What is Trauma?
Trauma happens when we go through something devastating, overwhelming, and/or terrifying without the chance to process our feelings about experience. These trauma experiences can be a single event, multiple events, or chronic toxic stress that is above and beyond our capacity and resources to cope. Because our mind and body did not process through the emotions, we lock them into our memories and bodies. It is as if our emotions become frozen in the time of trauma. Sometimes the trauma gets trapped in our mind and body enough that we develop what mental health professionals call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" or PTSD. If you're experiencing some of these symptoms, your mind and body are trying to recover and it's the perfect time to reach out and begin trauma therapy.
Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD
Some of the symptoms of trauma and PTSD include:
- Recurrent, intrusive images, thoughts, and perceptions
- Recurrent distressing dreams or nightmares
- Reliving the trauma through flashbacks, hallucination, illusions (e.g., seeing your attacker in a crowd of people)
- Feeling emotionally distressed and physically reactive when you come into contact with people, places, or things that reminds you of the trauma (e.g., news stories, going back to the place where the trauma occurred, etc.)
- Avoiding anything that could remind you of the trauma
- Having trouble remembering parts of the trauma
- Struggling with negative beliefs about yourself; blaming yourself for what happened
- Persistent negative feelings (e.g., horror, anger, guilt, shame, etc.)
- Things that you used to enjoy no longer feels enjoyable
- Feeling detached from the people that you love, feeling numb to emotions and physical sensations
- Thoughts that you are better off dead; thoughts of harming yourself
- Easily startled, feeling on-edge, constantly aware of your surroundings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling that you are outside of your own body; feeling that the world is unreal
Do I Need Trauma Therapy?
Not all traumatic experiences cause trauma symptoms or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, two people can experience the same car accident and yet one may develop trauma symptoms while the other does not. Trauma symptoms can develop when there is a lack of support from family and friends who can help you identify, express, and make meaning of your emotions after a traumatic experience.
The symptoms of trauma can be debilitating and significantly impair your daily functions. You may find it more difficult to go to school, function at work, stay engaged with your friends and family, and take care of yourself. When you have unprocessed trauma in your body, you may find yourself having emotional reactions that seems out of your control and more extreme than the context calls for. These are signs that trauma treatment may be necessary to address the past trauma experiences, relieve the symptoms of trauma and PTSD, and return you fully to yourself.
What Does Trauma Treatment Look Like?
When we experience something devastating, overwhelming, and/or terrifying, we often react from our “animal brain,” the parts of our brain that focuses on survival above all. These parts of the brain contain the fight, flight, freeze, or appease reactions. These parts of the brain do not have a sense of time nor can it make meaning of our experiences. This is why when we are triggered, we tend to act from a place of fight, flight, freeze, or appease as if the trauma is occurring right now instead of in the past. Therefore, trauma treatment is focused on supporting your mind and body’s natural process to integrate and make sense of the emotions about the trauma.
When you enter into treatment with me, I will first take a broad and comprehensive approach to understanding you and your life. This includes understanding your current stressors and symptoms, your relationship dynamics, your past experiences, your family history, your sociopolitical context, your cultural background and identities, your coping strategies, the patterns that you have noticed in your life, your strengths and resilience, etc. As trauma treatment may bring up a lot of difficult emotions, we will focus on building up your coping strategies and protective factors. This means identifying and practicing strategies to reduce tension, sooth yourself, and care for your mind and body, as well as seeking support from friends and family. When you are ready, we will go through the trauma experiences slowly. In the retelling process, we will allow your mind and body to experience and make sense of the emotions in the safety of therapy.
How Will I Know I Am Making Progress in Trauma Treatment or When I Am Better?
Progress in therapy is not as a linear path across time but a circular journey to health and healing. Progress in therapy is like a screw. In therapy, you may feel like we are going around and around on the same issues but each time we pass by them we are going deeper. Our initial focus in trauma therapy will be decreasing the trauma and PTSD symptoms that hinders your life. From there, we will go deeper to process through your trauma. When you have noticed significant improvements in your mood, relationships, and functioning, we will then focus our energy to prevent triggers and to explore ways for you to live a life that is full of hope, joy, and empowerment. To get the most value out of our work together, you can take responsibility for your part of the therapy process: show up on time, communicate cancellations timely, think about our sessions beforehand, complete assignments, be ready and motivated to make changes in your life, value directness in feedback, take risks, try new things, and apply the new coping strategies to your life.
Begin Trauma Therapy in My Ballard Office
You don't have to live with feeling stuck or held back by your past traumas. Trauma and PTSD symptoms do not have to be a barrier to a life worth living. If what you've read here resonates and you live in the Seattle area, I encourage you to reach out and contact me today. We can schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation and begin exploring how psychotherapy can help you on your journey toward healing.
Other Counseling Services
You are a unique individual, and you might not have only one issue you are struggling with that fits neatly under trauma treatment. That is why, I offer a variety of counseling services at my Ballard counseling office. I take a holistic approach to your mental health using techniques from various evidence-based counseling approaches to help you create lasting change and thrive with challenges. Some of the other services I offer include psychotherapy for anxiety, depression and disordered eating, as well as marriage and couples counseling.