Healing From Trauma
One of the oldest questions humans ask is, “Why does God allow suffering?” The whole book of Job is about this question. There are no easy answers, but one thing is certain, God cares and, through Jesus, He has entered our suffering and has experienced trauma Himself at the hands of fallen people in a fallen world. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” “Tempted” is better translated “put in a fiery trial.” When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the fiery furnace, Jesus was with them, and He was and is with you in your fiery traumatic experience. And He will be with you in your recovery.
Trauma can be any experience you have had that causes emotional or psychological harm such as:
Physical or sexual assault
Abuse – physical, sexual, mental, or emotional
Accidents or witnessing an accident, death, or horrifying situation
Victimization – bullying, domestic violence, racism, crime, neglect, terrorism
Life-threatening or near-death events
Death or loss of a loved one
Serious illness or injury
If you have experienced trauma, as a survival mechanism, your brain responded to the experience by rewiring itself. As a result, you may be experiencing anxiety, depression, dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares about the traumatic event, substance abuse, hostility, detachment from relationships, withdrawal, or illness. You may have recurring unwanted memories about the event or re-live the trauma, which causes sweating, hearth palpitations, or even panic attacks. You might have a constant sense of dread or hyper-vigilance, jumpiness, or irritability. Maybe you have trouble concentrating or you become easily overwhelmed or confused. You may have lost interest in things you used to enjoy or feel detached from other people or everyday life.
Your trauma will either be acute, chronic, or complex. Acute trauma is trauma from a single event. Chronic trauma is trauma from a repeated experience over a long period like abuse or domestic violence that has been ongoing. And complex trauma is trauma from multiple traumatic events.
Trauma Is Not Uncommon
If you are having symptoms of trauma, it is not because you are fragile, weak, or broken. You are human. The factors that cause a person to experience PTSD are things that are beyond human control and so trauma can happen to anyone. You are not alone. Trauma, unfortunately, is all too common.
About 15 million adults a year in the U.S. have PTSD symptoms. The National Center for PTSD reports that about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lifetime. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse, while men are more likely to experience trauma from accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or witness a death or injury. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, more than two-thirds of kids in the United States experience trauma by the age of 16. And more than half of American families have been affected by some form of disaster.
There Is Good News
Even though the symptoms of trauma are painful, the good news is that recovery from trauma is possible. It takes time and each person’s timeline is different, but there is healing if you get help. It is not possible, however, if you just try to “buck up” and “walk it off” on your own. No one recovers from trauma alone, but if you will reach out to a trained therapist, there is evidence that talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and EMDR (eye movement, desensitization, reprocessing) that deal with your memories, thoughts, and feelings about the event or events are effective to help you overcome the distress, pain, and dysfunction of trauma.
In the safe space of the therapy room, you will be able to process your emotions and memories about the traumatic event and face your anxieties and fears. You’ll learn skills that will help you cope and live your daily life. You will learn what triggers your trauma and how you react. You’ll be able to tell your story, find peace, confront your abuser if that is your goal.
As you do this work, you will be rewiring your brain through something called neuroplasticity. The amazing fact is that the pathways in your brain can mold and change over time. That means that, with the right therapy work, you can rehabilitate your brain that was damaged by trauma. As your brain begins to heal and return to normal, you will begin reclaiming your life.
How Therapy Treatment Works
Trauma therapy is focused on three aspects:
Considering. Your therapist will help you explore and evaluate the source of your trauma, your memories of it, the emotions you feel, your beliefs about it, and the messages you tell yourself.
Coping. Your therapist will use therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or EMDR (eye movement, desensitization, reprocessing) to give you skills to cope with your symptoms such as feeling fearful or being on edge around people.
Continuing. Once you have dealt with the source of the trauma and found effective coping skills, your therapist will help you start moving forward with your life.
The kinds of therapy used for trauma at Christian Counseling Associates include Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). TFCBT is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based form of therapy that has been around a very long time. It deals with the thoughts and beliefs you have related to your traumatic experience. TFCBT helps children and adults have more understanding about trauma and its effects. You will learn relaxation techniques and the therapist will get you to talk about your experience and create a trauma narrative where you adjust your thoughts and feelings with respect to your traumatic experience. You may be encouraged to go back to the place where the trauma happened to open a space for you to deal with it in the present in a new way.
EMDR is a new kind of therapy that helps people process trauma much more quickly than other therapies. Because the brain is always moving toward mental health unless something blocks that flow, EMDR works to remove the blockage. The therapist will use an external stimulus to focus your attention outside yourself. The stimulus might be eye movements following lights, hand tapping, or audio stimulation. You will talk about the event and your distress, or imagine what the future will be like. In the last part of the session, the therapist will have you hold part of your story in your mind as you track lights or hand movements with your eyes. This is an imitation of the way the brain processes your thoughts while you are in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Your therapist will work with you to find the therapy method that is best for you.
Excuses For Not Getting Help With Trauma
“I’m afraid that if I learn to be calm instead of on high alert, I won’t be ready if something happens.”
This is a concern of people with PTSD, the idea that if you’re not in a state of vigilance, you won’t be ready to take action should another terrible event happen. But the state of hyper-vigilance where you shut down your emotions and internal responses in order to deal with something that might happen externally goes against your brain’s wiring and your biology. Healing can never happen in that state. You will stay shut down, dissociated, and prone to negative coping behaviors. You can learn to be relaxed and calm while still being present and engaged. And when you do, you will find yourself becoming more able to tolerate and process normal emotions.
“I’m not sure that dwelling on the past or venting with a therapist will help with my trauma.”
Actually, that’s not what trauma therapy is. It’s not just dwelling on the past or venting about the present. It’s more about re-processing the past and looking to the future. Study upon study shows that therapy really does make a difference and helps people just like you make a change for the better in their lives.
“I’m worried that what I share with the counselor will get out and people will know my struggles.”
This is a common concern. No one wants their private world opened for everyone to know that they are in therapy. Happily, the stigma of mental health therapy is not what it used to be. People are much more accepting of going to counseling these days. But even so, know that your privacy is absolutely protected. There are very strict laws about client confidentiality when it comes to your mental health information. Your files are kept behind two locked doors and therapists are to the point of being obsessive about not sharing private mental health information. In fact, if they see you in public, they won’t even acknowledge you unless you speak first and then they will say nothing about being your therapist.