Trauma affects many people in the our world today. Webster's Dictionary defines trauma as "A very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time." The word Trauma is derived from the Greek word "wound." It can be thought of as a wound to one's thought processes, emotions, and even the physical body.
H. Norman Wright, a leading trauma and grief expert has described trauma as "a response to any event that shatters your safe world so it is no longer a place of refuge" or an event that makes one feel "frightened inside."
As counselors, it is important to know the various themes that occur when trauma is experienced. These include feelings of being unsafe, changing or challenging one's view of God, hyper-vigilence, helplessness, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is not limited to members of the military and first responders. It can occur in the civilian population as well. Various causes include loss of a loved one, an automobile accident, natural disasters, loss of a material possession, etc. It can also occur as betrayal trauma is experienced. Examples of Betrayal Trauma include physical abuse, emotional abuse, and infidelity.
PTSD is different than a crisis; it is an actual de-regulation of the body and brain chemistry. In other words, the person is not the same person they were before they experienced the trauma.
It is curious that two people can experience the same event, yet one may develop PTSD while the other may remain unaffected. Many factors can account for this phenomenon. One possible factor is that the affected individual may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Another explanation may be due to complex trauma already suffered in the individual's life.
Complex trauma develops due to a repetition of trauma, as in the case of abuse. It can also be the result of cumulative trauma, which occurs over the course of one's life.
If complex trauma is left untreated, it can be very difficult for the individual to function as normal. More specifically, when a client is experiencing PTSD, the neurons in the right side of the brain are firing in such a way that overwhelms the logistical left side of the brain, making it difficult for the client to function. The hypothalamus part of the brain, which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, is compromised and many changes result.
It is important for clinicians to become familiar with the behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical changes that can accompany PTSD.
Behavioral and Cognitive Changes:
- Memory Lapses
- Verbal deficits
- Compromised performance at school or work
- Hyper-vigilance/ Startle response
- Poor problem-solving
- Distractibility/ Difficulty focusing
- Triggers and Flashbacks
- Negative beliefs about self (insecurity, guilt, and worthlessness)
- Feeling helpless
- Difficulty regulating emotion
- Various comorbid Mental Health Disorders (SAD, Bi-Polar, Suicidal Ideation, Anxiety, Depression, Avoidance)
- Disturbance in eating (too much or too little)
- Sleep Disturbance (nightmares)
- Compromised Immune System
- Physical Pain (migraines, back pain, stomach pains, body aches)
Many clients will feel ambivalent about processing the pain of the trauma they suffered. They feel reluctant to enter into the pain, which requires them to feel it in a very real sense again. As therapists, it is important to remain patient toward their level of willingness to process the trauma. We must respect their level of comfort, while gently educating them on the benefits of processing the trauma.
Self-engineered pain within the context of therapy has many advantages over suppressing the pain for it to resurrect in the future.
Therapy will include listening both attentively and empathically to the client's story and being sure to normalize the symptomology that the client exhibits. Prayerfully instilling hope into their story can assist them in persevering through the painful process so that in time healing, growth, purpose, and joy can result.
As we sit with the brokenhearted, Christ's presence can bind and repair a willing heart and mind.
Isaiah 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations of many generations.
Bio: Jacklyn Robertshaw is a graduate student at Moody Theological Seminary. She currently provides counseling through her internship to undergraduate students at Moody Bible Institute. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago, IL and enjoys spending time with her family and studying to become a licensed clinical counselor.