Psychological trauma covers an extremely broad range of damage to the psyche that occurs of a severely distressing event – or a series or multitude of seemingly less serious events over time. Typical causes of psychological trauma include harassment, embarrassment, sexual abuse, employment discrimination, bullying, domestic violence, indoctrination, being the victim of an alcoholic parent, the threat of either, or the witnessing of either, particularly in childhood, life-threatening medical conditions, medication-induced trauma, neglect, and other childhood attachment issues. Catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, war or other mass violence can also cause psychological trauma. Long-term exposure to situations such as extreme poverty or milder forms of abuse, such as verbal abuse generate psychological trauma.
Physical and emotional trauma leave an indelible imprint in our minds and bodies. It is believed that unconscious thought patterns are stored in our bodies and are largely based on past conditioning, unresolved emotions, or trauma. These limiting patterns impact our behavior, health, and overall well-being.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD – is caused by a very stressful, frightening, life-threatening, or distressing events. Such events include, but are not limited to: serious accidents, violent personal assaults such as sexual assault, mugging, or robbery, terrorist incidents, and military combat.
Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma:
• Intrusive thoughts of the event that may occur out of the blue
• Shock, denial, or disbelief
• Anger, irritability, mood swings
• Guilt, shame, self-blame
• Feeling sad or hopeless
• Confusion, difficulty concentrating
• Anxiety and fear
• Withdrawing from others
• Feeling disconnected or numb
• Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories of the event
These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the trauma. But even when you’re feeling better, you may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds you of the traumatic experience.
Physical symptoms of trauma:
• Insomnia or nightmares
• Being startled easily
• Racing heartbeat
• Aches and pains
• Fatigue and exhaustion
• Difficulty concentrating
• Edginess and agitation
• Muscle tension
• Extreme alertness; always on the lookout for warning of potential danger
A trauma diagnosis may be difficult to make for many reasons. Patients may not recognize the link between their symptoms and an experienced traumatic event or series of seemingly unrelated events such as neglect; patients may be unwilling to disclose the event; or the presentation may be obscured by depression, substance abuse, or other comorbidities. Making a connection between a patient's symptoms and a trauma that occurred in childhood may be particularly difficult to establish.
The diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms and a thorough psychological evaluation. The healthcare provider will ask a series of questions in addition to asking the patient to describe his or her symptoms and any memories of events that led up to them. A physical exam to check for medical problems may also be appropriate.
The primary treatment for all forms of trauma, including PTSD, is psychotherapy, but often includes medication. Combining these treatments can help improve symptoms, teach you skills to address your symptoms, help you feel better about yourself, and learn ways to cope if any symptoms arise again. Cognitive therapy and EMDR are the most common types of psychotherapy to treat trauma.
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