Understanding Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Trauma Treatment Modalities

Understanding Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Trauma Treatment Modalities

Trauma and its mental health effects are nothing new. Prehistoric warriors faced mental health repercussions from battles. During World War I, the term shell-shocked was used to describe the struggles soldiers faced following the events of the war. Today, we understand that survivors of sexual violence, health crises, natural disasters, bereavement, mass shootings, accidents, and more are at risk for PTSD.

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

Trauma occurs when your mind becomes disconnected from your body. During a stressful event, the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered, a response that improves the individual’s chances of survival. When the nervous system is too overwhelmed to offer any solutions for survival, instead of ‘fighting’ or ‘flying,’ the body enters ‘freeze’ mode. 

When the body freezes, trauma typically occurs. The stressful event is imprinted on the mind in sensory fragments. As a result, the body retains traumatic energy, which can be triggered by physical or sensory input that the brain misinterprets as dangerous. Many times, these responses subside as hormone levels return to normal.

WHAT IS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?

When a traumatic event causes intrusive symptoms that affect an individual’s ability to cope in the present, they may be experiencing PTSD. About seven percent of American adults will experience PTSD.

PTSD is not completely understood by researchers. One theory is that sensory triggers are continually activating the fight-or-flight response. As a result, some brain functioning is diminished, including short-term memory. With the loss of short-term memory functioning, the past traumatic event is misinterpreted as a present threat. 

Symptoms that fall into the following categories may arise:

  • Intrusive thoughts, such as dreams and flashbacks
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Negative thoughts and feelings like fear
  • Reactive symptoms like irritability or trouble sleeping

A person is usually diagnosed with PTSD when these symptoms fail to subside.

HEALING FROM PTSD

The traumatized brain looks different than the non-traumatized brain. In the traumatized brain, the thinking center and emotion regulation center are under-activated, while the fear center is over-activated.

The good news is that the brain is changeable. Just as it altered when faced with a traumatic event, it can heal based on future events. 

Below are some therapeutic modalities that have been effective at treating trauma and PTSD.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) 

EMDR helps reconnect the brain with the body following a traumatic event. Through bilateral eye movement, the emotional side of the brain is able to integrate with the cognitive part of the brain. As a result, the patient is empowered to discover rationality in the traumatic event.

Sensorimotor Therapy

Sensorimotor therapy encourages body awareness to foster recovery. When a person freezes in the face of a stressful event, their truncated reaction can be stored in the body. Sensorimotor therapy focuses on releasing the stored energy and helping the individual complete any desired action that may have been limited during the traumatic experience. 

TRAUMA HEALING AT THRIVE

Thrive clinicians specialize in treating trauma and PTSD. We also understand how trauma and other behavioral health concerns can overlap. Thrive’s specialists help you untangle your struggles, so you can live a balanced, grounded, and joyful life.