Trauma is a technical term, but in the context of psychology it simply means having a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. This experience affects the person in a significant way that does not get healed with time. Trauma is often defined as part of a mental illness and while this is a fair definition, it’s not the most accurate. Trauma actually changes the brain electrochemically, so it’s better defined as an injury, not an illness.
Luckily, the brain has plasticity! This means it can heal, completely. Trauma treatment should focus on two main areas: treating the symptoms of trauma, and resolving the trauma itself. This is not something that is well understood, even by therapists, so I thought it appropriate to write a article about it.
I’m going to compare having trauma to having an illness. If you have bacterial pneumonia, you get sick. Someone with pneumonia might have a high temperature, coughing, chills, low energy, low appetite, sweating, etc. These are symptoms of pneumonia, and you may take medicine to reduce your symptoms. This helps, but it’s the antibiotic you are prescribed that actually gets rid of the bacteria that causes pneumonia.
With folks who have experienced trauma, it’s a similar process. It’s important to address the possible symptoms of PTSD: flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, avoiding reminders of what happened, negative beliefs about yourself or the world, feelings of isolation, being super-alert or on guard, feeling numb, being irritable, risky behavior, a feeling of impending doom, or dissociation.
Learning skills and ways to cope to address the symptoms are very important, because they help the person have a better quality of life. These skills alone do not resolve the trauma, however, the cause of the symptoms! Resolving the trauma through EMDR or other effective trauma therapies is like taking the antibiotic: when the trauma itself is resolved, the symptoms will disappear–permanently.
This is what I do, and what other trauma experts and specialists do. Too many people have the mistaken impression that trauma or PTSD is permanent, that “it can only be managed.” This is not true! The time required might vary, but everyone can completely resolve their trauma, it can be cured. I’ve seen it happen in my office many times, and it can happen to you. There is hope! Find help today.