What is Trauma and What Causes it?
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Most of us won’t get through life without our own fair share of stress and heartache. But some people experience not just stress, sadness or grief, but actual trauma. This can be from events like being involved in a bad car accident, rape, a natural disaster, or war.
The result of experiencing such events is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition where the mind is unable to process the event as it processes ordinary life events. The result is a brain that misfires information, causing the person to live much of their life distressed, as if the event were still happening to them.
Symptoms of PTSD
There are many symptoms associated with PTSD, but the most common ones are:
• Psychological and physiological distress at reminders
• Avoidance of internal and external reminders
• Dissociative amnesia
• Negative beliefs about oneself and the world
• Distorted blaming of oneself
• Negative persistent emotional states
• Loss of interests
• Detachment from loved ones
• Hyper vigilance
• Exaggerated startle response
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty sleeping
• Irritability or outbursts of anger
• Self-destructive or reckless behavior
Causes of PTSD
Researchers are not altogether clear on why some people experience PTSD and others don’t. What makes one soldier come home from war with PTSD and another one not develop the disorder?
The best we can guess is that development of PTSD is likely from a combination of complex factors such as neurological, stress, life experiences, personality, and genetics. It is also worth mentioning that pre-traumatic psychological factors (low self-esteem, for example) may increase the risk factor for developing PTSD.
How Can Trauma be Treated?
One conventional type of talk therapy designed to treat trauma is called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). This is a top-down approach that involves changing the way you think and your behaviors so you, in turn, feel better. This kind of therapy involves meeting with a specially-trained therapist over a number of sessions to learn strategies and techniques that will reduce and/or eliminate symptoms of PTSD such as recurring thoughts, emotional numbness, sleep issues, and concentration problems. Beyond finding a trained therapist, it’s important to find one you and your family feel comfortable with, so make sure to interview a few candidates to see who might help you on your journey to wellness.
"Bottom-Up"body-oriented (somatic) treatments like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP), Hakomi Method, and Somatic Experiencing (SE) work not only with our thoughts but also the less conscious levels of the body where trauma is stored. These bottom-up, somatic modalities follow 3 phases of treamtment: Interventions in the first phase are designed to 1) increase a sense of stability and groundedness so the client feels safe in their own body and can carry on with life more functionally with less trauma-related intrusions. This first stage of resourcing and stabilization is preparation for the second stage of treatment. In the second stage of treatment, trauma memories are targeted directly, using the stabilization resources developed in the previous stage of treatment, and helping the body to release trapped trauma energy (shock) from the body, and to reclaim survival defenses that were thwarted or unavailable at the time the traumatic event occurred. The third phase of treatment addresses non-traumatic but nevertheless wounding childhood experiences that created limiting beliefs that contribute to issues of low self-esteem, depression, and problems in adult relationships.
Stephanie Post, PsyD. at Higher Self Psychotherapy specializes in anxiety therapy, depression therapy, self-esteem therapy, and in trauma therapy online anywhere in California and in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. She uses EMDR therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and IFS therapy to help clients thrive.