Lynn suddenly lost their father in a car accident. Kim was sexually abused multiple times at age 12 by a neighbor. While walking across her college campus, Veronica heard someone yell a racial slur at her as they passed her in the courtyard. James was working in his accounting office when a shooter entered and shot 6 of his office mates. Jessie’s high school romantic partner yelled at her, belittled her, and called her names almost daily during the 2 years they dated.
Disturbing events are a part of every person’s life to some extent. Although suffering is a common part of the human experience, the lived experiences of trauma vary widely and touch individuals in different ways. I am often asked questions about trauma and the healing journey. I hope to shed some light on these topics and empower others to advocate for themselves as they seek support.
In a given year, 12 million US adults have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
5 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men experience a traumatic event during their lifetime
8 in 100 women and 4 in 100 men who have experienced trauma will develop PTSD
Women are more likely than men to be neglected in childhood or experience domestic violence
How is trauma defined?
The National Center for PTSD defines trauma as “a shocking and dangerous event that you see or that happens to you.” The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conceptualizes individual trauma as: “…an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” The latter definition encompasses a broad range of experiences, with an emphasis on the way in which an individual experiences an event or stressor and the negative impact on various areas of the individual’s inner and outer worlds. In other words, trauma is not only defined by the nature of the event, but also the individual’s narrative of the event and the impairment experienced in the days, months, and years to follow.
"Trauma is not only defined by the nature of the event, but also the individual’s narrative of the event and the impairment experienced in the days, months, and years to follow".
Why do other people who had similar experiences to mine seem to be doing okay?
While it is tempting to compare ourselves to others as we try to make sense of our experiences, no one else has walked in our shoes. After a disturbing event, people may develop a unique internal narrative of the experience and what it means. For example, two people on the same airplane that made an unexpected emergency landing did experience the same core event. However, one person may label and interpret the incident as “I will never be safe on a plane” while someone else may think “That was scary, but I’m glad we landed safely.” Numerous factors could influence our response, such as: coping skills and access to resources, pre-existing mental health challenges, social and familial supports, and cultural influences.
Keep in mind that trauma is not always one single event (acute), but can also be repeated and sustained over a period of time (chronic). Furthermore, traumatic events happen to groups of people or entire communities.
If I have experienced trauma do I have PTSD?
Most people who experience a traumatic event do not develop PTSD- a mental health disorder with a specific set of criteria necessary to receive this diagnosis from a mental health professional. However, a person may still experience adverse effects of the traumatic experience. Among these effects may be anxiety, depression, relationship challenges, difficulty at work, poor sense of self, difficulty setting healthy boundaries, negative self-talk, challenges with sex and intimacy, and difficulty making/maintaining friendships.
How do I begin the healing process?
Seeking the support of trusted friends, family, or other allies can be helpful in managing feelings of isolation, fear, and sadness. A mental health professional can also provide support in understanding trauma, connecting you with additional resources, regaining a healthier sense of self, building coping skills, and processing the trauma itself. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
How do I go about choosing a therapist?
While finding a clinician that you feel comfortable with can be daunting, I believe the therapeutic relationship is a vital component of healing work. Searching for therapists who identify trauma treatment as a specialty area may facilitate this process. In my own work with clients, I place emphasis on collaboration and transparency- partnering with clients in planning their treatment and openly communicating about the therapy process and the client’s progress. People who experience traumatic events often report feelings of powerlessness, thus approaching the therapy relationship in this way supports the client’s ability to reclaim power. Mutual trust and respect between client and therapist are also necessary. A trauma survivor is processing the worst moments of their lives, and a sense of acceptance and safety in the therapy environment is key to trauma work.
Although I use specific modalities for trauma work (including EMDR), each client is unique and I tend to adapt the therapy process to fit the client, rather than trying to make the client fit the therapy process. If you are looking for a therapist, consider asking for a quick phone consultation with the clinician before scheduling an appointment so that you can get a sense of their approach and professional philosophies related to trauma work, and whether that approach aligns with your needs and preferences.
If you or someone you know is interested in scheduling an appointment with me or another therapist here at H&S, you can contact us at 407-308-0345.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: https://www.nctsn.org
National Center for PTSD: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://nami.org/home