What is a traumatic event?
A traumatic event is an incident that a person may have experienced, witnessed, or heard about in which they feared for their life or safety, or someone else’s life or safety. Some examples of trauma include, but are not limited to:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Being in or witnessing a car accident
- Natural disaster (tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.)
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Serious injury of self or someone else
What symptoms may develop from experiencing trauma?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to diagnose mental health disorders, these are some of the symptoms that may develop from experiencing trauma:
- Nightmares about the trauma
- Flashbacks about the trauma
- Intrusive thoughts about the trauma
- Emotional distress when exposed to reminders of the trauma
- Physical symptoms after exposure to reminders of the trauma (headaches, stomachaches)
- Avoidance of places, people, things, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
- Inability to recall key features of the trauma
- Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
- Negative affect
- Decreased interest in activities
- Feeling isolated
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Irritability or aggression
- Risky or destructive behavior
- Heightened startle reaction
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
How do you treat trauma?
When working with clients to overcome their trauma, I use a technique called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This approach focuses on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you are experiencing surrounding the traumatic event. Oftentimes, negative or distorted thoughts about the trauma are present, greatly impacting the way you feel about yourself and behave in daily life. In therapy we will work to correct these thoughts, thus improving your quality of life.
A large part of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves slowly discussing the details of the traumatic event. While this may sound scary to do, and understandably so, this is done at the client’s own pace. To prepare you to handle any negative emotions that may come along with discussing past trauma, we will first work together to help you practice and learn relaxation techniques. Once you have mastered these relaxation techniques, and feel comfortable, we will then move forward with you telling your story. It is important to note that I will never pressure you to discuss any part of the trauma that you do not feel ready to talk about. The more you talk about the trauma, the easier it becomes, and the less it affects you.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.