Psychological trauma is usually thought of as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. However, a person can be traumatised by a variety of experiences that bring great distress and a feeling of being unable to escape or manage a situation.
Psychological trauma can also occur through repeated exposure such as enduring a relationship with an abusive partner, parent, or even a boss. This can overwhelm one’s nervous system and create traumatic stress. A person’s sense of security shatters, leaving one feeling helpless and vulnerable in what seems to be a dangerous world – especially if the experience was manmade.
Psychological trauma and far-reaching consequences
Psychological trauma can have far-reaching consequences – emotional, physical, and relational. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical.
Longer-term reactions may include unpredictable emotions and a chronic sense of doom, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms such as headaches, body aches, fatigue, clenched jaws, and nausea.
Identifying the signs and symptoms of trauma
Problems with clear thinking such as confusion and difficulty concentrating
Shock, denial, or disbelief
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Anxiety and fear
Guilt, shame, self-blame
Withdrawing from others
Feeling sad or hopeless
Feeling disconnected or numb
Sleep disturbances and nightmares
Physical expressions of chronic stress such as gut issues or headaches
Three main types of psychological trauma
Acute trauma results from a single incident such as a break-in or a car accident
Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged such as domestic violence or abuse
Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature
Complex trauma typically stems from a distressing childhood or long term close but dysfunctional relationship that leaves a person with a complex constellation of emotions such as chronic anxiety, shame and guilt, struggles with identity, and so on. These kinds of traumas almost always require psychological intervention.
Many people recover spontaneously from traumatic experiences and find that with time, the memories and resulting distressing emotions start to fade naturally. However, if symptoms are intense enough to feel overwhelming and confusing, or they last almost unchanged for more than a few months, it is best to get a Psychologist’s help, as the impact may be pervasive in one’s life and long lasting.
When emotional trauma is experienced as severe, it can cause lasting changes in the brain such as in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex region which is responsible for regulating emotional responses triggered by the amygdala. This means a traumatised person who has not naturally recovered from a traumatic experience or experiences, may find it very difficult to calm their fear and anxiety in everyday life. As one can imagine, feeling constantly stressed, easily startled and never quite settled can wreak havoc with sleep, relationships, and general enjoyment of life’s pleasures.
Trauma Counselling & Therapy | Adelaide Psychology Clinic
Our Psychologists are specifically trained in helping to overcome difficult emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear, low confidence, and interpersonal challenges.
Psychological interventions typically go beyond debriefing, which is often helpful, but also include tools and techniques to overcome and better manage the challenges that stem from psychological trauma and shock. Some of these may include EMDR, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion Focussed Therapy, Mindfulness, Meditation, breathing techniques, and so on. Therapy is always respectfully and compassionately tailored to a specific client’s experience and needs.
Adelaide Psychologists & Therapists | Trauma therapy & counselling
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