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What Is Trauma?

Trauma Defined

Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences.

It does not discriminate and it is pervasive throughout the world. A World Mental Health survey conducted by the World Health Organization found that at least a third of the more than 125,000 people surveyed in 26 different countries had experienced trauma. That number rose to 70% when the group was limited to people experiencing core disorders as defined by the DSM-IV (the classification found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition). But those numbers are just for instances that have been reported; the actual number is probably much, much higher.

While there are no objective criteria to evaluate which events will cause post-trauma symptoms, circumstances typically involve the loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, helplessness, pain, confusion and/or loss. The event need not rise to the level of war, natural disaster, nor personal assault to affect a person profoundly and alter their experiences. Traumatic situations that cause post-trauma symptoms vary quite dramatically from person to person. Indeed, it is very subjective and it is important to bear in mind that it is defined more by its response than its trigger.

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Common Responses and Symptoms of Trauma

Response to a traumatic event varies significantly among people, but there are some basic, common symptoms.

Emotional signs include:

  • sadness
  • anger
  • denial
  • fear
  • shame

These may lead to:

  • nightmares
  • insomnia
  • difficulty with relationships
  • emotional outbursts

Common physical symptoms:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • altered sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems

Psychological disorders may include:

  • PTSD
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dissociative disorders
  • substance abuse problems

Acute Stress Disorder vs. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Not every traumatized person develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people develop some symptoms like those listed above, but they go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder (ASD).

When the symptoms last more than a month and seriously affect the person’s ability to function, the person may be suffering from PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show symptoms for months after the event itself. And some people deal with PTSD symptoms of a traumatic experience for the rest of their life. Symptoms of PTSD can escalate to panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, drug abuse, feelings of being isolated and not being able to complete daily tasks.

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Therapies for Trauma

Individuals experiencing trauma benefit from working with a therapist or therapy that is trauma-focused or trauma-informed. Most trauma-informed therapists will employ a combination of interventions and modalities.

One example is the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), developed by world-renowned scientist and Chief Scientific Advisor at Unyte-iLs, Dr. Stephen Porges. SSP uses the auditory system and its direct connection to the nervous system to restore the brain and body’s ability to find states of calm, safety, and regulation.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is designed to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity while enhancing social engagement and resilience. By calming the physiological and emotional state, the door is opened for improved communication and more successful therapy.

Research has shown that the SSP can have significant results in just five days in the following areas:

  • Social and emotional difficulties
  • Auditory sensitivities
  • Anxiety and trauma related challenges
  • Inattention
  • Stressors that impact social engagement

The SSP is delivered as a 5-hour auditory intervention program that is guided and supported by a trained professional.

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Want to learn more about how the Safe and Sound Protocol can aid trauma treatment in the clinic or at home? Connect with our consultants by filling in the form below.

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