Traumatic experiences can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being.
Sometimes we may not be entirely aware of a traumatic event’s impact on the mind and body.
A person’s symptoms of trauma may creep up out of nowhere and can induce psychological, physiological, and emotional responses that can be incredibly frightening and confusing when they are happening.
Traumatic experiences can leave a profound mark on the mind and body.
Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of trauma is how unpredictable the symptoms can be – for example, the effects of trauma may show up immediately after a traumatic event or years later.
There’s no telling when or how trauma symptoms will present, but the impact can be long-lasting, affecting your relationships, mood, and sense of self.
Studies show that approximately 70% of US adults have experienced at least one traumatic event (What Are the Best Types of Therapy for Trauma? PsychCentral, Simone Marie, December 22, 2021).
The research literature states that while not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have lasting effects, around 6% of American adults develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to trauma.
Treatment for PTSD
Trauma affects people differently; not everyone will have the same symptoms.
However, trauma can induce specific changes in your nervous system and brain, causing unpleasant symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and dysregulation.
Due to trauma’s complex nature, finding the correct type of therapy for your specific needs can be challenging but not impossible.
Typically, trauma treatments concentrate on integrating traumatic memories and soothing your nervous system, allowing you to reprocess memories that you may not have been able to process during the event.
The most effective type of therapy is the one that works best for your particular experience, needs, and symptoms.
What happens to the body during a traumatic event?
To understand the effects of trauma, you must know how your body responds during a traumatic event or stressful experience.
Most of these responses are ingrained in the human body, allowing you to survive or get through deeply disturbing events or experiences.
Deeply embedded survival mechanisms
You may view these responses as deeply embedded survival mechanisms, your body’s way of protecting you against unbearable pain, images, or memories.
How the body responds to trauma
When you experience a traumatic event, your pituitary, hypothalamic, and adrenal systems discharge a surge of hormones that prepare you for fight, flee, or freeze (What Are the Treatment Options for PTSD? Healthline, Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA – July 7, 2021).
When this happens, you may experience various physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
- A racing heart
- Changes in your vision
- Feelings of panic or anxiety
- Temporary loss of memory
- Tense muscles
Further research shows that approximately 10% of trauma survivors will develop PTSD symptoms afterward.
You may come across various explanations of trauma.
Perhaps the easiest way to conceptualise trauma is that it is brought on by a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
Following a physical injury or stressful event, a person may experience long-term neurosis, where traumatic events are re-lived or re-experienced (with all the “stored” or accompanying trauma).
Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a frightening or disturbing event.
You may develop PTSD if you have experienced a terrifying ordeal first-hand or witnessed a frightening event happening around you.
Signs and symptoms
PTSD symptoms may present differently for each individual, but they typically include the following:
- Flashbacks (includes re-living the event in your mind as if it were happening again)
- Uncontrollable thoughts related to the event
- Severe anxiety
- Intrusive memories
- Avoidance behaviours
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
- Adverse changes in mood and thinking
PTSD symptoms can be incredibly frightening and upsetting when they happen.
You must speak to your doctor or mental health professional if you think you might be experiencing any of the above symptoms.
What are the most effective treatment options for PTSD?
Many variations of trauma can cause PTSD symptoms and dysfunction.
For instance, trauma can occur after a one-time event (single event), such as a physical injury or assault, or from prolonged events, such as childhood trauma or intimate partner violence.
Complex trauma is a different kind of trauma that arises from repeated or ongoing events – these experiences usually originate from childhood and may affect your adult life.
Various trauma therapies have been designed to help you understand and integrate your traumatic experiences, setting you on the path to lasting recovery and healing, which is the ultimate goal of therapy.
Inherently, therapy doesn’t eliminate traumatic memories from your mind. Still, over time, they’ll have less power over you and your emotions (What Are the Best Types of Therapy for Trauma? PsychCentral, Simone Marie, December 22, 2021).
Therapy helps to normalise a person’s responses to the trauma they have endured.
Reframing traumatic events
Trauma treatment can provide people with new coping skills, allowing them to manage their responses and emotions while reframing unhelpful beliefs and perceptions about the event.
Many people with PTSD have reported developing negative beliefs and ideas about past events.
For example, many blame themselves for what happened, while others have a more negative existential view of the world due to trauma.
