Understanding Trauma

A trauma is a highly distressing experience such as a physical or sexual assault, an accident, military adjustment, violence exposure, or abuse that continues to significantly disrupt our daily lives and functioning. Even though the trauma may have happened many months or even years ago, you still feel its impact through posttraumatic symptoms such as intrusive memories, emotional flooding or numbing, nightmares, anxiety, low self-esteem, and difficulty getting on with your life.

We use our minds daily to problem solve, cope with predictable stressors, and regulate our emotions and self-esteem. The experience of trauma overwhelms our ability to cope, and the trauma experience often gets stored in our minds in ways that make it very difficult to use our typical ways of coping. Although we know that a traumatic event happened in the past, it becomes impossible for us to think about the memory without starting to feel intense emotions and other sensations that occurred at the time of the traumatic event.

We also often develop a negative way of thinking about ourselves, others, and the world in relation to trauma, such as “It’s my fault,” “I’m a bad person”, “the world is unsafe”. These negative thoughts often influence how we think and feel about ourselves in other situations.

Some common signs of trauma/PTSD include:

  • Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened
  • Nightmares, vivid memories or flashbacks of the event
  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others
  • Consider harming yourself
  • Using alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings
  • Pulling away from others and becoming isolated
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about
  • Feeling on guard
  • Feeling irritated or having angry outbursts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being jumpy or easily startled

Treatment Program: EMDR

EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” It is a procedure used in psychological therapy to help you reduce the impact of trauma experiences from the past that intrude on your present-day life. EMDR has also been used to help people deal with anxiety and panic problems, grief issues, reactions to physical illness, and many other conditions where strong emotions are associated with life experiences.

EMDR attempts to activate your coping skills to deal with the present-day impact of the trauma. The EMDR procedure can help desensitize the images and feelings associated with the trauma. It can help you to recognize and work on feelings and thoughts that come up with the trauma. And it can help you think differently about yourself in relation to the trauma.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has recently noted EMDR Therapy as a Level 1 treatment for PTSD in their recent published results for ‘Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions: A Literature Review’ (2010) for both young people and adults. This is the highest rating that can be applied to a specific therapeutic approach. There are more published studies on EMDR than any other treatment for resolving the effects of trauma.

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