There are many events and situations that occur throughout life that are classified as trauma. Trauma can be a one-time event, a prolonged event or a series of events. These may include early childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect, domestic abuse, living in war or conflict, any type of real or threatened physical or sexual violence. Traumatic experiences can also include exposure that occurred during military service or on the job as a first responder, nurse (or any other type of person working in emergency services), in which case the resulting symptoms are most often classified as operational stress injuries. Trauma can also include workplace accidents, car accidents, the list is endless. Trauma is less about the experience itself and more about the impact it has on the individual.
Trauma physically changes our brains. When you experience a traumatic event, your mind changes and areas of your brain that used to work in a certain way actually change because of what is called hyperarousal (being overly activated) due to the traumatic event. There is an area of the brain that acts as an alarm for all of us, to notify us of danger and so when you hear the terms fight, flight or freeze this is what is being activated. What happens after trauma is that this little alarm (the amygdala) becomes overactive and so instead of only alerting is to real danger it is sounding the alarm too often, making you feel unsafe. This makes life very challenging.
This is overly simplified to what is actually happening in your brain and body but sometimes it helps people to have a basic understanding.
Official PTSD Symptoms from the DSM V
Being exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence through:
Witnessing the trauma
Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, often while performing professional duties (e.g., first responders)
Unwanted upsetting memories
Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or feelings or external reminders
Negative alterations in cognitions and mood
Inability to remember important parts of the traumatic event
Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Irritability or aggression
Reckless or destructive behaviour
Exaggerated startle reaction
What is Trauma Therapy/PTSD Treatment?
The first step in trauma therapy is always about feeling safe (physically and emotionally). Regardless of whether it was in early childhood or occurred more recently, this is always the most important first step and cannot be rushed. We will work together to find strategies that work for you and ways to help your alarm centre re-calibrate so it is not always sending you danger signals. We will also talk about some of the thoughts that you have and how they may be impacting your current state of being.
If your trauma happened many years ago, we will talk about how this impacts your life today, and once we have established a therapeutic relationship where you feel safe, we will begin to get to the root of your trauma. This does not necessarily mean retelling your story but rather the impact that it had on you then, the feelings associated with the event(s) and how it continues to impact you in the here and now.
What To Expect
Your first session will involve an initial assessment of your well being as well as an intake of your personal history and background. Subsequent therapy sessions are 50 minutes in length and are unique to each individual's treatment plan.
This is an important consideration as each person's experience in therapy will be different and may depend on factors like:
Level of overall wellness (chronic pain, diabetes, cancer etc.)
Emotional state (stability, risk-taking or other behaviours that may result in harm to self or others)
Life circumstances- one's support system and romantic relationship status, if there are dependent children, employment status and the type of profession are all factors that can be considered protective or stressors.
Prior experience in therapy is also something to factor in. No one wants to waste their time repeating something that they found unhelpful the first go-around which is why it is important to tailor treatment to individual needs.
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Please note: I do not offer crisis intervention. If you are in crisis, please contact your family doctor, go to your nearest hospital, call the Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600 or call 911.