Dr. Elena Duong
Updated: Mar 10
Have you wondered if you have trauma? There has been more talk in the media lately about the impact of trauma on our bodies and lives. With anything introduced into the mainstream, there can be confusion on what it is exactly.
What is Trauma?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA; n.d.), trauma results from being exposed to event(s) that adversely affects an individual, including their emotions and physical well-being. Trauma can be experienced as a one-time occurrence, ongoing occurrence, and we can be deeply impacted by traumatic events that happen to our loved ones. Traumatic experiences can include but not limited to the following: abuse, neglect, discrimination, and violence.
This also includes childhood trauma, which has been measured in the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study. An example of an ACE question from the study is "Did your parents or adults in your home ever swear at you, insult you, or put you down?" Higher ACE scores indicate the more likely a person has experienced negative outcome(s) in their lives, including unhealthy coping behaviors and chronic diseases. If you are interested in learning more about this or taking the ACE test, feel free to click here: https://www.acesaware.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ACE-Questionnaire-for-Adults-Identified-English.pdf
Effects of Trauma
Trauma affects everyone differently. It can affect our mental health, physical health, ability to form relationships, and more. Some develop trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others do not. The reason why some people do not develop PTSD is not exactly straightforward. All in all, there are protective factors buffering the development of PTSD, such as having a good support system, learning/understanding your resulting emotions from trauma, seeking mental health treatment as need, and engaging in healthy coping skills.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), the following are the criteria for PTSD:
Exposure to actual or threatened death, injury, or violence
Experiencing intrusive symptoms after the traumatic event(s), including recurrent distressing memories/flashbacks/dreams of the event(s)
Emotional distress and/or significant bodily reactions when exposed to details or reminders of the event(s)
Experiencing avoidance of reminders and/or distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the event(s)
Experiencing negative changes in thoughts and mood, including possibly blaming themselves or others when thinking about the cause/consequence, related the traumatic event(s)
Significant changes in reactivity, such as irritability, hyper-vigilance, easily startled, concentration/sleep difficulties, related to the traumatic event(s)
Not all traumas present as PTSD. PTSD oftentimes encapsulates acute or one-event traumas. Childhood or complex traumas may look differently than PTSD, such as developing a negative sense of self, emotion dysregulation, and ongoing relationship difficulties. People with childhood or complex traumas also may still have the symptoms of PTSD.
Types of Treatment For Trauma
Seeking help is already difficult, but seeking help for trauma may be even more difficult. If you are not ready for treatment, that is okay. Take it at your own pace. One step at a time.
Make sure to take care of the basics, including eating, sleeping, exercising, seeking support, engaging in self-care, and not using substances to self-medicate when things get difficult since you may want to escape the emotions
Seeking psychotherapy, especially trauma-informed care, is important to recovering
According to the APA’s Division 12 (n.d.), evidence-based PTSD therapies include cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure, and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
Childhood and complex traumas are usually more difficult to treat and take longer to treat since it usually is chronic
Some may want/need to seek psychiatric support in addition to psychotherapy
Please consult with your primary physician/psychiatrist for medication support as needed
Sometimes, people grow up in a traumatic environment(s) without knowing it. It takes time to become aware and realize it is not right to be harmed or mistreated as you were. All humans are worthy of love and do not deserve to be treated less than.
If you want mental health support in your journey, feel free to contact us through our site.
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Intergenerational Trauma in Asian Americans."
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Trauma. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/
Society of Clinical Psychology, Division 12: American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Treatment Target: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Society of Clinical Psychology, Division 12: American Psychological Association. https://div12.org/diagnosis/posttraumatic-stress-disorder/
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.