What is trauma?
People respond to severely distressing events in different ways. Trauma is the emotional response when a distressing event is so overwhelming that it surpasses our ability to cope. When thoughts and memories of the traumatic event don’t go away or they get worse, this may lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Who suffers from trauma?
Any human being can suffer from trauma. We specialize in treating the psychological effects of trauma. Those who can most benefit from our therapy treatments are: survivors of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; first responders (ambulance, fire, police, rescue); veterans of war; accident survivors; people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and family members of people with PTSD; individuals and families suffering from substance abuse; and more.
Signs & Symptoms of Trauma
Trauma can affect how a person feels. He or she may experience:
- overwhelming emotion
- too little or no emotion
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness
- shame, fear
- anger, rage
- grief, sadness
- anxiety, panic attacks.
Trauma can affect a person’s ability to have satisfying relationships with others. This may include:
- not knowing how to trust
- having difficulty being close to people
- having problems in sexual relationships
- being afraid of others
- being isolated and withdrawn
- not recognizing when he or she is in a dangerous situation
- not knowing how to give and take in relationships
- repeatedly searching for someone to rescue him or her.
Trauma can affect the body. The person may experience:
- body memories and flashbacks (a feeling of reliving the traumatic experience, e.g., seeing images, hearing voices or sounds, smelling odours, experiencing unexplained tastes and physical sensations)
- sleep problems, including nightmares
- physical complaints (e.g., headaches, nausea, stomach aches, pelvic pain, stomach/digestive problems) for which no medical cause can be identified
- physical exhaustion.
Trauma can affect how a person thinks. This may include:
- problems with attention and concentration
- confused thinking
- thoughts that get in the way of daily activities
- memory problems.
Trauma can affect how a person behaves. He or she may:
- inflict self-injury (e.g., cutting, burning)
- engage in addictive behaviours (e.g., self-starvation, binge-eating, drug/alcohol misuse)
- constantly look for sexual relationships, or avoid them
- be abusive toward others.
People who experience repeated trauma tend to have more severe symptoms. Also, the earlier the trauma, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be.
Causes & risk factors
Trauma is caused by negative events that produce distress. These events can be physical, sexual or emotional in nature. Some of the most common traumatic events include:
- physical, sexual and verbal assault, including childhood abuse
- being threatened with physical or sexual assault
- witnessing violence against others
- long-term neglect in childhood
- accidents and natural disasters
- community violence
- war or political violence.
Treatment Options for Trauma through Simcoe Trauma Recovery Clinic
All therapists at the Simcoe Trauma Recovery Clinic are skilled in several types of treatment, which they may use in combination or alone. The therapists adapt the different treatment approaches to best suit the client. Here is a brief description of the main therapeutic approaches:
Psychoeducation teaches trauma survivors about different psychological processes and their effects. The therapist may explain that what the person is feeling and doing is typical of reactions that other survivors also describe. Understanding that these reactions are normal may help the person feel less isolated. The therapist may explain the short-term and long-term effects of trauma and how trauma can affect the body, emotions and development. The therapist may also give the client information about abuse and neglect. The therapist provides information throughout therapy, depending on what the client and therapist are discussing and dealing with at the time.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on helping the client become aware of how thoughts, attitudes, expectations and beliefs can contribute to feelings of unhappiness. The client learns how certain beliefs, which he or she may have developed in the past to deal with difficult experiences, are no longer helpful or true in the current situation. For example, the therapist may help a client who was physically abused as a child to explore and question the mistaken belief that he or she is responsible for the abuse. CBT can also involve exposure techniques. These strategies are particularly helpful for people with simple posttraumatic stress; that is, those who have been traumatized by a single event. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the person to the feared situation.
CBT can also help the client to develop coping strategies to reduce anxiety. Strategies may include breathing retraining and relaxation and visualization exercises.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is recognized as a highly-effective and efficient therapy for the permanent elimination of the symptoms of stress and trauma.
It was developed in the US in 1989 by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, and is now recognized by many regulatory bodies in the UK, Europe, South America and the Middle East including:
- The World Health Organization (2013)
- The American Psychiatric Association (2004 & 2009);
- The US Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs (2004 & 2010), and
- The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2000 & 2008).
EMDR is regulated by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), which oversees the training, certification and consultation of EMDR therapists throughout the world.
(EMDR can only be done by a properly trained clinician – Simcoe Trauma Recovery Clinic (STRC) has three, soon to be four, therapists trained in EMDR, and have been practicing this therapy since 2014.