Children and adults typically experience trauma under two different sets of circumstances. These experiences usually call forth overwhelming feelings of panic, horror, or helplessness. When events occur at a particular time and place and are short-lived, they are known as acute traumatic events. These kinds of traumatic events include the following:

  • Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Physical or sexual assault (for example, being beaten, shot, or raped)
  • Falls, sports injuries, or accidents (for example, car or motorcycle crashes)
  • Surgery, particularly emergency, and especially in first 3 years of life
  • Serious illness, especially when accompanied by very high fever
  • Birth trauma
  • Hearing about violence to or sudden death of someone close
  • School shootings
  • Terrorist attacks

Natural disasters (for example, earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes)

In other cases, exposure to trauma can occur repeatedly over long periods of time. These experiences call forth a range of responses, including intense feelings of fear, loss of trust in others, decreased sense of personal safety, guilt, and shame. We call these kinds of trauma chronic traumatic situations. These kinds of traumatic situations include the following:

  • Physical abuse or the perceived threat of it
  • Sexual abuse or the perceived threat of it
  • Loss of maternal or paternal support
  • Death, illness or depression in siblings or parents
  • Growing up in a family impacted by addiction
  • Domestic violence or bullying or the perceived threat of it
  • Poor or inadequate relationship with a primary caretaker
  • Forced separation very early in life from primary caregiver

Chronic mis-attunement of caregiver to child’s attachment signals

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma is stress on steroids. Stress disregulates our nervous systems, but for only a relatively short period of time. Within a few hours or days, our nervous system calms down and we revert to a normal state of equilibrium.  This is not the case when we have experienced 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 the upset is triggered
  • How frequently the upset is triggered
  • How intensely threatening the upset is experienced as
  • How long the upset lasts
  • How out of sync the reaction was to the actual event
  • How long it takes to return to calm awareness

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.

Impacts of Trauma

A simple way to assess childhood trauma is by asking the question, ‘were either of your primary caregivers overly scared or scary?’  If so, there is a possibility that your autonomic nervous system has developed triggers that cause you to move unconsciously into over-arousal (anxiety) or under-arousal (depression).  Neuroscience can now verify the presence of traumatic incidents through brain scans that reveal how trauma changes the structure and function of the brain at the point where the frontal cortex, the emotional brain and the survival brain converge.  This demonstrates that trauma is, in fact, very real for many people, not just war veterans or those subject to terrorist attacks.  I screen all of my clients for past trauma, since it inevitably influences everyone’s present life experiences.

How I can help

If you have worked in the past with therapists who used a more traditional “talk therapy” approach, but found that it did not relieve your symptoms, you are not alone.  Often, traditional cognitive behavioral approaches do not relieve trauma.  Approaches that work directly with the body and the autonomic nervous system are much more powerful for those with trauma.  Whether you are aware of past trauma or not, if you find yourself living in a state where you are often highly threatened, reactive or defensive, it’s worth exploring your back ground with a therapist trained in assessing and treating trauma.  It’s important to understand that not all therapists are trained to work with trauma in this way.  Please see my training background to see the work I have done in the area of trauma.


Free phone consult

Even though therapy offers a chance to make long-lasting positive changes in your life, just reaching out is the most difficult step. I invite you to call, text or email me right now to see if we’re a good fit. There are no forms or paperwork to fill out.  Why wait?  And we’ll spend just 10-15 minutes getting to know one another. Call today and start feeling better.