Trauma & PTSD


Trauma and Its Effects

Trauma occurs as a result of painful experience(s) that destroy a person’s sense of safety and security, leaving them to feel helpless and vulnerable in a world that seems dangerous. It is a NORMAL reaction to ABNORMAL events. When most people think of trauma they think of experiences like war, rape, childhood abuse, and other experiences that threaten life or safety. However, what we now know is that it’s not really the objective facts of the experience that determine whether or not a person is traumatized from an event, but rather their emotional experience of the event. The more scared and helpless a person feels, the more likely they are to be traumatized. This is one of the many reasons why childhood trauma can be so devastating. Children, by the very nature of their developmental stage, are helpless and more easily frightened by surprising events.

Events are more likely to lead to trauma responses when:

  • The event happened unexpectedly (shock) and the person was not prepared for it.
  • The person felt powerless to prevent it
  • It happened repeatedly
  • The perpetrator was intentionally cruel
  • It happened in childhood.

Most of us recognize that trauma can occur from big events like natural disasters and horrible accidents, but there are many traumatic experiences that go largely unrecognized such as medical procedures. break-up of a relationship, humiliation, betrayal, life threatening illness, and chronic medical conditions. Most people have experienced some trauma in their lives. Because trauma deeply affects our lives in unconscious ways, counseling for trauma is usually a component present in all counseling sessions.

Unprocessed trauma typically has a wide range of effects – it affects how we show up at work, in relationship, and in our bodies. It affects our beliefs about the world and the people in it (e.g. the world is an unsafe place to be, people always seem to hurt me). It is often a root cause that underlies many of the reasons people come to see me.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

We say that a person is suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a trauma-based anxiety disorder, when the person continues to suffer from the symptoms of trauma for longer than one month. Some of those symptoms including dissociation, panic, fears and phobias, avoidance of people or situations that remind the person of the traumatic event(s), a sense of reliving the traumatic event(s), and difficulty experiencing positive feelings. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, but for those who do, it can be extremely distressing and quite debilitating.