Therapy for Trauma
By: Karla Heredia, PsyD, LMFT
Have you experienced a traumatic life event? Do painful reminders of the past bring back intense feelings of fear, anger, or sadness? Are you hoping to regain your sense of safety and joy?
What is trauma?
The word “trauma” actually originates from the ancient Greeks who used it to mean “wound” or “injury.”
When we experience a physical wound, the body tries to heal and recover on its own. Sometimes, the healing process works the way it should, and the body recovers. But sometimes, the wound continues to hurt or gets worse, thus requiring professional intervention.
The same is true when it comes to psychological wounds. When we experience something traumatic, the mind and body become flooded with painful emotions. We aren’t used to experiencing traumatic events, and so we do our best to make sense of what happened and heal on our own.
See, traumatic experiences happen to people all the time. Some of the most common causes of trauma include:
- Near-death experiences
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Vehicular accidents
- Death of a loved one
- Childhood abuse or neglect
- Military combat
Sometimes, because we are hardwired for connection, we can even be traumatized by witnessing a traumatic event happen to someone else.
Trauma is, unfortunately, a common experience. Some people are able to make a full recovery on their own, while others will continue to suffer the pain of the psychological wound for weeks, months, even years after the event – and that’s when we call it posttraumatic stress.
Some warning signs of posttraumatic stress include:
•Use of drugs or alcohol to numb how you feel
•Avoiding certain situations or people
•Trying not to think about what happened
•Constantly alert or cautious
•Always on guard, tense, or worried
•Difficulty relaxing or sleeping
•Feeling tense in certain situations
•Reliving traumatic sights, sounds, and/or sensations
•Nightmares or night terrors
•Easily reminded of the traumatic event(s)
•Feeling down, irritable, or sad
•Loss of hope or purpose
•Difficulty connecting with others
•Loss of motivation
When these symptoms begin to interfere with your ability to work, play, or love, a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) is given. If you or a loved one survived a traumatic event and have been experiencing posttraumatic stress, there is hope. The symptoms of posttraumatic stress are very treatable through the support and care of a trauma therapist.
Therapy for trauma is designed to help you in three ways.
First, therapy provides a safe, confidential space where you can talk about what happened, work through the pain of the past, and feel supported along the way. Survivors of trauma often feel a need to keep their pain away from family members and friends, which means they try to conceal or avoid talking about their experience. Therapists can help you open up and share the burden of your trauma without fear of overwhelming others.
Second, therapy for trauma offers a chance to make sense of your experience and process difficult emotions. Reminders of the trauma also called triggers, will bring back painful moments of re-experiencing (flashbacks) where thoughts, feelings, and sensations resurface. Therapists can help you process and become less sensitive to triggers so that these episodes are less severe and happen less often.
And third, therapists can train you to effectively cope with the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Therapy for trauma is hard work, as talking and thinking about past experiences can sometimes bring up difficult emotions. You can learn to practice grounding and calming techniques, use strategic self-care and regain a sense of confidence as you move closer towards wellness.
As you make progress in therapy for trauma, you can:
– Process and move forward from the past
– Understand your thoughts and emotions
– Learn self-compassion and acceptance
– Reconnect with yourself and others
– Be active and have energy
– Establish a personal sense of safety
– Rediscover your sense of purpose and direction
If you or a loved one are struggling, let us help. We believe that everyone deserves a chance to be well and have a meaningful life – including you! Contact us today to get started.
Written by: Dr. Karla Heredia, PsyD, LMFT