What is Trauma and PTSD?

Trauma is complex. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has a definition for what classifies Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) but for many people their experience is not a straightforward example of PTSD. Instead for many people their trauma is a multilayered experience that doesn’t get wrapped in an easily identifiable bow. There is a complexity associated with trauma and its many masks. Complex trauma is messy. Complex trauma is describe as exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure (Sam Himelstein, 2019).

Due to complex resilience factors, there are times when those traumatized can function relatively well in school, at home, at work, and socially. Other times, seemingly out of nowhere, they can become triggered, dysregulated, and their central nervous system tells them they’re in imminent danger. When our amygdala (the alarm system) which interprets dangerous and life threatening stimuli is triggered, the hypothalamus quickly sends a message down the brainstem and a person’s body shifts into fight, flight, or freeze. The fight, flight, or freeze are mobilized defense systems when the body mobilizes to take some kind of action, awareness narrows to focus only on is pertinent for survival.

Changes in Nervous System Functioning as a result of Trauma:

  • The pupils dilate
  • Saliva flow is inhibited
  • Heartbeat accelerates
  • Glycogen is converted to glucose
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted
  • Bladder contraction is inhibited
  • Heightened alertness and vigilance

Even after the dangerous situation has past and a person is now safe their ability to regulate has been altered and moving forward the brain misinterprets danger and other stimuli.

Trauma and Complex Trauma Examples:

  • Sexual assault survivors
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Long term psychological abuse
  • Homelessness and extreme poverty
  • Community violence
  • Multigenerational trauma
  • War veterans
  • Witness of domestic violence
  • Growing up surrounded by substance use and alcoholism
  • Witnessing a death or an accident
  • Environmental disasters
  • Mass shootings
  • Vicarious trauma

This is not an exhaustive list and there are many more experiences that encapsulate a traumatic experience. The other important thing to bear in mind is that trauma impacts everyone differently. What one individual views as traumatic might not impact another person in the same way.

Possible Symptoms and Impacts of Trauma and PTSD:

  • Changes the brain Chemistry and how we process things
  • Impacts short and long-term memory and concentration
  • Alters a persons sense of safety
  • Changes and disrupts attachment and connection with self and others
  • Disrupts emotional regulation and impacts overall mood
  • Feelings of self hate and shame
  • Physical illness or physical pains
  • Can create an overall sense of panic and anxiety
  • Nightmares/flash backs “can manifest by hearing voices”/insomnia issues
  • Dissociation and feeling like time periods are lost or in a daze

As mentioned previously, the impact of trauma can vary greatly person to person and similarly the healing process is different for every person as well. There are many interventions that have been research and identified as being safe and helpful for individual healing from trauma related difficulties. Mind Garden begins treatment with a thorough bio-psycho-social assessment and following this assessment we will create an individualized treatment plan specific for each individuals needs, symptoms, and trauma history.

Treatment Modalities for Trauma and PTSD may Include:

Brainspotting Therapy

Brainspotting is built on a model where the therapist simultaneously attunes to the client and the client’s brain-body processes through a process called Dual Attunement. The motto of brainspotting is “Where you look affects how you feel.” If something is bothering you, how you feel about it literally changes depending on whether you are looking off to your right or to your left. Our eyes and brains are intricately woven together, and vision is the primary way that we, as humans, orient ourselves to our environments. The brain reflexively and intuitively redirects where we look, moment to moment. As we have mentioned pieces of trauma are often frozen in an unprocessed state. Brainspotting uses our field of vision to find where we are holding these traumas in our brains which can lead to trauma release and resolution.  Please learn more by visiting our brainspotting page.

Mindfulness Based Approaches

Mindfulness Based approaches assist in teaching individuals how to be present focused and to observe rather than to react to one’s emotions or thoughts. Many of the difficulties people face following trauma experience are from the past and Mindfulness assist in helping people get regulated in the present and to explored how their trauma is impacting their mind and body in the moment. Mindfulness techniques over time change the neural pathways and can assist individuals in getting back to their window of tolerance—described to be the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively. When a person becomes triggered by trauma memories or experiences they can be aroused outside of their window of tolerance into hyper or hypo arousal (fight, flight, freeze, dissociation). Mindfulness techniques help the higher functioning brain get back online to assist in communication, decision-making, and emotional regulation.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), another type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The main goals of DBT are teaching people how to live in the present moment, develop healthy coping strategies when stressed, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with other. DBT teaches skills of distress tolerance, radical acceptance, and mindfulness techniques all tools to assist them in self-soothing.

Exposure Response Prevention

Often, following traumatic experience individuals can begin to avoid certain people, places, and things in fear of being revicitimized or due to intensity of symptoms. Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) can be extremely helpful for those struggling with Trauma, Anxiety Disorder, and extreme avoidance. This therapeutic intervention encourages the client to face their fears slowly and they learn to let fearful thoughts occur without neutralizing them with avoidance behaviors. Exposures confront one’s fears repeatedly until the fear subsides due to habituation. This is a collaborative and gradual process moving at the client’s speed and comfort level.

Trauma-Informed Yoga and Approaches

Trauma -Informed Yoga helps us to go into our pain and explore it with openness and curiosity in order to learn to regulate the feelings it brings up and accept certain parts of ourselves. Yoga can help trauma survivors recalibrate the nervous system and heal from these experiences. These yoga sessions are less about the workout and much more focus on the work-in and increasing body comfort and awareness. Everything in Trauma-Informed Yoga is choice based and an invitation for you to decide what feels good and how you wish to move your body. Yoga is about love and empowerment and helping individuals get reconnected with themselves and the world around them. Mind Garden offers many styles of yoga fitting each person’s individual needs and goals.

By seeking treatment, you can recover from trauma, and regain the love and joy of living life. Please reach out for additional information or call us today for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We look forward to holding space for you!