Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Emotional & Psychological Trauma:

Trauma. The word brings to mind the effects of such major events as war, rape, kidnapping, abuse, torture, or other similar assault. The emotional aftermath of such events, recognized by the medical and psychological communities, and increasingly by the general public, is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now there is a new field of investigation that is less familiar, even to professionals: emotional or psychological trauma.

Recent research has revealed that emotional trauma can result from such common occurrences as an auto accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition, or other similar situations.

Traumatizing events can take a serious emotional toll on those involved, even if the event did not cause physical damage.Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:
  • it was unexpected;

  • the person was unprepared;

  • and there was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening.

What is the difference between stress and emotional or psychological trauma?One way to tell the difference between stress and emotional trauma is by looking at the outcome – how much residual effect an upsetting event is having on our lives, relationships, and overall functioning.

Traumatic distress can be distinguished from routine stress by assessing the following:how quickly upset is triggeredhow frequently upset is triggered how intensely threatening the source of upset is how long upset lasts and how long it takes to calm down.

If we can communicate our distress to people who care about us and can respond adequately, and if we return to a state of equilibrium following a stressful event, we are in the realm of stress. If we become frozen in a state of active emotional intensity, we are experiencing an emotional trauma – even though sometimes we may not be consciously aware of the level of distress we are experiencing.

How is emotional trauma treated?Traditional approaches to treating emotional trauma include:talk therapies (working out the feelings associated with the trauma);Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves changing one's thoughts and actions, and includes systematic desensitization to reduce reactivity to a traumatic stressorrelaxation/stress reduction techniques, such as biofeedback or breathwork; andhypnosis to deal with reactions often below the level of conscious awareness.

There are also several recent developments in the treatment to emotional trauma. Depending on the nature of the trauma and the age or state of development at which it occurred, these somatic (body) psychotherapies might even be more effective than traditional therapies. Some of the new therapies include:EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming)Somatic ExperiencingHakomiIntegrative Body Psychotherapy

Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lisa Flores Dumke, M.A., contributed to this article.

Abridged and Edited for E.A. for More Resources on How to Deal with Trauma >>

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