What is Trauma?
Simply put, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing event or experience and/or physical injury that affects you on a physical, medical, emotional or developmental level.
There are many kinds of trauma including:
• Emotional trauma from violence, work, relationship, divorce or loss of a loved one or pet etc.
• Developmental or relational trauma from childhood neglect, abandonment or betrayal etc.
• Physical trauma from a car accident, sporting accidents, or a fall etc.
• Medical trauma from surgery, chronic or life-threatening illness etc.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a life-threat or from the accumulation of stress over time; thus, becoming “more than the mind can bear.” Whatever the type, stress can affect a person’s ability to function in everyday life.
Symptoms of Trauma
The onset of symptoms of traumatization may occur immediately following an event or effects may materialize even weeks or years later. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress are usually not one factor on its own, but instead consist of combined elements of:
• Anxiety and/or panic
• Irritability, anger or feelings of uncontrollable rage
• Depression, emotional numbing, or fatigue
• A sense of detachment both from oneself and others
• Loss of motivation, joy and interest in one’s life
• Intrusive thoughts about the event or what could have happened
• A sense of hyper vigilance
• Re-experiencing and avoidance
• Intrusive thoughts
• Sleep disturbances
• Vivid nightmares and flashbacks
Who Develops Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms?
It is important to realize that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops chronic post-traumatic symptoms. In fact, most people may feel symptoms for a few weeks or months, and then the symptoms just disappear.
Resilience of PTSD is improved in a safe and supportive environment that allows a person to compartmentalize and make sense of the events. If this is allowed to happen, the trauma becomes a point in time – a part of their history, rather than becoming their present life, which is the case for most people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For people with PTSD, the chronic and debilitating symptoms can cause them to adapt strategies in order to prevent feeling the damaging effects of PTSD. Trying to numb the pain or feel more alive, they use strategies that typically involve self-harm, self-medication with substances and alcohol, suicidability, and high risk behaviours, which in turn act to counter the sense of detachment or feeling dead.
Symptoms of PTSD may be classified as acute (duration of symptoms is less than three months), chronic (duration is three months or more) or delayed onset (onset of symptoms is at least six months after the stressor). For some people, symptoms may not emerge until years later when another trauma or distressing event triggers the original trauma, causing it to return in its full intensity.
Perhaps, the most painful aspects of trauma are the losses it causes:
• loss of a world view
• that the world is a safe and predictable place to be
• the personal loss of a sense of control and efficacy
• a shattered sense of identity
• loss of meaning in life
• a loss of self
Robin Morgan at A Path of Heart Counselling Services has completed a 3 year specialized training program to become a Certified Trauma Therapist. As such, Robin uses Somatic Experiencing Therapy, a body centered therapy approach to help you safely resolve past or current trauma symptoms and to move on to lead a more happy fulfilling life.
How Somatic Experiencing Therapy Helps Resolve Trauma
Basically, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is an efficient method to assess where a person with trauma and/or PTSD is “stuck” in the fight, flight, freeze, or collapse responses, and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. Sessions do not focus primarily on talking about traumatic experiences, but instead clients are educated about how the body regulates stress, and in turn they learn to track, understand and release the related physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and images that arise from traumatic memories.
Central to Dr. Levine Somatic Experiencing theory is the understanding of how animals in the wild rarely remain traumatized, although faced with constant threats to their lives. All mammals automatically regulate survival responses from the primitive, non-verbal brain, mediated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
If threatened, large amounts of energy are activated as an inclination for self-defense via the fight, flight, and freeze responses. When they at last feel safe, animals spontaneously “discharge” this surplus of energy through involuntary movements, like shaking, trembling, and deep spontaneous breaths, and through this process they reset their ANS, and restore their equilibrium.
On the other hand, human beings who are readily traumatized, may remain “stuck” in a fight, flight, freeze, or collapse state. Since humans and other animals possess nearly identical brain- and body-based survival mechanisms, Dr. Levine decided to use the difference between the two to identify what was interfering with the human threat-recovery process, and to also develop a method to re-establish people’s innate capability to recover from a traumatic experience.
Dr. Levine surmised that SE is a system of techniques to support people to recover from traumatic events. In other words, Dr. Levine concluded that the same regulatory process that exists in animals can also exist within humans if they are shown how. Overall, Somatic Experiencing shows humans how to listen to the innate wisdom of their bodies. SE uses education and awareness of your body sensations to act as tools to prevent post-traumatic symptoms like pain, anxiety, anger, depression, intrusive thoughts, and cognitive impairments.
When the nervous system does not reset after a traumatic experience, a person’s, sleep, cardiac, digestion, respiration, and immune system function are typically altered. It is this unsettled physiological distress that can also lead to an assortment of other physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, especially PTSD.
SE Therapy has been shown to be highly effective in helping people be able to access and release the trapped fight, flight or freeze energy in their system and to recover more fully from their trauma. On the whole, SE is a powerful solution to those dealing with PTSD from trauma.