Understanding Trauma

As cognitive behaviorally trained clinicians who focus largely on ameliorating symptoms in the present, it can be easy to overlook the role of trauma particularly if the trauma occurred in the more distant past or is not deemed “severe enough” (by either the client and/or the clinician) to have caused any significant impact. However, trauma, in fact, comes in many different shapes and sizes and should be identified more as a defining life event that has significantly shaped the way you view yourself and the world and that which causes a level of conscious or unconscious distress and/or dysfunction.

There are two different types of trauma one can experience, shock trauma and developmental/complex trauma. Shock trauma results from a discreet event that suddenly and unexpectedly causes devastation, overwhelm, and a sense that your world has been shattered. Experiencing sexual assault, domestic violence, a natural disaster, a significant betrayal (among many other devastating experiences), can all lead to shock trauma. Shock trauma can occur at any age. Developmental trauma occurs during childhood and is generally the result of repeated instances in the child’s life where he/she was made to feel unsafe. Shock trauma in adulthood can trigger a resurgence of the distress and dysfunction associated with unresolved developmental trauma from earlier years. The severity of both types of trauma falls on a continuum. However, regardless of the severity of the trauma, what is most important is uncovering how these life events have played and continue to play a role in your physical and mental health and wellbeing. 

All trauma affects the mind, brain, and body. Trauma colors your perception of yourself and the world around you. The world and the people in it are perceived as dangerous, thus requiring you to protect and keep yourself safe. As a result, defense mechanisms are put in place as a source of protection. These defense mechanisms may aid in survival at some point, but eventually wear out their welcome and begin to perpetuate a cycle of continued distress and dysfunction. Whether you are aware of the irrational perception of danger at every turn, your nervous system will continue to respond as if there is danger around every corner, pumping out excessive amounts of cortisol way too often, leaving you depleted mentally and physically. 

Trauma causes significant and uncontrollable changes in your nervous system. Research shows that a trauma survivor cannot recover from stress as quickly or easily the nervous system  loses its ability to self-regulate in a healthy and balanced manner. 

Although much more research is needed in the area of treatment for trauma, it is clear that treatment needs to be multi-faceted, dynamic, and flexible. It should focus on the mind, brain, and body as all of these systems are impacted by trauma. At the core of all modalities is mindful awareness. All treatments are designed to increase awareness in some form or fashion. Learning to notice your triggers and respond in self-soothing rather than counterproductive or destructive ways requires mindful awareness.  Learning to recognize parts of your body that may have become disconnected from the rest of you or the seat of your tension requires mindful awareness. Noticing how your nervous system gets hijacked when triggered and the feelings associated with that requires mindful awareness. There are many different modalities that may be used to assist in healing from trauma including mindfulness training, yoga or other movement therapies, bodywork, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), forgiveness therapy, psychodrama, and many more. 

Fatma Salem, MA is trained in psychodrama and is completing her training in EMDR. She has extensive experience working with trauma survivors of all ages and is able to compassionately and expertly move her clients through the process of healing and recovery. To schedule an appointment, please call our office at (508)457-3160.

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Kristen mulcahy

Noticing how your nervous system gets hijacked when triggered and the feelings associated with that requires mindful awareness.

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