Have you experienced a traumatic event?
Do you constantly think about an incident that happened, which leaves you feeling numb, anxious and overwhelmed?
When something traumatic happens to you, whether it occurred one time or happened repeatedly, it may cause you to feel anxious, depressed and overwhelmed by daily life. A traumatic event isn’t only what you may initially think of as trauma, such as abuse and neglect but can also include any adverse life experience that causes you to think there is something wrong with you or that your safety is being threatened. It could be a single episode traumatic event like an accident , illness, observing violence against someone else or a medical condition.
One of the aftereffects of experiencing a traumatic event is the feeling of loss of control and fear that this may happen again. It may stop you from doing activities you once enjoyed or cause you to feel unsafe. Along with experiencing a traumatic event, you may also experience depression and anxiety, which may mask symptoms related to the underlying traumatic event. It’s important to remember that no matter how badly or hurt you feel, there is hope. There are techniques that have proven to help you overcome your trauma and help you feel safe again.
People who have experienced trauma, often feel shame and fear. This may lead to delay in seeking therapy. There has been research showing that traumatic events actually cause changes in the brain and how we process information. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, one of the experts in the field of trauma treatment worked with research teams to determine that the parts of our brain that controls emotional states causes arousal in the nervous system when people remember a traumatic event. During the time people recall memories of the event, the front part of the brain goes “off line,” which makes it difficult to think or speak clearly. It may be difficult to even recall the trauma since the memory is stored in a part of the body that is not easily accessed using words. Sometimes you may experience something called a “trigger,” which may be any scent, person, noise, environment that causes you to react as if the same traumatic event is happening in the present moment even when you may know you are actually safe. The memory of the event is stored in the body and the trigger overrides the part of your brain that realizes you are not currently in danger. Even though you may know you are safe, you do not feel safe. These are real symptoms but often lead to feelings of shame. There may seem to be a disconnect between what you know to be true and what you feel in your body. This is a trauma response, and it can be scary but there is help and therapy techniques do work.
There is research showing that “bottom up” therapy will help you work through trauma. “Bottom up” refers to focusing on how your body feels and experiences trauma triggers by identifying body reactions (anxiety, heart racing, sweating, tight muscles) and then learning different skills to regulate emotions. It is important to start with the body response and be able to calm down prior to being able to verbally discuss the trauma.
What to expect from trauma therapy?
Before our first appointment, I will have you complete a brief assessment online. This assessment also includes simple questionnaires including a symptom checklist, history of adverse life experiences and scales that measure symptoms of depression and anxiety. Because trauma can be difficult to discuss, you do not have to answer questions that you are not comfortable sharing. As we explore your history, I also discuss ways in which various life events may cause you to think about yourself. For example, it is common for people who experience childhood bullying to feel like “there’s something wrong with me” even years after that bullying occurred. These adverse childhood events get stored in the body with all of the emotions and thoughts that occurred at the time and later on, triggers bring back the same feelings as if you are experiencing the event in the present moment.
Some of the important parts of trauma therapy is identifying where in your body you feel triggers. Then, we practice skills to help regulate these body sensations before they cause increased anxiety or before they lead to a panic attack. Learning to regulate emotions and calm the body down helps you take control and master your own trauma response as we move on with trauma therapy.
What to expect in between sessions is to practice skills we work on during therapy sessions. This may include identifying negative thought patterns, learning a new breathing method to reduce anxiety, using senses to ground self when feeling unsafe and other experiential techniques. Once you are able to regulate emotions in between sessions and when daily stressors arise, you are ready to take the next step to process past traumas.
How often do we meet?
The frequency of appointments is up to each person but at first, my suggestion is to meet weekly to learn basic skills and begin building rapport. It also depends on your situation and we can discuss what may work best for you.
How long does it take to “get rid” of past trauma?
Each person is different and we go at your own pace. I know you want to get relief from symptoms and this will happen, but it is important to take it a step at a time. Once we work on stabilizing immediate symptoms and you can calm down some of the intense emotions, we can then do trauma work. I also use different techniques to teach you how to focus on your body by using guided imagery and meditation to calm down. I am also a huge advocate for using expressive arts to help process trauma without actually talking about the emotions. Using music, writing, drawing, and dancing, you will be able to expressive strong emotions to help “move” the energy out of your body, which will help the healing process.
If you are interested in working through any of the symptoms related to past trauma or adverse events, please call me at 314-899-7140 to discuss how I can assist you. I try and return calls and emails within 24 hours.