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Trauma: Recovery and Resolution

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Karin Witte, LMHC

Have you ever experienced a scent or sound that reminded you of a particular person or situation in your life? For example, every time I smell a certain perfume, I’m reminded of my paternal grandmother. Or I’ll walk into a restaurant and I’m immediately reminded of my elementary school cafeteria. The former brings back pleasant memories; the latter, not so much – and I usually don’t stay for a meal. These experiences are functionally similar to what happens in the brain when there is trauma and PTSD.

These scents and sounds are stored in the brain and are unconsciously related to either a positive or negative memory or experience. The same is true for psychological trauma, such as abuse or abandonment. When a traumatic experience occurs, it gets stored in the brain with the visuals, the smells, thoughts and feelings that occurred at that time. The good news is that trauma recovery is possible with professional help.

What Exactly Is Trauma?

Many people experience trauma and the lasting negative effects. Trauma may result from growing up in a chaotic environment or not getting our primary emotional and relational needs met during childhood. Or we may be traumatized by experiencing one or more tragic or violent events, resulting in PTSD.

The 2 major types of trauma are developmental and shock trauma.

Developmental Trauma (refers to events that occur during childhood)

  • Generally results from abuse, neglect or abandonment. These events gradually alter the child’s brain and emotional balance.
  • Examples include abandonment or long-term separation from a parent, an unstable or unsafe environment, neglect, serious illness, physical or sexual abuse and betrayal at the hands of a caregiver; even the loss of a beloved pet can be traumatic to a child.
  • Causes disruptions in the child’s natural psychological growth and development.
  • Has a negative impact on a child’s sense of safety and security in the world.
  • Can result in a sense of fear and helplessness (anxiety) if left unresolved.
  • Alters psychological and emotional development, with life-long negative effects.
  • A wide range of current situations (especially relationship issues) may trigger the underlying, unresolved trauma, resulting in symptoms of anxiety, panic, and/or depression.

Shock Trauma (severe, often violent traumatic events during any stage of life)

  • Involves a sudden threat that is perceived as overwhelming and/or life threatening.
  • Examples include serious car accidents, violence, rape, natural disasters, sudden death of a loved one, battlefield assault and war.
  • Usually results in symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder – disturbing memories or dreams, anxiety, flashbacks, depression, irritability and anger, insomnia, and others).

To this day, whenever I see images of the 9/11 attacks or the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I’m immediately flooded with emotion and feel tightness in my stomach, chest and throat. These are indications of post-traumatic distress.

Developmental and Shock Trauma – Comparison

Developmental Trauma Shock Trauma
  • Distressing childhood events (parental absence, neglect, abandonment, abuse, family conflict, divorce, being bullied, learning challenges, etc.)
  • Trauma accumulates over time from childhood;
  • Effects of trauma are pervasive and ongoing;
  • Often there are few or no distressing flashbacks;
  • Results in negative beliefs, emotions and body sensations, such as people pleasing, difficulty trusting others, fear of conflict; self-sabotage.
  • A catastrophic, often violent situation or threat;
  • May be a single or multiple event trauma;
  • May be pervasive in the case of multiple single event traumas;
  • Most often involves distressing flashbacks of the event(s);
  • Results in negative beliefs, distressing emotions and/or physical sensations months or years after event;
  • Lasting negative effect on a person’s sense of safety in the world (such as anxiety, panic, phobias, & PTSD).

Resolution and Recovery

There are several therapeutic modalities proven to be effective for trauma recovery. The first step toward resolution is to find a therapist who is educated and trained in trauma recovery.

Medical research shows that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the most effective treatment methods for trauma recovery. EMDR is a powerful therapeutic technique which is highly effective in reducing or eliminating anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress and other emotional and behavioral problems.

In my therapy practice, I’ve observed many successful outcomes – healing the mind, body and spirit from the negative effects of trauma by integrating EMDR with breath work, guided meditation, mindfulness practices and yoga.

If you or someone you know suffers from trauma, please know there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. For additional information about trauma, trauma recovery and EMDR, please contact our Center today.