What Is Trauma?

Trauma is a distressing, emotionally upsetting experience. A traumatic event is an adverse life experience. It can be something that happened to you, something you saw happen to someone else, or seeing the aftereffects of a horrible or violent event (for example, as a first responder).

War/combat, natural disasters, or violent crimes can be traumatic. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse as a child or an adult can be traumatic.

While we tend to think of trauma as these dramatic, shocking, or overwhelming events, increasingly we understand that the fairly common situations that arise as we navigate the unpredictable challenges of life – a humiliation during childhood; failure or rejection in adolescence; a divorce or tough break-up; betrayal by a family member or close friend – can also be traumatic.

From car accidents to combat to sexual assault, trauma has many forms and can impact our mental health long after a painful event has passed. Therapy or counseling can help make sense of these experiences and assist your development of new skills to heal old wounds.

What Is PTSD?

After a traumatic experience, it is normal to have difficulty sleeping; feel on edge, sad, anxious, or numb; or have upsetting memories. It may also be hard to go about your typical daily activities like going to school or work or socializing with family or friends. Some people gradually begin to feel better after a few weeks. Others need more time. And for some, the memories, negative thoughts and feelings, and edginess and anxiety don’t seem to go away. The pain continues long after the experience itself has passed. If you’ve experienced a life-threatening event and thoughts and feelings about that event continue to upset you or cause problems in your life, you may have PTSD.

What Does PTSD Look Like?

If you’ve experienced a trauma, you may relive it through bothersome memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. These unwelcome thoughts can be upsetting or scary. As a result, you may avoid people, places, or situations that remind you of the event. Or, you may stay busy so you don’t have to think or talk about what happened. You may find yourself experiencing more negative thoughts and feelings than you did before the trauma. You may spend less time with family or friends. You may find less fulfillment in activities you previously enjoyed. Trouble sleeping, excessive irritability, acting aggressively, arguing needlessly, or scanning your environment for possible threats are signs of posttraumatic stress. Anxietydepression, and thoughts of suicide are also associated with PTSD.

These videos, produced by the National Center for PTSD, can be helpful in better understanding PTSD and available evidence-based, trauma-focused treatments.


How Can Therapy Help Me?

If you are bothered by memories of old experiences – ranging from an upsetting comment or interaction during childhood to an overwhelming or life-threatening event – it can be useful to participate in therapy or counseling. It may be tempting to tell yourself your difficulties will eventually improve, but without such intervention these concerns usually don’t go away.

When harsh thoughts and tough feelings about a past event seem like they have a grip on your life – causing problems in your relationships, at school or work – the help of a skilled, experienced psychologist, therapist, or counselor able to deliver evidence-based trauma/PTSD treatments is likely to be beneficial. This type of treatment can help you start to make sense of your experiences and feelings and build more effective coping strategies. Importantly, you don’t have to be diagnosed with PTSD to benefit from trauma-focused therapy. A life ruled by past experiences costs you vitality and engagement.

As an experienced psychologist specializing in the treatment of PTSD and trauma, I have years of experience with all three evidence-based, gold-standard treatments for trauma/PTSD – EMDRPE, and CPT.

If you have experienced trauma, are struggling with its after-effects, and are interested in getting the past out of your present to clear the way for a richer, more fulfilling future, I invite you to call or email me to get started working together.