What is Trauma?
Simply put, trauma is a distressing event(s) in your life which overwhelms your capacity to cope or deal with a situation. This can range from single event like a serious accident, sexual or physical violence, unexpected loss of a loved one or it can involve lower intensity but persistent events which effect your baseline way of perceiving the world and/or yourself. It can also be caused by these events happening to someone close to you or witnessing them happening to someone else.
When our capacity to cope is overwhelmed in this way, we have three basic responses to it. We can fight, we can take flight (run) or we can freeze. What response we have depends on personal factors as well as specific details about the event. These responses can also look different than we might recognize in the moment. Here are some basic examples:
- Angry, explosive responses that later seem out of proportion to what happened and that you might not be able to explain why they made sense at the time
- Avoiding situations that could remind you of the traumatic situation even when that causes more problems
- “Shutting down” when confronted with a similar situation which can range from just refusing to talk or engage all the way to situations in which you lose time or the ability to respond
For some of us, these responses become a part of our lives which we have to deal with months, years or decades after the trauma happened. This is what we call Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Why does this happen? Outside of our awareness, our body/brain’s threat detection system has been imprinted with these events and because they were -so- harmful, it is now always watching out to prevent the trauma from ever happening again. This is why situations which activate the memories of the trauma can lead to emotions, thoughts and behaviors which don’t match the present situation. This happens underneath our conscious awareness and that is why trauma can be difficult to address through standard methods of therapy.
An important impact of this constant vigilance is that our conscious mind still has to create stories and beliefs for why we view the world this way. That can involve stories like “Everyone wants to hurt me” or “The world is unstable, unpredictable and dangerous”. These stories can also be more personal like “I can’t let people get close because I will lose them” or “I am unloveable”. These stories are toxic to our relationships and interactions with others, and tend to lead to events which reinforce the harmful beliefs.
A PTSD diagnosis usually includes a psychological evaluation, which involves discussing your signs and symptoms and the events that led up to them. Sometimes a doctor will perform a physical exam to look for any medical illnesses that may be causing the symptoms. Counselors may consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 criteria is used to assess and diagnose psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD.
PTSD symptoms may usually occur quickly within one to three months of a traumatic event. In some cases, they can begin much later in life after suppressed memories are resurrected.
Although PTSD can last for a long time, it is not necessarily permanent. PTSD treatment is a helpful way to improve your condition over time. Psychotherapy or talk therapy plays a critical role in healing PTSD. It can help you control troubling symptoms and find healthy strategies to cope with them better.
Common PTSD Symptoms
There are many signs of PTSD that may differ in severity from person to person. These four types of PTSD symptoms are common indicators that we see in many of our patients.
Intrusive thoughts are repeated, unwanted memories of the traumatic event. We may experience reliving the traumatic ordeal through thoughts and memories. These flashbacks and hallucinations may be so vivid that people feel as if the event is happening again. Intrusive thoughts may also manifest as upsetting dreams or nightmares. Red Cedar Counseling therapists are here to help with processing those memories and thoughts without reliving the situation.
Victims of PTSD will often avoid elements of their surroundings that may remind them of the traumatic event, such as places, people, sounds, thoughts, emotions, smells, tastes, objects, or other situations that can trigger traumatic memories. Our compassionate counselors are ready to help you develop skills to cope with these triggers and eventually neutralize them.
Negative Changes in Cognition or Mood
Changes in mood, such as emotional distress, including fear, horror, anger, anxiety, guilt, or shame are common symptoms among PTSD victims. We may also experience physical symptoms like increased blood pressure, discomfort, or pain. Difficulty falling or staying asleep, memory loss, such as the inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts and feelings about oneself or other people, and feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends can all be unpleasant experiences resulting from PTSD. Victims may also have difficulty relating to others and maintaining close relationships and find themselves losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed. The counselors at Red Cedar understand that these feelings and reactions can be frightening and overwhelming. We are here to help you process and move past these feelings in a healthy and productive way.
