Is past trauma affecting your daily life? Our CBT and EMDR therapy practitioners have helped many people overcome the symptoms of trauma
We can develop a bespoke treatment plan to release you from the distress of trauma. Read on to learn more about what trauma is, its symptoms, how we diagnose it, and treatment options.
What is trauma?
Trauma is when you’ve experienced an event that has caused you to feel terrified, isolated, trapped, out of control or helpless
If you experience repeated distressing events, this is known as complex trauma. Historically, trauma referred to life-threatening events like those that occur at war. But psychologists now know that many other experiences cause similar emotional problems.
Experiences that can cause trauma include: Growing up with an aggressive parent, Giving birth, Being in a car crash, Being threatened or attacked, Being sexually assaulted, Witnessing violence, Being bullied. These are just examples rather than an exhaustive list. Trauma is defined by the emotional impact it has on you.
When your brain is unable to appropriately process and contextualise difficult experiences, memories can become distorted
You may re-experience the traumatic event through flashbacks. You might feel like there is an ongoing threat still present, and your body may respond as if there is. Some people naturally recover from trauma within the first few months.
To make this more likely, it’s a good idea to discuss your experience with friends and family. Discussion can help you understand the event, put it into context and begin to move on. However, many people do not recover from trauma naturally. If you go on to experience a range of persistent emotional problems for longer than four weeks, this may be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Trauma can also trigger depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), especially if these are conditions you’ve experienced before. An accumulation of small traumas like bullying or neglect may not cause PTSD. But can lead to problems with depression and low-self esteem. Left untreated, the emotional effects of trauma can be long-term and debilitating.
Symptoms of trauma
Trauma may cause PTSD
Here are the symptoms to look out for:
Flashbacks or nightmares (intrusive and distressing images, sensations, feelings, smells or sounds that take you back to traumatic moments)
Unhelpful coping mechanisms to numb emotions (for example, drinking or drug use)
Waves of physical anxiety (shaking, trembling, nausea, palpitations, breathlessness)
Hypervigilance (on high alert as if on the lookout for danger)
Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
Cumulative low-level trauma may also cause depression. Learn more about depression symptoms.
Most people experience an acute stress response after a traumatic event. It’s hard to stop thinking about what happened.
You may experience intrusive thoughts about the event. And you might fear for your personal safety despite the fact the threat has passed. Normally these difficulties pass after around four weeks. If you continue to experience symptoms after four weeks, it is a good idea to see a trauma therapist.
Your trauma therapist will speak to you about what you’re experiencing in what’s known as a semi-structured interview. This is when your therapist asks open ended questions that allow them to assess your symptoms. Your therapist will use this interview and a range of psychometric scales to help diagnose or rule out PTSD. A psychometric scale is a scale, often used on a questionnaire, which helps you and your therapist understand the impact of the symptoms you are having.
If you are experiencing PTSD, this process will help your therapist assess whether trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT), EMDR or another therapy could help you.
Treatments for trauma
There are two main types of trauma treatment (also known as trauma counselling):
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT)
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
If you are experiencing depression, OCD or social anxiety as a result of trauma, we may also explore other therapies.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) helps you go back to difficult memories so you can reprocess them. Your therapist will help you to describe the moments around the event. Then they will help you find ways to view these moments in a way that removes their emotional power. Using language to reframe previously feared moments can help reduce flashbacks, shame, fear and other difficult emotions that can follow trauma.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is another trauma therapy that can help you reprocess difficult memories. Your therapist will ask you to hold an image of the worst part of the memory in your mind, registering the sensations and emotions this triggers. Meanwhile, they will ask you to focus on a bilateral stimulus.
This is a rhythmic movement that crosses your body, such as eye movements, tapping or an auditory stimulus. Processing the memory while your conscious mind is registering new sensory information releases the brain’s natural power to heal itself. Positive memory networks become linked with the traumatic memory pathways.
EMDR is a powerful, innovative therapy with a rapidly growing evidence base. Most therapists and patients who use it experience positive results and would recommend it to others.
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