Trauma and How to Treat It
What is trauma?
Trauma has many names, can take many forms, and is no respecter of persons. At a surface level, trauma looks like the child who is afraid to go to sleep at night because of having nightmares about the “bad man who hurt me” or the person who found out their partner has had multiple affairs during their relationship and now has contracted as STD as a result of that partner’s behavior; afraid to touch any type of surface unless they clean the area three times. It looks like the 20-year-old college student who has back pain for no medical reason but has been experiencing this unknown pain since they had an emergency surgery to remove a tumor from their abdomen at age 18 or the soldier who keeps seeing blood and dead faces of fallen comrades every time they go outside into their backyard. Trauma can even look like the man who has extreme anxiety when he attempts to walk into his place of worship, winds up sitting in the very back in a corner of the building, but immediately experiences anger or may even “space out” the minute the speaker begins their sermon or recitation of some spiritual text because of memories of being forced to listen to a speaker who yelled condemnation and threats of damnation at every worship service.
By definition, trauma is any event or situation that causes distress to a person to the point where their life is endangered, creates a sense of life being endangered, or an extreme sense of feeling unsafe physically, even emotionally. It can be experienced as abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual), going through a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, drought), a medical procedure, a loss (loss of life, loved one, income, freedom, etc.), abandonment, or even betrayal from a loved one usually in the form of infidelity.
From a diagnostic perspective, it has been called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, IBS, Fibromyalgia, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, OCD, and, at times, Schizophrenia. People who experience trauma experience flashbacks, nightmares or night terrors, panic attacks, hypervigilance, mood swings, hallucinations (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.), random bouts of anger for no reason, fatigue or no energy, crying spells for no reason, moments where they cannot remember lapses of time, or unexplainable physical symptoms (tingling, stomach pains, back pain, leg pain, headaches, generalized pain, etc.), or even a lack of feeling any kind of feeling physically or emotionally. It can make a moment feel like a month and an entire day feel like a war zone or living nightmare.
Treatments methods have evolved over the decades since the discovery of “shell shock” in the World Wars. It began with surgeries and medication, mainly to manage symptoms without actually resolving the trauma. Since the Decade of the Brain, approaches focus on helping a person’s brain to “release the trauma” and reprocess experiences so that the memories tied to the trauma are integrated into the collective memories of the person’s life; thus becoming an event of the past that may still be painful but no longer lives in the person’s present.
Some methods that aid the brain to do this include the following: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Brainspotting, Somatic Experience, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other treatments with an emphasis in “deep brain” techniques. Not all methods work for everyone. Something very special about trauma therapy is it is very individualized. And why not? Trauma itself is individualized. At times, it may not be the most beneficial to begin processing traumatic memories.
A person may need more “grounding techniques” to provide them a resource, if you will, to bring intense emotions down. Common grounding techniques include meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, listening to bilateral stimulation music (the music shifts from one ear to the other), relaxation techniques. What these techniques provide are a space for the traumatized person to begin learning how to soothe themselves and to practice calming the storm within their minds and bodies in order to set the foundation for processing the traumatic memories.
Where can I go to receive trauma therapy?
Chenal Family Therapy, PLC has several offices throughout the state who have clinicians specifically trained to treat trauma. In Searcy, Kelda Bassham, LPC, LMFT is trained in Brainspotting and has had several years of experience in working with people who have experiences trauma, whether it be abuse, death, abandonment, or infidelity. In the Northwest Arkansas clinic, Andrew Stover, LCSW is trained in EMDR along with Aaron McClellan. In the Hot Springs office, Kylie Walton is trained in EMDR. In the West Little Rock clinic, Tina Shrader and Hilary Childers are fully trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Tina is also a good clinician for children with trauma as they are both trained in Child Parent Psychotherapy which parents to understand what is going on with their child and how to help them process and heal from traumas.
For scheduling with Chenal Family Therapy please reach out to our scheduling team 501-781-2230.