Trauma Focused Counseling

What is trauma?

Trauma can ensue as the result of events like war, disaster, terrorism, car accidents, and violence, i.e. domestic violence or sexual abuse (Veterans Administration, 2016), though these events are not exclusive causes of trauma responses. These events are common causes of trauma, but a person’s perception of an event is what makes it traumatic.

Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. explains trauma as “unbearable” and “intolerable”. Even long after the occurrence of a traumatic experience, a person may continue to experience triggers by various sights, sounds, places, and many other unexplained occurrences. A person may feel like they should be “over” their trauma, but truly, traumatic experiences can get stored in the brain in such a way that the individual doesn’t recognize that the trauma is still trapped in their brain. For example, you may know a combat veteran who dreads the 4th of July – the sound of fireworks can trigger memories that take them back to the combat zone and the eerily similar sounds to gunfire can cause feelings of panic and fear.

A trauma survivor may expect to be impacted mentally but surprised to know that they can experience physiological changes in response to their trauma (van der Kolk, 2014). To some degree, the brain becomes “rewired”; thereby, triggering physical responses to stimuli (like the above-mentioned reaction to fireworks). Traumatized individuals may impose their trauma on everything around them – making it difficult for them to decipher their reality. The person may have no explanation as to why they are hypervigilant, impulsive, or otherwise out of character, but a therapist skilled in trauma work may help them make the connection.

Individuals that experience long-lasting effects of trauma report two extremes of feelings – feeling overwhelmed or feeling numb (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014). Some individuals will experience unexplained physical symptoms. The exact nature of your symptoms isn’t as important as simply recognizing that you’re not “you”.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Not all those that experience trauma develops PTSD (National Institute of Mental Health {NIMH}, 2016). PTSD results when a person continues to experience problems as a result of a traumatic event. According to NIMH (2016), Some symptoms of PTSD may include:

•Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
•Bad dreams
•Frightening thoughts
•Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
•Avoids thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
•Being easily startled
•Feeling tense or “on edge”
•Having difficulty sleeping
•Having angry outbursts
•Trouble remembering the key features of the traumatic event
•Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
•Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
•Loss of interest in enjoyable activities (NIMH, 2016).

Once thought to be exclusive to combat veterans, experts now recognize that PTSD can develop as a result of many other types of trauma.

What do I do about it?
Experiencing trauma is difficult; various reasons create long-lasting effects. Talking with your physician to rule out physical causes and with a mental health professional to address the effects of trauma will be helpful to your healing. Trauma is often treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. At Family Support Services, help trauma survivors by offering a safe house and resources for domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. We assist veterans and their family members through our services at the Veterans Resource Center.

We also provide counseling services like: Trauma-informed Yoga Therapy, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

Will I get better if I don’t get help?
Maybe, but noone should have to suffer in silence. There are too many resources available to trauma survivors for the individual to go untreated. You deserve treatment to have a better quality of life.