What is trauma? Trauma may occur in a variety of ways, such as natural disasters, terrorism, abuse, neglect, accidents, illnesses, crime, and multiple losses of life within a short time period. When trauma occurs, individuals typically experience similar reactions to the loss of a loved one. Oftentimes, the response is shock, disbelief, and denial. Possibly, immediately, or sometime after, people may experience intense feelings of fear, sadness, anger, guilt, shame, and hopeful/hopelessness. These feelings may be accompanied by memories, images, and thoughts related to the event. As in the loss of a loved one, eventually, individuals grieve the losses related to the trauma and begin to recover over time.
In contrast, for others following trauma, symptoms may develop that become problematic, such as reliving the events, fears/phobias to reminders of the event, flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and being always on alert. There may be changes in how survivors view the world as unsafe and may develop trust issues. They may find themselves behaving in ways that are unfamiliar and odd. These symptoms indicate possible Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is similar to war veterans responding to a television news helicopter flying overhead as though the vet is on the battlefield and trying to take cover.
Another type of response to trauma is called dissociation, which comes in various forms, such as lapses in memory, not feeling real, having an out of body experience, dulling of sensory experiences, feeling emotionally/physically numb, and in extreme cases developing other identities.
Colin A. Ross, MD. refers to PTSD and dissociative symptoms as “a normal response to an abnormal situation.” When trauma survivors experience PTSD and dissociative symptoms, they tend to feel out of control and fear never being functional again.
There is hope. Through treatment with a trauma specialist, survivors can attain a new normal. Trauma treatment helps survivors learn how to cope, to appropriately express emotions (grieve), change thoughts/beliefs/behaviors, integrate the traumatic material, and move forward in their lives. There are evidence based interventions for the treatment of trauma, which made a difference in many survivors’ lives. Help is available.
National Institute of Health PTSD: https://search.nih.gov/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&affiliate=nih&query=ptsd
International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation: https://www.isst-d.org/default.asp General information and “Find a therapist.”
American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/ 1-800-799-7233
American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/index.aspx Help center offers information on trauma and “Find a Psychologist”
Texas Psychological Association: http://www.texaspsyc.org/ “Find a Psychologist”
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ Find a therapist by zip code/city
Texas Abuse Hotline: 1-800-252-5400 Report known or suspected abuse of a child, elderly, or disabled person.