Trauma is a bit of a buzzword these days. And for good reason! We are leaving behind the days of pulling ourselves “up by your bootstraps”. We are moving away from hustle culture and learning to be more embodied and mindful. Parents are realizing that what they didn’t heal from their own childhood trauma, they are passing down to their children.
But with all this talk about trauma, there is a lot of misinformation also being passed around. It’s easy to get confused about what traumatic experiences are and are not. And many more people are confused about the difference between a traumatic experience and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What’s more, how do we heal from trauma if we did in fact experience sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect,
betrayal trauma or other forms of injury?
As a trauma therapist and EMDR therapy clinician with an active counseling practice in St. George, Utah I am here to share with you what exactly you need to know about trauma to begin your trauma recovery. Let’s get started!
What Is Trauma: Did I Experience Trauma Growing Up?
Fair warning – the answer to “What is trauma?” can be answered a few different ways. So I’m going to break it into two bite sized parts. The reason for this is that, more often than not, when people ask this question in therapy they want to know if what they experienced should bother them. In other words, they rightly want to feel validated after having had an experience in which they were invalidated.
With this in mind, my first answer to explain trauma is this: Trauma is any experience during which your sense of safety or sense of self were overwhelmed or threatened and may include experiences in which your nervous system was overwhelmed.
In other words, if you were bullied as a child and it caused you to feel unsafe (e.g. your sense of safety was overwhelmed) then you can call this “trauma,” if that word fits for you. Similarly, if you were sexually assaulted or raped – undeniably an unsafe situation – you can also call this “trauma” if that word fits for you.
As we look further at what trauma is, consider this: it doesn’t matter….
- When it happened
- How long ago it happened
- How often it happened
- Who caused it
- Who or what was involved
- …or any other qualifier
If you felt unsafe, your self was threatened (e.g. verbal, emotional or spiritual abuse) or your nervous system was unable to effectively process what was occurring, you get to call it trauma. Other people can judge or disqualify it all they want. What matters at the end of the day is that you have an understanding of what happened to you, according to you.
What Is Trauma: A Trauma Therapist Answers, Again
A new definition of trauma is on the scene and I am a big, big fan. This definition takes the focus off the who, what, when, where and why and puts it squarely on the lasting impact it had on you. I find this to be very empowering for trauma survivors and those living with PTSD symptoms. Are you ready?
“ Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships.” (CAMH, 2022).
Let’s break down this definition. In a nutshell, it’s not about what happened to you. Trauma is about how it affected you – the “lasting emotional response.” This lasting emotional response can include feeling unsafe, feeling not like yourself or that it’s not okay to be yourself, or difficulty experiencing and regulating your emotions.
Examples of the lasting emotional response might include a car accident survivor now avoiding driving on the highway. At our practice we’ve seen sexual assault survivors who are now reactive to their safe, loving partner’s touch or caress. Similarly, many clients come to us because they are having difficult trusting new partners following a betrayal that occurred in their previous relationship.
Therapy In St. George Utah Answers, Do I Have Trauma?
If you are reading this and thinking, “Wow – that’s me! I have trauma,” you are not alone. With these new and very broad definitions of trauma, there is more room for us to speak up and claim our reality – that what we went through hurt!
In fact, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has this to say about how many people experience trauma:
“Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.”
How Trauma Survivors Know If They Have PTSD Symptoms?
Did you know that trauma and PTSD are different? According to what fits for you, trauma is either what happened to you (the event) or the lasting impact the event had on you (the long lasting emotional response). PTSD is a mental illness that can result from trauma. Not everyone who experiences trauma has PTSD, but some do.
If it helps you can think of it this way: Most people drive, but of those who drive – only some drive motorcycles. Many people have trauma, but of those who have trauma – only some have PTSD.
Going back to that very reputable source, the US Department of Veterans Affairs offers these statistics about PTSD, to clarify the difference between experiencing trauma and having PTSD:
- About 6 out of every 100 people (or 6% of the population) will
have PTSD at some point in their lives.
- About 12 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given
year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone
through a trauma.
- About 8 of every 100 women (or 8%) develop PTSD sometime
in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
What Are Symptoms of PTSD For Trauma Survivors?
Let me begin by saying that the very best way to understand your symptoms of PTSD is to work with a licensed mental health therapist. I say this not as a therapist, but as a human being who knows that when we are in pain it is easy to misinterpret, minimize or have a foggy vision of our own experiences. It can be immeasurably helpful to have the help of trained professionals who can assist with tools or assessment to offer an unbiased diagnosis.
With that in mind, the first symptom of PTSD is exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:
- Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
- Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.
- Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend.
- Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (e.g., first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).
If you have experienced one of these then you and your professional will also consider if you are experiencing any of the following, according to their diagnostic text:
- Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s)
- Recurrent distressing dreams
- Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring.
- Mental or emotional distress when faced with cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Physical body reactions to cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s) including memories, thoughts, feeling, people, places and things.
- Negative thoughts and mood associated with the traumatic event(s)
(including beliefs such “I am bad,” “I am broken,” “It’s all my fault” or “No one can be trusted.”
- Changes in your nervous system’s arousal and reactivity (e.g. irritability / anger, increased startle response, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, etc).
- And more…
Counseling For Trauma & PTSD Using EMDR Therapy In St. George, UT
Therapy for trauma and PTSD can make a real difference. There are methods to help your brain, heart and body process what happened to you. And truly, having a comprehensive approach with trauma informed care makes all the difference. Because really, if all you needed to do was talk about it or “figure it out,” you would have called a friend or read a book by now that fixed everything.
The reality is that we often need to address our whole self: brain (thoughts / beliefs / memories), heart (feelings of fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, etc) and body (physical tension and distress) to move through what happened to us. In fact, you deserve for your whole self to be considered, not just the facts.
The trauma therapists at Guided Wellness Counseling deliver trauma informed care and trauma therapy to a wide range of clients for client issues ranging from depression, anxiety and trauma survivors / PTSD, to the stress of chronic health issues, faith crises and life transitions. And we love using our toolbox of interventions and support to provide you meaningful and effective therapy sessions. St. George, UT. EMDR therapy is especially effective at helping clients with PTSD and trauma histories.
The first step in starting therapy at Guided Wellness Counseling is to call or text for you complimentary 15-min phone consultation. We’ll ask you to share a little about your pain points so that we can then match you with just the right therapist at our Southern Utah location. Then, after we answer any questions you might have about counseling we’ll offer you an intake appointment and follow-up sessions so you don’t have any gaps or long waits to meet with your therapist again.
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog then I know this about you: You are not broken. You are seeking answers and information. You want to feel empowered in what you know and your truth about what happened. And we would love to hear from you and help you on this journey.