Trauma and PTSD:
Trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. It is important to note that trauma is subjective to the person, meaning what may be traumatic for one person, may not necessarily be traumatic for another. This can include many things, but some examples could include being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also include experiences that are severely detrimental to a person, such as rape, physical and/or emotional abuse, neglect, or one's life being threatened.
As stated before, everyone processes a traumatic event differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. For example, one person might have witnessed a car accident and find themselves very anxious to the point of having a panic attack, while another person can witness the same exact car accident and be able to go about their day without any issue. This is because everyone has different emotional thresholds. However, anytime an individual's emotional threshold is overwhelmed, it may bring up traumatic flashbacks or nightmares of their experience.
Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma. Among them are complex trauma, acute stress disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to an article written by Dr. Courtois who is a psychologist and trauma expert, complex trauma can be defined as:
Acute Stress Disorder:
The DSM-5 describes acute stress disorder as the development of specific fear behaviors that last from 3 days to 1 month after a traumatic event. These symptoms always occur after the patient has experienced or witnessed death or threat of death, serious injury or sexual assault. Examples of traumatic events from the DSM-5 include physical attack, physical abuse, mugging, active combat, sexual violence, natural disaster and serious accidents. Individuals with acute stress disorder experience intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event. Distressing dreams about the trauma and general sleep disturbances are also common. The patient may also experience flashbacks or distress when exposed to triggers of the traumatic event. Conversely, the patient may “block out” or be unable to remember parts or the entire traumatic event. Many patients avoid external reminders, such as places or people related to the traumatic event. In addition to these intrusive symptoms, patients experience a negative mood. They may feel depressed, anxious, angry or guilty and unable to feel happy. Additionally, the patient may have unrealistic feelings or beliefs about the event. For example, believing that a plane crash could have been prevented had the patient done something differently. Hypervigilance, problems with concentration and exaggerated startle response are also common. The DSM-5 explains that physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light or sound may occur, even without injury.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
The DSM-5 describes PTSD as being exposed to one or more event(s) that involved death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or threatened sexual violation. In addition, these events were experienced in one or more of the following ways:
In addition to the above, the individual experiences at least one of the following intrusive symptoms associated with the traumatic event:
The individual also experiences at least two of the following negative changes in thoughts and mood that occurred or worsened following the experience of the traumatic event:
The individual also exhibits at least two of the following changes in arousal that started or worsened following the experience of a traumatic event:
Finally, the above symptoms last for more than one month, and bring about considerable distress and/or interfere greatly with a number of different areas of your life and are not due to a medical condition or some form of substance use.
We have a passion for helping clients work through trauma, no matter if it meets criteria for an actual diagnosis of acute stress disorder or PTSD or if it is just a single event that is keeping an individual stuck. We treat trauma based on the individual and work from a multitude of modalities, which we identify through our thorough assessment process and is very dependent on the individual. Some of the main modalities that we utilize to treat trauma, including EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), narrative therapy, exposure therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy/cognitive processing therapy.