Intervention is critical for people who have experienced trauma. Fortunately, many evidence-based practices (EBP) have been developed to treat trauma and PTSD.
Such treatments have proven effective for trauma survivors, allowing therapists to treat targeted populations effectively.
PTSD treatment and research
Fortunately, much research has gone into understanding (and treating) PTSD.
As a result, various treatment approaches and medications have proven effective for those with trauma symptoms.
Treatment for PTSD may include:
- Neurological Therapies
- Learning new coping mechanisms or skills
Advantages of therapy
People who engage in trauma treatment are likely to experience better health outcomes than those who don’t.
Studies have shown the many benefits of therapy for those with PTSD, such as:
- A reduction in mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression
- Improved coping skills that help with daily functioning
- Lower risk of relapse of mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety
Cognitive processing therapy
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a trauma therapy for PTSD.
This approach was developed by Patrick Resick, Ph.D., ABPP, to help people who felt “stuck” by their trauma-related thoughts and feelings.
CPT helps trauma survivors challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about their trauma that may prevent them from moving forward.
Cognitive processing therapy aims to help people get “unstuck” by looking at the traumatic event (s) differently, which may help relieve symptoms.
Studies have shown that CPT is a highly recommended therapy for PTSD, with evidence showing that this type of therapy can produce lasting benefits across various outcomes.
Psychodynamic therapy helps you understand how your past might affect your current behaviours, emotions, and relationship patterns.
Exploring and understanding your unconscious drives and what motivates you to think and behave in a particular way is at the core of psychodynamic therapy.
During therapy, your therapist will explore your early childhood experiences, current relationships, and any problems you might face due to your past.
Some of these earlier experiences might be shaped by trauma and could affect your current relationships with others, beliefs about the world, and the coping mechanisms you use to deal with stress.
The researchers reported that psychodynamic therapies might be beneficial in treating complex PTSD.
Prolonged exposure therapy
The aim of prolonged exposure therapy is similar to CPT in that it addresses unhelpful tendencies and unhealthy thought patterns related to a traumatic event.
Many people with trauma histories may develop a disproportionate fear response that affects how they perceive specific situations, people, and objects.
For example, you may overreact to something others may not find harmful or threatening, such as driving on a motorway or being in large crowds.
Prolonged exposure therapy aims to educate you about your symptoms and responses.
The above may include teaching specific coping skills that help calm you down, allowing you to manage triggering situations.
You’ll likely start with the least frightening things and eventually work toward your most intense fears.
Some of which are likely to be related to your trauma.
Your therapist will suggest progressing to the next level or “hierarchy” once they are satisfied that you have dealt with past fears or anxieties that may have been holding you back.
Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
One of the most pioneering trauma therapies is eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR).
American psychologist Francine Shapiro first developed EMDR in 1989.
Since then, EMDR has become an integrative psychotherapy approach widely recognised as an effective trauma treatment in various countries and populations.
This treatment uses repetitive eye movements to re-pattern (and disrupt) some of the traumatic memories you may have.
Once you have discussed your trauma history with your therapist, you and your therapist will agree upon a selected memory that might be causing you a lot of distress.
While recalling your traumatic memories to mind, your therapist will begin guiding you through a series of bilateral eye movements (side-to-side movements).
Over time, you will learn to reframe your experiences more positively as you process your memories and associated beliefs or feelings in a safe space.
Research shows that EMDR is a significantly effective treatment for PTSD, depression, and anxiety as it helps to reduce many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with traumatic memories.
EMDR is an affordable therapy with few side effects and has become one of the most recommended treatments for those with PTSD.
Other useful therapies
According to studies, other beneficial treatments for PTSD include:
- Emotional freedom tapping (EFT)
- Somatic therapies
- Trauma-focused CBT (mainly used for children and teens with trauma)
- Art and music therapy
- Narrative therapy
- Internal family systems therapy
- Substance abuse treatment programs – for those with co-occurring drug or alcohol use disorders
How White River Manor can help
White River Manor offers a trauma-informed approach to all clients – providing tailored trauma therapy to people from various backgrounds and experiences.
We have decades of experience in the wellness, addiction, and restoration field and can help our clients to gain the insight and breakthroughs they need to lead joyous and fulfilling lives.
If you think you may have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article or would like a safe space to discuss your trauma, our team is always around to lend a friendly ear.
Contact a specialist today.