What is trauma?
Trauma can be quite a loaded word, it means different things to different people. When talking about trauma with regards to mental health, it refers to a stressful event that exceeds one’s ability to cope (whether that’s our physical, psychological, social, or spiritual coping skills). This means our experience of a traumatic event is inherently personal; each person’s interpretation of stress and capacity to cope is different than everyone else’s, and our coping capacities change over time. A trauma can happen directly to you, be something that you witnessed, or even something that you heard about.
Trauma reactions can be physical, cognitive (in thought processes), emotional, or psychological. They are diverse, they can be intense, confusing, or debilitating. Common reactions to a trauma include feelings of helplessness, a diminished sense of self, or feeling keyed-up and tense. Other common reactions include fatigue, explosive, or diminish your ability to feel a full range of emotions. Sometimes trauma reactions disconnect the mind from the body, create a desire to isolate from others, create feelings of confusion, or cause anxiety.
Are there different types of trauma?
When we talk about trauma, we can think about trauma as being direct, or indirect. When we experience a direct trauma, the traumatic event directly happened to us. When we talk about indirect trauma that typically means we were exposed to the trauma by learning about it afterwards or from someone else.
There are all sorts of direct traumas. A surgery can be a type of trauma, and it is not uncommon after a surgery to experience a brief depressive episode. Witnessing a cyclist getting hit by a car in downtown Portland can be traumatic. Experiencing an act of sexual assault or violence can also be traumatic. Any stressful event that happens to you and overwhelms your ability to cope is a direct trauma.
Likewise, there are all sorts of types of indirect trauma (this is also commonly referred to as secondary trauma.) When a loved one tells us a harrowing story that happened to them, that can be traumatic. Reading about a nasty incident happening on the MAX in Portland can be traumatic. It is common in the medical field for doctors, nurses, therapists, and other health professionals to experience secondary trauma because the people they treat have been exposed to trauma. In some ways, trauma can be a communal response to a tragedy that has happened to someone within our community.
Are trauma reactions always the result of a singular event?
Traumatic reactions may stem for a singular event, or from repeated exposure to multiple stressful events in our lifetimes. Sometimes we are exposed to one incredibly stressful event, and that may result in developing acute stress symptoms or trauma related disorders, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Adjustment Disorder.
Likewise, experiencing a number of stressful events throughout our lifetime can cause trauma reactions. Think about this like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Each of the stressful events in one’s lifetime on their own may not be traumatic, but the culmination of stressful events over time can in itself cause trauma reactions. This is often referred to as Complex Trauma.
What are the symptoms of trauma?
Symptoms of trauma can be quite diverse and change from person to person. Symptoms can be psychological, physical, emotional, and behavioral. Symptoms of trauma can be uncomfortable, cause distress, or impair functioning. Sometimes they result in clinical disorders.
Common emotional symptoms for trauma include sadness, anger, fear, guilt, worry, anxiety, shame, wariness, and irritability. Sometimes emotional reactions can be very sudden, without a seeming rhyme or reason, this includes bouts of crying or explosive anger that seems to come from nowhere.
Some common physical symptoms of trauma can include nausea, fatigue, dizziness, challenges with sleep, changes in appetite, headaches, muscle-tension, feeling keyed-up and tense, feeling cold, having the shakes or jitteriness, dissociative experiences, and gastrointestinal problems. With sleep, some challenges can include problems falling asleep, problems staying asleep, problems staying awake, insomnia, or hypersomnia.
Common psychological symptoms of trauma include intrusive thoughts and memories, difficulty with concentration, confusion, difficulty making decisions, distorted thought patterns, racing thoughts, feeling blank minded, nightmares, difficulty with relationships, or dissociative types of reactions. Dissociative symptoms refer to when the mind feels disconnected from the body (some people describe this feeling as if they were watching their life through a movie), or when the world around us feels fake.
Adults can develop the following trauma disorders: Acute Stress Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Adjustment Disorders. Traumatic events can also lead to the development of Mood Disorders like Depression or Anxiety, or other complications with mental and physical health.
How does Portland, Oregon fit in?
Just like anywhere else in the world or the country, we here in Portland will be exposed to trauma. Unfortunately, we do not have access to good statistics about the prevalence of PTSD, and the experience of traumatic events here in Rip City. What we do know is that various studies nationwide suggest that about 60 to 70 percent of Americans will experience at least one major traumatic event in their lives, and about 8 percent of adults have PTSD at any given time. Oregon has the 16th highest rate of suicide in the country, another indicator that people in this state are struggling with the after-effects of trauma.
What can therapy do for trauma?
Therapy can do a lot for healing from and coping with trauma. In the context of therapy at Mindful Healing Portland LLC, we take a holistic approach. This involves creating a safe space to ground and work through trauma. In therapy, we can assess how trauma has affected the mindbody, teach grounding skills to work with somatic challenges (physical reactions), to bring more calm and relaxation into the body. We work on navigating changes in thinking and emotions, and identify coping mechanisms to develop some regulation in the mindbody, and ultimately work to heal psychic wounds. If you think you are struggling with traumatic reactions it is important to find a therapist who provides trauma-informed care.
Do I need insurance to see a therapist?
No. In fact, at Mindful Healing we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.
E-mail us or call us at 503-878-8588 to schedule your intake today.