By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
Have you or a loved one experienced a traumatic or stressful life event?
Do reminders of the past bring back painful, disturbing, heart-wrenching memories?
Are you feeling stuck, helpless, and unsure where to turn?
Do you have difficulty connecting to others?
Do you feel overwhelmed at the idea of letting go of past events?
With over 20 years in trauma therapy, I have worked with children, families, couples, teens and adults to heal from the impact of trauma and let go of painful memories, heal relationships and regain control of emotions.
Using evidence-based interventions such as EMDR, Hypnotherapy, and CBT, trauma counseling will help you work through disruptive thoughts, emotions and physical expressions of trauma.
Types of Trauma
We have all had negative experiences in our lives which have had a dramatic impact on our thoughts, emotions and choices. Not all negative experiences cause significant impairment, however.
In trauma counseling, we refer to ‘small t’s’ and ‘large t’s’. Large t’s are those things we typically accept as traumatic such as abuse, assault, natural disaster, accidents, combat and law enforcement experiences, neglect and the like.
Small t’s are those things that on the surface may appear less dramatic but are deeply impactful such as bullying, humiliation, experiencing emotional control or manipulation, toxic work environment, severe illness, complicated grief, etc.
Trauma can be single incident or chronic/complex which happens over a length of time. Trauma is very individual in that its level of impact affects everyone differently. While one person may experience an event as traumatic and go on to develop PTSD, another person may not experience that same incident as anything more than a stressful life event.
Symptoms of Trauma
Emotional and psychological:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Anger, rage, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling sad, hopeless or despairing
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Emotional overwhelm
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Edginess and agitation
- Muscle tension
How Trauma Works
Trauma is a physical problem rather than an emotional or characterological problem. The negative impact of trauma happens in the brain. This is why brain-based therapies work more effectively than talk therapies for trauma. Trauma impacts the alarm center in our brain called our amygdala. The amygdala is part of what is called the limbic system. Also, in the limbic system is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is in charge of filing information into appropriate memory banks.
Trauma causes a negative feedback loop between the amygdala and the hippocampus. When information coming into the brain is paired with a heightened emotional state, the amygdala sends out adrenaline, cortisol and dopamine which cause the hippocampus to shrink. As a result, the hippocampus is unable to appropriately process the experience into an integrated memory. The result is disturbing experiences remain stuck in your limbic system as an unprocessed memory.
These unprocessed memories can be repeatedly triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the original event itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. Trauma therapy aims to process all the thoughts, feelings and memories stuck in the limbic system and integrate them with healthier coping strategies and ways of relating.
When Trauma Becomes PTSD
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD can occur in all people, of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and at any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.
Most people who have a traumatic event will have reactions that may include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, avoidance and even guilt. These reactions are common, and for most people, they go away over time. If you are experiencing PTSD, however, these feelings continue and even increase, becoming so strong that they keep you from going about your life in normal ways. People with PTSD have symptoms lasting longer than one month and their function has decreased since the traumatic event.
PTSD is diagnosed by a mental health professional. PTSD counseling is a specialized form of therapy. The most effective treatments for PTSD are body-based therapies such as EMDR and Brainspotting. For more information on EMDR in Denver please call 303-416-6926 or reach out through our website at roadtogrowthcounseling.com
How Trauma Counseling Can Help You:
- Decrease reactivity to reminders (triggers) of trauma
- Calm the mind and body
- Practice mindfulness and other coping strategies
- Reconnect with loved ones
- Make tangible progress towards your goals
- Find healing and closure with what happened
- Help you to understand your coping mechanisms
- Validate your feelings and emotions
- Stop using suppression and avoidance as a form of defense
- Help you to make sense of what has happened to you
- Integrate the event meaningfully into your life
- Begin to live in the present rather than constantly being retriggered by the past
Connecting with a trauma therapist in Denver is a first step to restoring your well-being and growth after a traumatic experience. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, please reach out by phone or online through our website for assistance. We are here to help you begin healing.