Need to Know: Trauma and PTSD

The word trauma is derived from the Greek word meaning “wound” or “damage”.  It generally refers to an injury to the body, an emotional or psychological injury or to an event that causes great distress.

A person can be the direct/primary victim of a trauma (being assaulted, being in a disaster) or the indirect/secondary victim of a trauma (witnessing an assault, watching television coverage of a bombing, etc.)

People experiencing trauma are at risk for developing: PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, substance abuse and physical illness, especially hypertension and asthma.

25% of trauma survivors will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 50% of PTSD patients will recover over time.  50% of PTSD patients will need professional treatment.

PTSD, the 4th most common psychiatric disorder, first appeared in DSM III in 1980 when Vietnam vets were returning home with severe problems persisting long after the war. PTSD symptoms persist for at least 1 month after the person has experienced the trauma. Symptoms can include distressing recollection and images of the trauma through dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks. Other symptoms include dissociation, hyper-vigilance, hyper-arousal, feeling numb, estranged or detached, memory blocks of the trauma and heightened startle response.

Sometimes traumas, particularly childhood and betrayal traumas, can be repressed, minimized, denied, rationalized, and otherwise tucked away.  The psychological impact of these traumas can then be expressed in a variety of symptoms years after the trauma.  The trauma victim may develop unhealthy coping measures to keep the memory of the trauma suppressed.

Trauma can cause thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event which may then impact the person’s life in general. These thought and feelings are specifically:

-confusion (why did this happen, will it stop, what should I do, etc.)

-fear           (extremely fearful and cautious, fear of being damaged further, etc.)

-anger        (at self, at others for not protecting, at the source of the trauma)

-guilt           (who is to blame, self, others)

-shame        (feeling damaged, different, judged by others, etc.)

-trust           (lack of trust in self and others, paranoid)

There are effective psychotherapeutic treatments for the resolution of trauma.  One approach, “trauma focused-cognitive-behavioral therapy includes the following strategies:

P   psycho-educational work about all aspects of trauma

R   relaxation techniques

A   affect regulation and expression

C   cognitive coping and processing of the trauma

T   trauma narrative

I    in vivo exposure

C   conjoint sessions with loved ones

E   education about personal safety and growth


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