Trauma refers to experiences that cause intense physical and psychological stress reactions. It can refer to “a single event, multiple events, or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – SAMHSA Report, 2012, p. 2). Trauma can affect people of every race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender, psychosocial background, and geographic region. Although many individuals report a single specific traumatic event, others, especially those seeking mental health or substance abuse services, have been exposed to multiple or chronic traumatic events. Trauma generally overwhelms an individual’s or community’s resources to cope, and it often ignites the “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction at the time of the event(s). It frequently produces a sense of fear, vulnerability, and helplessness. The more we’ve studied the reactions to trauma, the more we’ve come to learn that trauma is not just the event(s), it’s the result of what happens inside of us as a result of what happens to us.
With the attacks of September 11, 2001, and other acts of terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, disastrous weather events, and sexual abuse scandals, it is safe to say that trauma has moved to the forefront of national consciousness. Trauma was once considered an abnormal experience. However, the National Comorbidity Study established how prevalent traumas were in the lives of the general population of the US (2012). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013) was a large epidemiological study involving more than 17,000 individuals from the United States. It analyzed the long-term effects of childhood and adolescent traumatic experiences on adult health risks, mental health, healthcare costs, and life expectancy. It was found that early childhood trauma was strongly correlated with later physical and psychological problems. Additionally, 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women reported experiencing at least one trauma in their lifetime, with witnessing a trauma, being involved in a natural disaster, and/or experiencing a life-threatening accident ranking as the most common events.
Various biopsychosocial and cultural factors influence an individual’s immediate response and long-term reactions to trauma. For most, regardless of the severity of the trauma, the immediate or enduring effects of trauma are met with resilience—the ability to rise above the circumstances or to meet the challenges with fortitude. For some people, reactions to a traumatic event are temporary, whereas others have prolonged reactions that move from acute symptoms to more severe, prolonged, or enduring mental health consequences (e.g., PTSD, anxiety disorders, substance use and mood disorders) and medical problems (e.g., arthritis, headaches, chronic pain). Others do not meet established criteria for PTSD or other mental disorders but encounter significant trauma-related symptoms or culturally expressed symptoms of trauma (e.g., somatization). For that reason, even if an individual does not meet diagnostic criteria for trauma-related disorders, it is important to recognize that trauma may still affect his or her life in significant ways.
Trauma-specific treatment services are evidence-based practices that facilitate recovery from trauma. There are several therapy approaches that peer-reviewed, randomized controlled trials have shown to be effective. Engaging in these treatment approaches will improve the chances of positive outcomes for patients.
Dr. McBride is leading our Trauma Focused Treatment Program – Dr. McBride biography. He is a military veteran, trained and experienced in evidence-based trauma treatment, including EMDR (Adaptive Information Processing) as well as Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Processing Therapy (both Cognitive Behavioral Therapies for trauma). Our short-term and focused trauma treatment is tailored to the unique needs of each individual patient. The typical number of trauma focused treatment sessions range between 4 and 12 depending on individual patient needs. Referrals from medical and mental health providers are welcome.
According to the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress (2013), trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) are the only psychotherapies recommended for children, adolescents and adults with PTSD.
EMDR is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.
Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.