to the next generation (intergenerational trauma).
Treatment for Trauma
Treatment for trauma can depend on the trauma, the individual, and where the person is in the healing process. It can range from behaviour therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or psychodynamic therapy to hypnotherapy, group therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Wherever you are in your journey, you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to a compassionate, trauma-informed therapist at Bhatia Psychology Group today. Begin your journey toward healing.
FAQs – Trauma Disorders
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that happens after a person has experienced or witnessed a terrifying or traumatic event. PTSD symptoms may include recurring and unwanted thoughts about the event, flashbacks, anxiety, and nightmares. Treatment, including psychotherapy, has shown to significantly help those with PTSD manage their symptoms, process the trauma, and move forward over time.
Do All Traumatic Events Lead to PTSD?
No, not all traumatic events lead to PTSD. However, PTSD can also emerge 3 months or more after the initial traumatic event. If you are unsure if you are experiencing symptoms of trauma or PTSD, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional.
Who Experiences Trauma?
Anyone can experience trauma, from first responders to individuals that learn about an incident through the media. An event may be traumatic for one person, but not for another. This is because it is a reaction derived from the meaning a person gives to an event. Those who are most at risk of experiencing trauma include individuals who have had little social support and family support or those who have a history of neglect and abuse.
How Can Trauma Affect You?
Trauma affects individuals in different ways. Some of the most common ways it impacts an individual include:
- Showing and feeling too much emotion
- Showing and feeling too little emotion
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Extreme rage
- Anxiety and/or panic attacks
- Memory issues
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention.
Trauma may also impact your ability to develop and maintain relationships with others. You may struggle with trust, withdrawal, isolation, or difficulty creating close bonds with others. It can also lead to sleep difficulties, flashbacks, and even physical symptoms, such as feeling nauseous or experiencing headaches. Eventually, these symptoms may lead to unwanted and negative behaviours, such as self-harm, eating disorders, or abuse.
How Long Will You Feel Like This?
The intensity of trauma varies and depends on the person and what has occurred. For some, the effects may last for several weeks or sometimes, years. Either way, it’s important to seek out help as soon as you can in order to gain the tools, knowledge, and awareness you may need to move forward.
What is the Best Way to Cope With Trauma?
Seeking out treatment is important if you’ve experienced trauma. Talking about the event can help you begin to understand it, how you feel, and how it’s impacted you. Additionally, if you are in a cycle of negative behaviour patterns (such as abusing alcohol or drugs), having flashbacks or nightmares, or simply having difficulty coping on a daily basis, we encourage you to reach out to a professional.
Is It Possible to Forget the Traumatic Event?
Sometimes — but that does not necessarily mean that you have healed from the event. In an attempt to protect itself, the brain can essentially block a traumatic event in a process called dissociation (or dissociative amnesia) or detachment. In some instances, This happens because of where the memory is stored in the brain, causing it to become repressed. Usually, when someone remembers previous trauma, it is because they have experienced something similar or have had something remind them of it.
What Treatments & Modalities are Used to Treat Trauma?
As with any therapeutic journey, treatment largely depends on the individual and their unique circumstances. Your therapist at Bhatia Psychology Group may use a mix of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and processing, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Mindfulness. EMDR is a form of psychotherapy in which the client is asked to recall a distressing situation; the therapist then directs the individual using bilateral stimulation (ie. side-to-side eye movements). This action is thought to bypass the part of the brain that is ‘stuck’ in the traumatic event, and encourage the brain’s left side to self-soothe the brain’s right side. Essentially, EMDR helps to alter maladaptive neural networks so the person can move away from being in a frozen state and begin processing the event or image in their mind.