Trauma has become somewhat of a buzz word these days to describe just about anything and everything that is unpleasant. Let me share some important information about what trauma really is and what the difference is between trauma, PTS and PTSD.
What is trauma?
Trauma can happen to anyone and can occur at any time or stage in someone’s life. It can happen as a result of a direct experience or by witnessing an event.
The American Psychological Association defines trauma in this way.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.
Not everyone encountering a trauma will end up diagnosed with PTSD.
What is PTSD?
Not all traumatic events will progress into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but in order to be diagnosed with PTSD a person must have experienced a traumatic event. After a traumatic event the mind and body enter into a type of shock. Almost everyone encounters at least some of the symptoms of PTSD such as feelings of fear, anxiety and bad dreams following the event. Those are normal responses to an abnormal event also called Post Traumatic Stress. For most people symptoms will subside over a few weeks and normal life will resume. The primary difference between trauma and PTSD is not the severity of the trauma event, but the severity and length of symptoms.
There are many types of traumatic events that result in PTSD?
Some of them include:
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Witnessing a traumatic event or accident
- Natural Disaster
- Physical and sexual assault or rape
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Plane crashes
- Childhood neglect
- Terrorist attacks
PTSD symptoms fall into three categories: 1. Re-experiencing symptoms include reliving the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks and intense physical reactivity such as heart beating fast, quickened breathing, tense muscles and nausea when being reminded of the event.
2. Avoidance symptoms include avoiding places and activities as well as thoughts and feelings that remind you of the traumatic event. It is common for those who are experiencing these symptoms to lose interest in life, isolate more and feel emotionally numb. 3. Arousal symptoms include feeling on guard, being easily startled and checking to see who is around. Many sufferers develop difficulty concentrating in addition to other conditions such as depression, substance abuse, physical aches and pains, suicidal ideation, cognition problems, guilt, anger shame and self-blame. These symptoms lead to a deterioration in functioning and create breakdowns in family life, social life and difficulties with work and parenting.
Please note that symptoms in children and adolescents can present differently than adults. Children can become extremely fearful and cling to a parent or caregiver, bedwetting and sleep problems including nightmares can occur. Children will often act out aspects of the trauma they have experienced and can become angry, irritable and even aggressive. Harsh discipline of behaviors can negatively impact an already suffering child. Please seek help for you and your child if you are noticing these symptoms.
At All Heart, I offer several types of evidenced based trauma therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), TF-CBT (Trauma Focused CBT) and CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy). Each modality can assist individuals through both single incident trauma events and complex PTSD. Types of traumatic events that can cause complex PTSD include childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment, ongoing domestic violence or abuse, repeatedly witnessing violence or abuse, being forced or trafficked in the sex trade, tortured, kidnapped or being a prisoner of war.
Despite what has happened, there truly are better days ahead. The effects of trauma that have been so debilitating can in fact be reversed. Healing can happen for those that are open to the process.