Changes in Arousal and Reactivity
Victims of PTSD may find that their responses to stimuli are amplified, for example, being easily startled or frightened, which can create a sense of hypervigilance to always be on high alert. We may find that we are more likely to experience irritability or angry outbursts, or engage in reckless or self-destructive behavior. That is why PTSD therapy is so important for individuals struggling with reactions to traumatic events. Call Red Cedar Counseling to learn more about our PTSD therapy services and to schedule an appointment with an attentive and thoughtful therapist.
Neutralizing Common Occurrences During PTSD Episodes
PTSD episodes are characterized by fear or panic attacks accompanied by increased heart rate, sweating, and trouble breathing. We may also experience intense flashbacks or vivid memories of the event. We feel compelled to dissociate when confronted by the things that remind us of our trauma. While PTSD can sometimes make us feel helpless, there are some things we can do to neutralize it.
- Engage the senses: Use sensory input to focus your attention on your surroundings. Take note of the things you can see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or feel during that moment.
- Breathing exercises: Take slow, deep breaths to lower your heart rate and reduce feelings of panic and anxiety during a PTSD episode.
- Break the cycle: Engage in something else to refocus and ground yourself, like going for a walk outside, moving your body, or talking to a friend.
How Can We Get Past Trauma?
Thankfully, we have developed different ways of treating trauma over the past several decades. The core of many of these methods seems to rely on helping survivors access these experiences while preventing people from being pulled into the traumatic response. This helps the traumatic experience to be processed from the area of the brain that handles recent or current experiences and help move them to our long-term or narrative memory. The trauma becomes part of our larger life story rather than the event which defines our life.
Trauma Therapy Techniques for PTSD
At Red Cedar Counseling, our therapists focus on two major methods of treatment for trauma. The first is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), where one of our licensed counselors helps people utilize their brain’s natural capacity to process memories and heal from the experiences. With EMDR treatment, the painful intensity that traumatic memories carry is defused and they become a non-threatening to the client.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a structured approach to processing trauma and changing how we react to it. It involves a series of guided eye movements that would naturally occur during sleep. EMDR helps you process a traumatic memory naturally, which your brain is overwhelmed with the amount of coping it needs to do. The positive effects of EMDR therapy are often seen after just one session, though multiple sessions are usually required to fully process and acclimate to the memories in order to neutralize them.
The other method that our therapists frequently utilize is talk therapy with a focus on how to process trauma using mindfulness, narrative therapy and skills to handle intrusive trauma symptoms. All of our therapists are trauma informed practitioners and it is one of the things we specialize in at Red Cedar Counseling. This therapy helps us develop more adaptive cognitions and behaviors through recognizing our usual thinking patterns, including negative beliefs about ourselves. Cognitive therapy is often used with exposure therapy.
Therapy and your privacy
The therapists at Red Cedar Counseling respect your privacy. The information shared in a therapy session is strictly confidential. The relationship between the counselor and the patient is based on trust, compassion, and respect, so that each individual feels comfortable in the therapy environment.
Let Red Cedar Counseling help you manage your PTSD symptoms and explore new ways of living that work for you. We serve people in the greater Lansing, Michigan area. To learn more about PTSD therapy and to talk with a professional counselor in the Lansing, Michigan area, contact Red Cedar Counseling today.
PTSD Therapy at Red Cedar Counseling
At Red Cedar Counseling, we offer PTSD therapy. The first session helps us identify symptoms, when they were first noticed, traumatic events that were experienced or witnessed, disturbing thoughts and nightmares, and how symptoms are affecting everyday life. We help create a custom-tailored treatment plan to set your treatment goals for PTSD and identify what will work best for you. Our PTSD counseling also involves regular visits with a compassionate counselor to:
- Examine the trauma and identify new ways to live with it
- Determine how to accept and manage them
- Discuss coping mechanisms and behavior modifications
- Practice mindfulness
- Identify different techniques and skills to offset episodes and address symptoms
- Discuss self-care and healthy living changes for PTSD management