Your Trauma Treatment Toolbox
Updated: Jul 24
According to the American Psychological Association, acute trauma is an emotional response to a perceived life-threatening event like a physical or sexual assault, traumatic grief, or natural disaster. Chronic trauma is defined when we experience multiple exposures to traumatic events. These events are more persistent, such as abuse or profound neglect. Complex trauma is exposure to varied and numerous traumatic events, such as childhood trauma coupled with a sexual assault later in life.
There are three main categories of traumas: Interpersonal trauma: For example, a sexual assault, profound loss of a loved one, or even historical trauma such as the residential school experiences of Canada's indigenous population.
External trauma: Which includes military combat, natural disasters, accidents, etc.
Developmental trauma: This relates to child abuse and neglect or witnessing violence in the home.
Traumatic events happen to all people of all ages and across all backgrounds. Regardless of its source(s), traumatic events are often beyond a person’s control, which often causes feelings of shame due to the powerlessness they produce. These feelings can lead to secrecy, which furthers the experience of shame.
A traumatic event generally contains three common elements: 1. It was unexpected
2. The person was unprepared
3. There was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening
Because the event or events were so terrible, it is common for the subconscious to block the traumatic experience from their memory - an evolved survival mechanism. Over time, this lack of processing means that the individual may feel as if the trauma just happened yesterday when it could have been months or years since.
Trauma can continue to impact a person for a lifetime if left untreated, leading to feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Studies have shown that adults who experience childhood trauma are more likely to struggle with controlling emotions and have heightened anxiety, depression, and anger. Those exposed to repeated trauma may develop a heightened stress response, impacting their ability to regulate their emotions. Besides the emotional effects of trauma, it can also cause lead to:
· Physical health problems
· Neurobiological issues
· Relationship difficulties
· Behavioural concerns
· Cognitive function
· Disordered Eating
THE TIMELINE OF TRAUMA
Traumatic events follow similar patterns.
Initially, the trauma itself needs to be navigated by our conscious and subconscious; a perceived life-threatening event is occurring, and our survival instincts kick in as well as any specialized training we may have. These instincts include activating our fight, flight, freeze, or fold response - the stress response. It can be said individuals are actively experiencing Traumatic Stress.
Post Traumatic Stress
Once the situation has been resolved, we enter the post-traumatic state. This state is when the conscious and the subconscious try to navigate and work through the trauma and the associated (likely strong) emotions trying to understand them or make sense of them. Often the related emotions become deemed a threat and get suppressed/repressed/avoided. If an individual has difficulties processing their trauma and emotions, continued triggering can cause a sort of feedback loop. This loop keeps the individual stuck in the traumatic state, physically reliving the trauma in their bodies, known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This state is when individuals continuously respond as if the trauma is regularly occurring. Physical, sensual, or other triggers can reactivate the body's reaction to the original trauma. The individual may be in a continuous hypervigilant or hypoactive (depressed) state. Sleep difficulties often surface in those who have PTSD. Individuals may be stuck in PTSD indefinity, often with increasing levels of distress, until the event can be processed satisfactorily.
Post Traumatic Growth
The growth stage is the resolution of the original traumatic memory. Working with skilled psychotherapists, individuals can safely experience complex emotions and process them. When this occurs, and the emotions are allowed to be expressed, one often feels a sense of release or calm. The traumatic memory and subsequent procession (or reprocessing) become resilience and become a type of strength, improving an individual's ability to deal with future traumas while ceasing the triggering effects.
Treating Trauma - Your TOOLBOX
As humans, we are remarkably resilient. You have the skills you need to heal and recover. There are many skilled clinicians and evidence-based therapies that can help you along your healing journey.
CBT & DBT
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of talk therapy that works on changing dysfunctional behaviours, thoughts, and emotions by disentangling negative or irrational beliefs. CBT focuses on reframing a person's cognitive process through attitudes and behaviours, identifying harmful thoughts, and overcoming their emotional distress.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy focuses on providing individuals with the skills necessary to manage painful emotions and establish healthy relationships. DBT focuses on four main skill sets: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy focuses on diminishing negative emotions associated with memories of traumatic events, using rapid sets of eye movement. EDMR uses bilateral stimulation to organize negative and positive emotions, feelings, and thoughts to update hurtful memories and integrate new perspectives into the present day.
Internal Family Systems therapy is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, which believes the mind is comprised of several different parts. As the name suggests, IFS approaches these parts as a family unit, pulling from various elements of structural, strategic, narrative, and Bowenian family therapy practices.
Researchers have noted that trauma is stored in somatic memory and expressed as changes in the biological stress response. ISTDP is a form of somatic therapy that can be an excellent treatment for complex trauma.
Trauma Informed Care
Organizations that practice trauma informed care understand the psychological, neurological, biological, social, and spiritual impact that trauma can have. It is not about focusing on what is wrong with you or what happened to you, but more so on what your strengths are and what is right with you, and how you can use these things to heal.
Having an awareness of how trauma impacts people is essential to the healing process. Subsequently, if you are looking for a trauma informed approach, call Nomina and talk to us about our core program and a specialized trauma treatment plan.
Healing Centred Engagement (HCE)
At Nōmina, we take dealing with trauma a step further by not simply acknowledging that trauma may be occurring and understanding its psychological and physiological impacts. From an HCE lens, we are able to see the strengths that have existed that have allowed us to live to this point. All those dealing with trauma are doing the best they can with the tools they have, and these skills are to be acknowledged and reinforced/bolstered. We acknowledge that the trauma did not happen in isolation, so the healing must in turn utilize external supports to help us work through whatever it is we are dealing with.
In essence, when providing treatment for trauma, we are focusing on the strengths rather than the notion that individuals with trauma are somehow diminished by the experience. This perspective allows individuals to move more quickly to the post-traumatic growth portion of this model rather than focusing on the trauma and the traumatic effects.