What is Trauma and Do You Need Trauma Therapy?
The word “trauma” is used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally distressing, too overwhelming for someone to cope with, and create a feeling of powerlessness. Trauma can occur frequently and become part of the common human experience, but counselling through EMDR therapy can help relieve this distress.
Causes of Trauma
While some causes of trauma are easily recognizable, others are less so. Trauma can stem from a variety of incidents, including:
- Falls or sports injuries
- Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life)
- Sudden death of someone close
- Car accident
- Breakup or end of a significant relationship
- Humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
- Discovery of life-threatening illness or disabling condition
- Learning about an affair or betrayal
Everyone experiences trauma differently, but there are some key symptoms to watch out for.
Hyper-arousal is when the traumatized person’s physiology is in high gear. It’s been assaulted by the psychological impact of what happened and is unable to reset. Symptoms of hyper-arousal include:
- Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
- Being easily startled
- Hyper vigilance (being hyper-alert to danger)
- Racing thoughts
- Pounding heart
- Shallow breath
Constriction happens when the body tightens up and is unable to fight or flee.
Disassociation occurs when there is a separation of awareness from physical reality. It’s a means of experiencing moments that are not endurable. Woody Allen perhaps said it best: “I am not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there.”
Denial is a disconnection between the person and the event. It’s often accompanied by feelings of helplessness and complete immobilization.
The Trauma Response
People experience a wide range of normal responses after a trauma. It’s not uncommon for people who witnessed or heard about the incident to also experience trauma reactions. These reactions tend to be triggered by people, places, or things associated with the trauma, though some may appear totally unrelated.
Common normal reactions to abnormal events
- Aches and pains including headaches, backaches, and stomachaches
- Sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations (fluttering)
- Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex
- Problems with constipation or diarrhea
- Easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
- More susceptible to colds and illnesses
- Shock and disbelief
- Fear and/or anxiety
- Hyper-alertness or hyper vigilance
- Irritability and/or restlessness
- Outbursts of anger or rage
- Emotional swings like crying and then laughing
- Worrying or ruminating
- Intrusive thoughts of the trauma
- Nightmares and/or flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening now)
- Feelings of helplessness, panic, or feeling out of control
- Increased need to control everyday experiences
- Minimizing the experience
- Attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
- Tendency to isolate oneself
- Feelings of detachment
- Concern over burdening others with problems
- Emotional numbing
- Restricted range of feelings
- Difficulty trusting and/or feelings of betrayal
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating
- Feelings of self-blame, survivor guilt, and/or shame
- Diminished interest in everyday activities
- Resurfacing of unpleasant past memories
- Loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world
- Expectation of doom
Helpful Coping Strategies
Mobilize your support system
- Reach out and connect with others, especially with those who may have shared the stressful event
- Talk openly about the traumatic experience and let yourself experience whatever emotions come up
Engage in physical activity for stress release
- Hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, cycling, and walking can help relieve stress
- Relaxation exercises such as yoga, stretching, massage, humor, prayer and/or meditation, hot baths, music, and art will help relax you
Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle
- Avoid caffeine, sugar, and nicotine as they can hinder recovery
- Eat foods with tryptophan, including warm turkey, boiled onions, baked potatoes, and cream-based soups
Commit and connect
- Committing to something that has real meaning for you can help redirect your focus
- Hugging releases endogenous opioids, so hug the people you love!
- Write about your experience in detail, either for yourself or to share with others
People are often surprised to learn that trauma recovery lasts longer than expected; it may take weeks, months, and in some cases even years to regain equilibrium. Many people will get through this period on their own or with the support of family and friends. But too often, friends and family push the trauma victim to “get over it” before they’re ready, sometimes even encouraging the victim to feel sorry for or try to understand the perpetrator. Remind your loved ones that these responses are not helpful for recovery. Individual, group, or family counselling can help with this trying time. Remember: the key word is ATTACHMENT. Ask for help, support, understanding, and look for opportunities to talk.
EMDR Trauma Therapy: What to Expect & How It Works
What is an EMDR session like? The client and therapist initially work together to collect basic information about the traumatic experience, including identifying the most disturbing part of the incident. This becomes the processing target.
Using a scale of 1-7, the client is then asked to rate how true a positive belief feels when paired with the target. Its not uncommon for clients to say it does not feel true at this point.
- E.g. “It’s over and I can now move on with my life”
We ask the client to name the emotions the target elicits rating the associated distress level on a scale of 0-10 and locating the disturbance in the body.
- E.g. Fear and shame with disturbance level 4 in the belly and chest
The client then holds an awareness of the target, the negative belief, and the disturbing body sensations. At the same time, the therapist instructs the client to move his or her eyes back and forth rapidly. This is done in sets, which may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. During each set, the client is instructed to notice any changes that occur in mind and body, without controlling the experience in any way. There is often an increase in the disturbance level during the first few sets. With each new set, the target tends to become less and less disturbed, and the positive belief feels more and more true.
The target is completely processed when recall of the image no longer brings up disturbing emotions and the positive belief feels totally true.
- E.g.: Client recalls that the rapist’s face was threatening, but does not feel threatened by the image anymore.
EMDR is the most researched treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Learn About The Science Behind EMDR
Learn more about first-hand experiences with EMDR
Contact Melody to learn more about how EMDR therapy can help manage PTSD
Melody would love to have a quick chat with you about how counselling through EMDR can improve your life. Call her at (403) 808 9124 and begin your journey to recovery today.