With growing research in the field of trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we are seeing more clearly now than ever before that trauma does not just occur for the war-time veteran. In order to understand how broadly it impacts society at large, we first need to know what it is. Trauma is a deeply disturbing or distressing event that occurs to an individual. It can occur in a one-time instance, or across multiple repeated instances, or a combination of various instances that create a sort of chronic traumatic exposure series.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can occur when a person is exposed to an ACTUAL traumatic event, or even a threatened traumatic event. It can also occur by personally experiencing this event, or by witnessing events as they occur to others (hello secondary trauma). Now that we know the definitions we know that PTSD can occur to more than just a combat veteran. PTSD can happen for sexual assault victims, verbal abuse victims, witnesses to domestic violence, individuals jumping from foster home to foster home, individuals in major car accidents/crashes/injuries/etc, and a variety of other disturbing and distressing events.
A common misconception about trauma and the way it impacts the individual, is that many believe it only affects the way an individual “thinks” about a certain circumstance. Trauma does not just impact the way an individual “thinks” about something. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain, and body.” Our minds are not the only thing with “memories” of this traumatic event. In Bessel’s book “The Body Keeps the Score,” he discusses the idea that trauma results in an intrinsic rewiring of the way our minds, brains, and bodies manage perceptions of the world around us.
Your mind remembers specifics of maybe verbal usage during traumatic event, or specific sights or details about time and place; but your body may remember things such as feelings of temperature, touch, or impulses sent by the nervous system. What your body remembers sometimes can trigger thoughts that were not expected, thus creating “trauma reminders.” Talking through our traumas can be extremely beneficial, but for real change to take place according to Bessel, “the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”
There are a variety of tools and therapy modalities out there to treat the impacts of trauma. There is not one specific modality fit to treat every single person who has experienced the impacts of trauma because every BODY is different. Literally. Every person will respond differently to differing degrees of traumatic exposure heavily due in part to the amount of protective factors a person receives throughout childhood and beyond. Finding the right treatment modality for you might be difficult, but it is important to work with a therapist or counselor who is able to sift through it with you. We will post future blogs about a few trauma-treatment techniques that may be helpful for you, or at least give a guideline of somewhere to start the process.
About the author: Buffy Andrews is a mental health counselor in Wilmington, NC who uses her 8 years of experience in the field to support people on their path to wellness. Her clinical specialties include Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral therapy and other modalities. She is also a registered yoga teacher (RYT200) which helps her incorporate mind/body techniques and promote mindfulness for people in all walks of life. You can reach out to Buffy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text her at 910-200-6825.