Many people are familiar with the traditional concept of trauma being a result of fighting in a war or experiencing violence of some kind. But the truth is, trauma and our understanding of it, has evolved rapidly in recent years; and, as a direct result, so have the methods of addressing and treating those who have been the victim of a traumatic experience.
When it comes to trauma, it is crucial to have a mental health professional guiding you or your loved one through the right treatment program so that the root cause of the trauma, and any other underlying mental health disorders, can be properly addressed in order to promote a full recovery.
What is trauma?
According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”
Traumatic events that may result in developing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) include:
Abuse, including emotional, sexual, physical and verbal
Experiencing a natural disaster
Being the victim of violence, racism or terrorism
Experiencing medical trauma
Suffering from intimate partner violence
Experiencing the loss of a loved one or some form of grief or loss
Suffering from constant, unaddressed stress
Not everyone who experiences one of the above situations is guaranteed to develop symptoms of trauma as a result. Oftentimes, two people will undergo the same event and because of personal history, mental health and coping mechanisms, may not both experience symptoms of trauma. However, those who do experience the effects of trauma often require mental health counseling to promote recovery.
Symptoms and effects of trauma
The symptoms of trauma are varied depending on one’s pre-existing mental health state and the traumatic experience itself. The most common symptoms include:
In many cases, an individual has no idea they are suffering from a traumatic episode and does not associate the symptoms with any definable event in their past. It is usually only when a person seeks medical or psychological help as a result of chronic symptoms that the underlying condition is diagnosed.
Even when it becomes apparent that a person is suffering from trauma, it can be very difficult to help that person overcome the effects. In the past, when even most people in the medical profession were ignorant of trauma, people who reported depression, insomnia, panic attacks or other similar symptoms were prescribed tranquilizers, sleeping aids or anti-depressants. These may have provided temporary relief, but they did little to address the core problem.
Treatment for trauma
Today, it is understood that people with trauma need help that goes well beyond prescribing medication. Trauma-intensive outpatient programming is a specially devised therapy to help people with trauma recover from their past experiences and learn to cope with symptoms effectively.
The “intensive” part of the therapy refers to the frequency of counseling sessions, rather than the type of treatment. For example, standard outpatient therapy sessions for substance abuse treatment might take place for two hours twice a week, whereas intensive outpatient treatment may consist of three-hour sessions five days per week.
Trauma-intensive outpatient programming is often used to complement other types of outpatient therapy. For example, people who have developed problems with drugs or alcohol may attend therapy sessions in a rehab treatment facility to deal with that issue. Where there is an issue with trauma, the same people can attend additional therapeutic sessions to deal with underlying mental or emotional problems.
Additionally, trauma-informed therapy offers mental health treatment in a way that addresses mental health concerns as a direct result of trauma. If one is suffering from symptoms of depression, and trauma is the underlying reason, simply treating the depression symptoms won’t help the root problem. Through trauma-informed treatment, the trauma itself can be addressed in order to minimize all symptoms where trauma is the cause.
Intensive outpatient therapy programs have to be highly customized for each individual. Different rehab facilities will take different approaches, but helping people discover what events in the past are likely to be the root of the current problem is a crucial component. Once the root cause has been identified, people can be taught how to cope with the problem in a more positive way.