Trauma

What is trauma?

 

Trauma is best understood as the lasting wound that is formed after a distressing event. Trauma is often held in the body, and can show up through symptoms like anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, trouble sleeping, aches and pains, difficulties in relationships, deeply rooted beliefs about oneself and others, and many more. Sometimes trauma is more repressed, and the symptoms of the wound may not show up until much later in life, while other times it can show up immediately ("acute trauma"), and create significant challenges for someone's daily functioning. Trauma can be singular, stemming from a single event, or cumulative ("complex trauma"), stemming from multiple events.

 

Why does trauma happen?

Because trauma is the lasting wound from an event(s), the things that may cause it are widespread and diverse. Old definitions of trauma would only consider events such as physical abuse, natural disasters, major accidents, physical or sexual assault, or war, but we now have a much deeper understanding of the large range of events that can be traumatic. This broader definition also includes acts of emotional/verbal abuse, neglect, abandonment, bullying, infidelity or other relationship ruptures, and many more. When we experience one or more of these events, our minds and bodies infer the need to become more protective of oneself, and these protective responses—sometimes referred to as "defense mechanisms"—can be extremely disruptive to our daily lives.

How does therapy help trauma?

There is a difference between trauma-informed therapy, which deals with the post-traumatic symptoms that someone is experiencing, and trauma-specific therapy, which targets the source of the trauma and will often involve reprocessing certain traumatic memories. I use two main approaches when working with people who've experienced trauma: one focused on the nervous system and regulating our emotions and reactions (video on the left), and one focused on healing internal parts of ourselves that may be carrying the weight of our shame and fear (video on the right).