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What is Trauma?
Trauma is a subjective emotional experience that undermines your sense of security and makes you feel utterly helpless.
Trauma can be caused by a particular event, or long and protracted stress, such as bullying and harassment, or an unexpected event such as a sudden death or loss of a close relationship.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will suffer from PTSD. It is caused by exposure through direct experience; witnessing an event occurring to others in person; learning someone close to you experienced or was threatened by a traumatic event or being repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events. The most obvious victims are first responders to these events.
Secondary trauma or Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) may be experienced by counsellors, nurses, physicians, and others who care for those who have been traumatised. Other terms used are Vicarious Trauma (VT), Compassion Fatigue (CT), and in some cases, Job Burnout.
Childhood trauma can result from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety, and can all lead to developing severe trauma in later life . An unstable family environment, physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, neglect can all lead to adult trauma.
What can cause trauma?
Traumatic events can involve natural disasters, physical or sexual assault, accidents, combat, or witnessing death or injury – any event which leaves us questioning our beliefs and assumptions about safety and trust.
Common reactions may include unwanted memories, flashbacks, sudden feelings of panic, and nightmares. These feelings tend to resolve on their own over the following weeks with the support of others.
Of course, when selecting your support people, you can help them to help you through being clear with what you need.
Our psychologists at Psychology Melbourne are trained in various psychological techniques, which are highly effective in treating trauma and PTSD, including trauma-focussed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Our Trauma Counselling Team
Dr Anna Mooney
Assoc. Prof., Dr. Terence Bowles
Beatrix (Trixie) Gardiner
Dr Miriam Grossbaum
Dr Sandra Darmanin
How is it treated?
Recovery from exposure to traumatic events is gradual and is an active process. When we take action to improve things, we begin to feel less helpless and put ourselves in a position of power.
Healing from trauma does not mean you will forget events, but it may mean fewer intrusive thoughts and feelings, and an increased confidence in your ability to cope.
Active coping forms part of our normal, habitual response to every-day events and situations, even where there is no crisis. It is a response that can be strengthened.
Symptoms of Psychological trauma
People react to trauma in a variety of ways from physical to psychological. These can include:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Anxiety and fear
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling disconnected, sad or hopeless
- Sleep problems and nightmares
- Fatigue, difficulty concentrating
- Racing heartbeat
- Agitation and impatience
- Aches and pains
- Muscle tension
As a survivor, it is important not to isolate yourself. Make the effort to be with supportive people. You might like to practise some of the different ways to relax, such as deep breathing, meditation exercises, swimming, yoga, walking, mindfulness, listening to quiet music or even spending time in nature. Pleasant recreational activities may help improve your mood and contribute to rebuilding your life.
Although many people benefit from relaxation techniques, some feel that it can initially increase distress, particularly when focusing on physical sensations. Should you experience this, you might like to try mixing relaxation in smaller amounts, with music, walking or other activities.
Part of taking care of yourself is reaching out for the helping resources around you. If your symptoms do not begin to lessen over time, you might want to consider speaking with your GP or psychologist to gain that extra support.