What is trauma?

Trauma refers to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that has a lasting impact on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.   A variety of events can lead to it, such as physical abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, and combat. Trauma can lead to a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma can also affect an individual’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships and can negatively impact their overall quality of life.

Types of traumas

There are several different types of traumas, including:

  1. Acute trauma: This is a single traumatic event, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or physical assault.
  2. Chronic trauma: This is usually due to prolonged exposure to traumatic events, such as ongoing physical or emotional abuse, living in a war-torn area, or working in a high-stress occupation.
  3. Complex trauma: This type of trauma is associated with exposure to multiple traumatic events, particularly in childhood, and often involves a betrayal of trust or sense of abandonment by a caregiver or primary attachment figure.
  4. Developmental trauma: This type of trauma refers to disruptions or disturbances in the development and formation of the self, including emotional regulation, attachment, and personality development, as a result of exposure to traumatic events, particularly in childhood.
  5. Community trauma: This refers to traumatic events that affect a community or society as a whole, such as mass shootings, terrorist attacks, or acts of genocide.
  6. Secondary trauma: This type of trauma occurs when an individual is exposed to the traumatic experiences of others, such as first responders, counsellors, or medical personnel who work with victims of trauma.

It’s worth noting that trauma can also be categorized in different ways, such as physical, emotional, sexual, and so on. Also, the same event can be traumatic for one person and not for another, as it depends on the individual’s perception, coping mechanisms, and previous experiences.


Symptoms of trauma

Trauma can manifest in a wide range of symptoms, both physical and psychological. Some common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Recurrent thoughts about the traumatic event or its aftermath
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Avoiding activities, places, or people, that may likely remind you of the trauma
  • Negative changes in mood or thinking, such as feeling guilty, ashamed, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Feeling emotionally numb or detached
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Irritability or anger
  • Hypervigilance or feeling constantly on guard
  • Physiological reactions such as an increased heart rate or sweating in response to triggers

Some people may not show any symptoms immediately after a traumatic event, but may develop symptoms later on, sometimes referred to as delayed onset trauma. Additionally, some people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

It’s important to note that some symptoms of trauma can be mistaken as other mental health conditions, so professional help is recommended to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.


Diagnosis of Trauma

Trauma is typically diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, based on an individual’s reported symptoms and experiences. There are several different diagnostic criteria used to diagnose trauma, including those for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

The most widely used diagnostic criteria for trauma are those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 criteria for PTSD include:

  1. The individual has been exposed to a traumatic event in which they experienced, witnessed, or were confronted with actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
  2. The individual has symptoms of intrusion, such as recurrent and distressing memories, nightmares, or flashbacks of the event.
  3. The individual has symptoms of avoidance, such as avoiding reminders of the event or feeling emotionally numb.
  4. The individual has symptoms of negative alterations in cognition and mood, such as persistent negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world, or persistent distorted blame of self or others for the event.
  5. The individual has symptoms of increased arousal, such as being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, or having irritability or anger.
  6. The symptoms last for more than one month and cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

For the diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder, the symptoms should appear within a month of the traumatic event and last for at least 3 days and for at least a month.

For the diagnosis of Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), the symptoms should have been exposed to prolonged and repeated traumatic events, such as ongoing physical or emotional abuse, and affect the individual’s ability to regulate emotions, form and maintain relationships, and sense of self.

It’s also worth noting that trauma can co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, so a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional is important.

The trauma tests

A trauma test is a tool used by mental health professionals to help identify symptoms of trauma in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. There are several different types of trauma tests available, each with their own unique set of questions and scoring criteria.

One commonly used trauma test is the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-5), which is a self-report measure that assesses the severity of symptoms of PTSD. The PCL-5 includes 17 items that assess the three symptom clusters of PTSDS: re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing and hyperarousal.

Another commonly used trauma test is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC), which is a self-report measure that assesses the presence and severity of symptoms associated with trauma, including symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and dissociation.

It’s important to note that the results of a trauma test alone should not be used to make a diagnosis of trauma or PTSD. The results should be used as part of a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional who can take into account the individual’s history, symptoms, and current functioning.

It’s also worth noting that self-administered online test can be useful to identify possible symptoms, but they’re not a substitute for a professional assessment by a qualified mental health professional.


How long does trauma last

The duration of the impact of trauma can vary widely depending on the individual, the type of trauma, and the support and resources available to them. Some people may experience symptoms of trauma for a relatively short period of time, while others may experience symptoms for much longer.

For some people, the symptoms of trauma may resolve within a few months with the help of professional support and self-care strategies. For others, the symptoms may persist for much longer, and in some cases, may become chronic.

In general, the more severe the trauma, the more prolonged the recovery process is likely to be. Trauma that occurs in childhood, or repeated and prolonged traumatic experiences, such as in cases of abuse or war, tend to have a longer lasting impact.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, and it’s characterized by a set of symptoms that persist for more than one month. PTSD can be treated with therapy and medication, and the length of treatment can vary depending on the individual, but usually is around 12-16 sessions.

It’s important to note that healing from trauma is a process, and it’s not always linear. Some people may experience improvement and then experience a setback, while others may experience symptoms that come and go over time. It’s important to be patient and compassionate with oneself during the healing process.


How to deal with trauma

Dealing with trauma can be a difficult and complex process, and different individuals may find different coping strategies to be helpful. Some strategies for dealing with trauma include:

  1. Seeking professional help: Talking to a therapist or counsellor who is trained in treating trauma can be helpful. They can help you process your feelings and memories and develop coping strategies to manage symptoms.
  2. Processing the trauma: It’s important to allow yourself to process the trauma and express your feelings in a healthy way, whether through talking, writing, or art.
  3. Self-care: Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is essential to dealing with trauma. This may include getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular exercise.
  4. Establishing a support system: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family can provide emotional stability and a sense of security.
  5. Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and develop greater emotional regulation.
  6. Trauma-specific therapies: Some therapies have been developed specifically to help individuals dealing with trauma. These include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE).
  7. Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed by a doctor or mental health professional to help with symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

It’s important to keep in mind that healing from trauma is a process and it’s not always linear, it’s okay to have good days and bad days, and it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself during the journey. It’s also important to remember that what works for one person might not work for another, so it’s important to try different coping strategies and find what works best for you.

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