At a training recently, I heard that trauma is so common that we must assume that everyone we come in contact with has experienced it in some degree- this is part of having a trauma informed perspective. We must have empathy for the negative attitudes or behavior a person may show towards us because we do not know whether these are symptoms of trauma. Normal, processed memories are stored in the cortex of the brain in language form. However, when a person experiences significant trauma, the brain may be altered. This alteration is more serious if the trauma occurs in childhood while the brain is still developing. A significant or unprocessed trauma is stored in the limbic system, or the part of the brain responsible for emotion (including fear). Therefore, each time the person experiences an overwhelming emotion, the brain is triggered and the person reacts with an emotional trauma response.
Because posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves measurable changes in the brain, PTSD infiltrates every aspect of a person’s life, regardless of how hard that person strives to keep it at bay. Faith, relationships, work, parenthood, marriage, and friendships may suffer, and everyday tasks can become difficult and overwhelming. Many people with PTSD do not sleep well, and may go through periods where they do not sleep at all. There are, of course, varying degrees of this disorder that may depend upon length of time since the trauma, the nature of the trauma itself, support system, environment, ability to cope with symptoms, and whether the trauma has begun to be processed.
There are several different types of trauma therapy, and one of the most common is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). This type of therapy works to change a person’s thought process regarding the trauma, and often involves talking about the trauma in depth and coming to an acceptance. CBT in general is heavily present-focused, so a therapist will assist the client in making small, reachable goals regarding moving forward from the trauma. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is also often used. DBT focuses on emotion regulation, especially accepting and controlling overwhelming emotions so that no damage ensues during strong trauma responses. Another common type of therapy is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This involves the therapist assisting the client in processing the memory through various forms of bilateral stimulation, so the brain can re-store the memory in the cortex. EMDR does not require the client to talk about the trauma in depth, and is short-term because it only focuses on the brain’s ability to heal itself through bilateral stimulation. The best natural example of this is rapid eye movement during sleep, where the brain is able to process what has taken place throughout the day.