Therapy for Trauma
Trauma is exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal including actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence to you or someone else. Trauma is not uncommon; 60% to 70% of people will experience a traumatic event sometime during their lifetime: physical or sexual abuse or assault, severe neglect, a violent act, a serious accident, domestic violence, a fire, a natural disaster such as an earthquake, a major catastrophic event such as a plane crash or terrorist act, an industrial accident, an experience of war as a combatant or civilian victim, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or undergoing an invasive medical procedure, being a first responder, or sometimes experiencing the sudden death of a loved one.
Most people experience some symptoms of traumatic stress in the first month after the event. But despite the severity of these experiences, most people can recover from trauma over time with the love and support of family and friends. About 10% of women and 4% of men, however, develop lasting trauma, and live with symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD has three major kinds of symptoms: re-experiencing symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares; avoidance of places, people, sights and sounds associated with the trauma, as well as emotional numbing and withdrawal; hyperarousal symptoms such as intense anxiety when exposed to trauma-similar cues, hyperstartle reflexes, or extreme irritability. Frequently there is also depression, cognitive and memory difficulties, substance abuse, or self-harming behaviors. Early intervention after a trauma can minimize the development of symptoms. If symptoms persist, however, they are debilitating, and treatment requires a knowledgeable and experienced clinician.
Medications can be of help, but research has shown psychotherapy to be most effective in treating trauma. In addition to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, EMDR has been found especially helpful, a gentle but powerful way to find relief. Traumatic memories are not normally processed into the past; they remain in the brain’s “fight or flight center.” EMDR is thought to help the brain reprocess such trapped memories, as well as the beliefs and feelings associated with them, so that they no longer haunt the present. For a more detailed explanation of EMDR, you can talk with me or visit EMDR Institute, Inc. at emdr.com.