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What is Trauma?

Put simply, trauma is the experience of living through an extremely stressful event or series of events. Some people may experience a single, easily identifiable, extremely stressful situation. For example, when someone lives through a violent experience. While others experience extreme stress over a longer period of time, in which the specific moments can be harder to pinpoint. For instance, when someone grows up in a household where others are abusive towards them. Frequently, traumatic events can include loss of control, serious injury, the threat of serious injury, or the threat of death.

Whether a person experiences a single event trauma or a consistently traumatic environment, trauma can often lead to a person feeling strong negative emotions including fear, shock, horror, helplessness, disgust, and more.

Source: CDC Fact Sheet

What is PTSD?

Many people will experience a traumatic event or series of events in their lifetime. It is common to experience changes in mood such as depression and increased anxiety, as well as physical changes such as trouble eating or sleeping how you normally would. In fact, people can experience significant changes for days, weeks, even months after a traumatic experience. Often the mind and body are able to heal on their own. Over time the person makes sense of what happened to them, and they are able to move forward and function similarly to how they did prior to the trauma. However, for some people these symptoms don’t alleviate naturally.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a term commonly used to describe the challenging and impactful symptoms that can occur for some people long after experiencing trauma. PTSD symptoms tend to be grouped into four categories: intrusion, avoidance, changes in thoughts and mood, and alterations in physical and emotional reactivity.

Source: CDC Fact Sheet


What are symptoms of PTSD?

1. Intrusion: Consistently having memories of a stressful event come into your mind, even when you are not trying to think about it. This can look like: persistent thoughts of the event, images coming into your mind of what occurred, flashbacks (feeling as if you are reliving the event), nightmares, or strong emotional reactions to things that remind you of an aspect of the trauma.

2. Avoidance: Trying to avoid thoughts of the event, avoiding places or things that remind you of the event, trying to push away negative thoughts of feelings that come up when you think of the event or when someone mentions it.

3. Changes in thoughts and mood: Changes in the way you view yourself, others, and the world around you, attributing blame to yourself or others for what occurred when it’s not appropriate, feeling numb or overwhelmed suddenly by feelings, challenges with experiencing positive emotions or not feeling interested in things you once enjoyed, memory problems (including not being able to remember important parts of the traumatic event), and feeling detached from those you care about.

4. Alterations in physical and emotional reactivity: Constantly feeling on guard, being more easily frightened or startled, trouble sleeping, issues with concentration, increased irritability, strong feelings of guilt or shame, and increased risky or self-harming behaviors.

Source: Mayo Clinic

How is PTSD diagnosed?

As mentioned before, human responses to traumatic events differ from person to person. A person is typically given a diagnosis of PTSD by their therapist after they have assessed their symptoms and compared them to the diagnostic manual, called the DSM-5. Luckily, Peak therapists are experienced in assessing for and recognizing trauma symptoms. During your intake process you will have the opportunity to take assessments as well as talk through your history and symptom concerns with your intake therapist. This process will help your therapist identify if you are experiencing trauma symptoms which meet the criteria of PTSD.

While PTSD is the most widely known trauma-related disorder, there are actually a few different diagnoses that have to do with trauma. These other adjacent diagnoses help explain some of the variance in symptoms experienced by people who have experienced a trauma. Please keep in mind that diagnosis is a tool utilized by clinicians to help give a name to common experiences and symptoms, and is used to help plan effective PTSD treatment. If trauma is impacting your life, working it together with your therapist can be a central part of your healing and treatment.

Treatment for Trauma and PTSD

Like many challenges that people face in life, trauma affects people differently from person to person. Some people will experience a single traumatic event and need support and guidance through managing the aftermath. Others have experienced several traumatic events over time and find themselves struggling to manage day to day life. Depending on where the person is at, their clinician may recommend different courses of action. Some of the most popular and research-driven treatments include: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure (PE). While each of these treatment methods or styles may look different in session, they all focus on helping the person work through their trauma more effectively. All of the above methods to help with trauma or PTSD are designed to help the person be able to make more sense out of what happened to them, and move forward in their lives with a reduction if not total alleviation of symptoms.

Peak therapists are passionate about utilizing research-based interventions. If you have a particular treatment modality that you are interested in, please feel free to mention this during scheduling so we can match you with a therapist who specializes in using that type of therapy.

Source: American Psychological Association

PTSD & Trauma Related Blogs

How to Recognize PTSD from Trauma
Coping with Relationship Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress

Therapists Who Treat PTSD

Steven Zuniga PhD, PSYPACT Certified
Scott P. Rheinschmidt PhD, LPC-S