What is Trauma?
The most basic definition of trauma is any disturbing life event that leaves a lasting negative impact on you.
Types of Trauma
When we think of trauma, we often think of catastrophic events - rape, sexual abuse, war, natural disasters, crime, car wrecks, domestic violence. But trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. For instance, a trauma may also include a medical emergency, experiences of loss and grief, living in chaotic environments, getting fired, infidelity, divorce, bullying, neglect, childbirth, or a humiliating event, to name a few. Even vicarious traumas, where you are hearing about or learning about something that happened to someone else, can take a toll. For instance, watching natural disaster coverage on the news, reading stories of medical emergencies or crimes on social media, or listening to friends recount their own traumatic and painful experiences can all take a toll as vicarious trauma.
Categories of Trauma
There are many different types of trauma, and it can be helpful to begin with defining some of the common terms therapists use to describe traumatic experiences.
- Acute trauma - A single disturbing event such as a car accident, natural disaster or a single event of assault. Sometimes also called single-incident trauma or simple trauma (simple only because it involves one trauma, not that the negative effects of it are simple).
- Chronic trauma - Multiple, repetitive or prolonged disturbing events such as repeated witnessing of community violence or multiple treatments for an illness.
- Complex trauma - Multiple, chronic or prolonged disturbing experiences most often of an interpersonal nature such as family violence or neglect. Relationships involve an expectation of safety and when that is lost, trauma occurs.
- Secondary traumatic stress - Occurs from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by someone with whom you are in a close relationship, such as a significant other, a client or patient, or a close friend, coupled with the stress from helping or wanting to help.
- Vicarious trauma - Occurs when there is indirect exposure to a traumatic event that results in changes to beliefs about self, the world, and spiritual beliefs. This can be through hearing first-hand accounts or reading narratives of the event.
Why do People Respond in Different Ways to Trauma?
Several factors influence which life events will impact us negatively and which ones won’t. These factors include but are not limited to -
- being in the midst of a life transition (starting a new school, an upcoming or recent move, etc)
- personality and temperament
- developmental vulnerability
- home environment and attachment to parents
- history of trauma
- mental and emotional health
- support or lack of support following trauma
- history of generational trauma (for example, ancestors who survived slavery or the Holocaust - research is coming out about large-scale trauma’s impact on our genes that then gets passed down to future generations)
What Are The Symptoms of Trauma?
Trauma impacts the whole self - your body, mind, emotions, and relationships. It can rob you of the joy of being alive, leaving you both hypervigilant to any sense of danger and despondent to self, the world, and your future.
Emotional Effects of Trauma
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Fear, worry
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Self-doubt, self-contempt
- Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy
- Sadness, hopelessness
- Learned helplessness
- Despair, ambivalence
- Disconnection, numbness
Physical Effects of Trauma
- Physical responses to Increased stress levels - ulcers, intestinal problems, lower backaches, stiff neck, tight jaw, chronic headaches, general aches and pains, general muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Eating disturbances
- Heightened startle response
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reactionary cycle of fight, flight, freeze
Psychological Effects of Trauma
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of motivation
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
Relational Effects of Trauma
- Hypervigilance to betrayal
- Inability to trust relational intuition
- Loss of hope for intimacy
- Distrust of vulnerability
- Sexual dysfunction, addiction
- Isolating and withdrawing from others
If you are experiencing some of these common reactions to trauma, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You don't have to live with PTSD symptoms or be held back by what happened to you.
Counseling Can Help
The good news is that EMDR can help. Our skilled, caring therapists use a very effective intervention in our counseling sessions called EMDR. We have seen EMDR help countless people find healing and wholeness again. You don't have to go through this alone. Trauma counseling, and EMDR specifically, can help you overcome your trauma and PTSD symptoms so you can get back to living your life.
What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR is a therapeutic approach that recognizes that this lasting negative impact does not mean you are damaged. Instead, it simply means that the experience is stored in the wrong form of memory, leaving you stuck and unable to move forward in an integrated and healthy way. Through EMDR, you can feel at peace with the past, empowered in the present, and able to make more desirable choices for the future. After a successful course of EMDR therapy, you can remember the trauma without being emotionally or physically triggered by it.
For a more detailed description of the eight phases of EMDR therapy, read our article here.
Begin EMDR Therapy for Trauma
You can find healing from the trauma of your past. Follow these steps to begin your therapeutic journey:
How Long Does EMDR THerapy Take?
Trauma work is not a quick fix. While EMDR therapy works faster than standard talk therapy for trauma, it is difficult to estimate when each individual will find relief or full healing from a trauma. The factors that influenced how trauma affected you also impact how long EMDR will take. Single incident traumas resolve much sooner than complex or repeated traumas. A successful course of EMDR therapy involves all eight phases (described in detail here), and there are times when preparing for EMDR will go quickly and other times when we have to spend a longer amount of time preparing you to process trauma effectively.
EMDR therapy sessions are held weekly and last 75 or 90 minutes, compared to the 45 or 60 minute standard talk therapy session. This increase better maximizes our time together and has shown to be more effective in resolving trauma, allowing you to experience quicker relief in a shorter amount of time.
What Else Does EMDR Therapy Treat?
In addition to trauma, EMDR therapy can bring relief to individuals dealing with -
feelings of inadequacy
Where Can I Learn More About EMDR?
EMDR is recognized world-wide
EMDR is recognized as an effective form of trauma treatment by the American Psychiatric Association, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the World Health Organization. In short, we use EMDR in our counseling practice, because it works. If you are looking for help getting "unstuck," resolving past trauma and reducing symptoms of anxiety, EMDR therapy is the way to go.
Other Services offered at Willow Counseling
Counseling for trauma often involves multiple approaches towards healing. Willow Counseling in Nashville, TN offers therapy for anxiety and therapy for compassion fatigue. We also offer group therapy services. Contact our office to learn more. You don't have to stay stuck. Willow Counseling can help you find healing and be rooted, be strong and be free from the things that have held you back.