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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Vu

What Is Trauma: Gaining In-Depth Insight

Updated: Jan 10

In the complex fabric of human life, trauma arises a profound aspect that resonates with countless individuals. Understanding the complex dimensions of trauma goes beyond simply recognizing its common occurrence; it requires a detailed examination of its significant effects on mental health and overall well-being.


Trauma: Unraveling the Complexity

The term "trauma" is frequently used in different contexts, yet its genuine depth and consequences are not consistently grasped. Thus, it is crucial to scrutinize the complexities of trauma, aiming to enhance clients’ understanding of its multifaceted nature.


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It is crucial to scrutinize the complexities of trauma, aiming to enhance clients’ understanding of its multifaceted nature

Definition:

At its core, trauma refers to the emotional, psychological, or physical responses to an event or series of events that overwhelm an individual's ability to cope (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014), these incidents are commonly perceived as posing a lasting sense of fear, helplessness, or horror, often seen as life-threatening. Trauma can manifest in various forms, from acute incidents to chronic stressors, and it is crucial to recognize that its effects can be long-lasting.



Types of Trauma: Beyond the Obvious

Trauma is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it manifests in diverse ways, affecting clients differently based on their unique experiences and coping mechanisms.


Acute Trauma

Acute trauma results from a single distressing event, often with a sudden onset, and can include accidents, natural disasters, or acts of violence (Olff et al., 2005). The impact of acute trauma can be immediate and intense, leading to symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and heightened anxiety.


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The impact of acute trauma can be immediate and intense, leading to symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and heightened anxiety.

Chronic Trauma

In contrast, chronic trauma arises from extended exposure to stressful circumstances, such as enduring abuse, neglect, or residing in a war-torn environment. As per Olff et al. (2005), the ongoing impact of persistent trauma can progressively reduce an individual's resilience, leading to diverse mental health challenges.



The Neurobiology of Trauma: Understanding the Brain's Response

To comprehend trauma fully, we need to explore how the brain reacts to overwhelming experiences.


The Fight-or-Flight Response

When faced with a traumatic event, the body's fight-or-flight response kicks in. This primitive survival mechanism floods the system with stress hormones, preparing the individual to confront or escape the threat. In cases of trauma, this response can become dysregulated, leading to persistent anxiety and hypervigilance (Walker, 2013).


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In cases of trauma, this response can become dysregulated, leading to persistent anxiety and hypervigilance

Impact on Brain Structures

Trauma can also alter the structure and function of key brain areas, such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (Rauch et al., 2006). These changes may contribute to difficulties regulating emotions, forming memories, and making decisions, further complicating the healing process.


Recognizing Trauma: Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing trauma is a subtle procedure since clients can display a diverse array of emotional and behavioural reactions. In the “Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach” (published in 2014), SAMHSA has pointed out the individual’s experience of traumatic events and its adverse effects, including:


Emotional Signs:

Typical emotional indicators of trauma encompass heightened fear, deep sadness, intense anger, or an enduring feeling of numbness. Individuals might also grapple with sensations of guilt or shame, which can complicate their capacity to seek assistance.


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Typical emotional indicators of trauma encompass heightened fear, deep sadness, intense anger, or an enduring feeling of numbness.

Behavioural Signs:

Trauma can manifest behaviorally through sleep patterns, appetite, and interpersonal relationship changes. Some individuals may engage in risk-taking behaviours to cope, while others may withdraw from social interactions altogether.


Trauma and Mental Health Disorders

The repercussions of trauma often extend beyond immediate emotional responses, contributing to the development of mental health disorders.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a widely recognized outcome of trauma, marked by the ongoing reliving of the traumatic incident, avoidance of triggers, and heightened arousal. A research study has indicated that PTSD affects approximately five to six percent of men and ten to twelve percent of women during various periods in their lives, ranking it as the fourth most prevalent psychiatric disorder (Kessler et al., 1995). Nevertheless, it is essential to note that not all clients who undergo trauma will develop PTSD, underscoring the diversity in individual reactions (Kessler et al., 1995).



Complex Trauma and Dissociation

For some individuals, exposure to multiple traumatic events, especially in childhood, can lead to complex trauma (Walsh, 2010). This experience can result in difficulties with emotion regulation, a distorted self-perception, and dissociative symptoms, where one feels detached from one's thoughts, feelings, or surroundings.


Trauma-Informed Care: A Holistic Approach

At Dat Therapy, we acknowledge the prevalence of trauma and its potential impact on clients seeking support. Therefore, we have employed an approach grounded in trauma-informed care among our therapists and counsellors.



Creating a Safe Environment

Establishing a safe therapeutic space is paramount for those who have experienced trauma. This process involves fostering trust, setting clear boundaries, and allowing clients to express themselves at their own pace.


Empowering Resilience

Trauma-informed care aims not only to address the immediate effects of trauma but also to empower clients to build resilience. Encouraging healthy coping mechanisms, fostering self-esteem, and promoting a sense of agency are integral aspects of this approach.


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As a trusted mental health service provider in Canada and Vietnam, Dat Therapy is committed to continually promoting the resilience inherent in clients who have experienced trauma.

Conclusion: Navigating the Path to Healing

To summarize, understanding trauma requires a nuanced exploration of its various dimensions, from its neurobiological impact to its manifestation in mental health disorders. As a trusted mental health service provider in Canada and Vietnam, Dat Therapy is committed to continually promoting the resilience inherent in clients who have experienced trauma. By fostering a comprehensive understanding and providing trauma-informed care, we can support those on their journey towards healing and recovery.


References:

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th cd.). Washington, DC: Author.

  2. Kessler, R. C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C. B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12), 1048–1060. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.1995.03950240066012

  3. Norris, F. H., & Hamblen, J. L. (2004). Standardized Self-Report Measures of Civilian Trauma and PTSD. In J. P. Wilson & T. M. Keane (Eds.), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD (pp. 63–102). The Guilford Press.

  4. Olff, M., Langeland, W., & Gersons, B. P. (2005). The psychobiology of PTSD: coping with trauma. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(10), 974–982. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2005.04.009

  5. Rauch, S. L., Shin, L. M., & Phelps, E. A. (2006). Neurocircuitry models of posttraumatic stress disorder and extinction: human neuroimaging research--past, present, and future. Biological psychiatry, 60(4), 376–382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.06.004

  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

  7. Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving: A guide and map for recovering from childhood trauma. First Edition. Lafayette, CA, Azure Coyote.

  8. Walsh, K., Fortier, M. A., & Dilillo, D. (2010). Adult Coping with Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Theoretical and Empirical Review. Aggression and violent behaviour, 15(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2009.06.009

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