Many people seek therapy due to the effects of trauma. And yet, for most people what trauma actually is, and how to treat it remains vague.
One commonly asked question is about the difference between a trauma and a crisis. The short answer is that a crisis is an unexpected and overwhelming event (s) that stresses a person’s coping abilities. If coped with properly, the crisis ends and its effects heal. However, in many cases the necessary mental abilities to process a crisis are either not developed or become dysfunctional. In that context, the effects of a crisis linger. They become ingrained in the person’s emotional system. For example, someone who was abused by a parent can develop permanent problems in their ability to attach and relate with others. They simply cannot depend on another person without becoming extremely anxious. In that case the crisis of being abused has become a trauma. The negative effects continue to disrupt the person’s emotions and relationships; long after the actual abuse may have stopped. In short, a crisis is a bad experience whose effects are eventually resolved, whereas a trauma is a crisis that never ends. A friend once aptly remarked, “trauma is a gift that keeps on giving.”
What to do about it?
First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that you may carry emotional scars that affect the quality of your life and relationships. Second, have hope! It is possible to overcome traumatic experiences, to repair old wounds, to stop repeating the experience of being in bad relationships.
Psychotherapy is one very powerful tool to combat the effects of trauma. There are a number of things that a good therapy can repair. The experience of being understood and helped by a skilled therapist who is able to keep your best interest foremost in their mind helps you to get over difficult emotions and faulty patterns of thinking that resulted from traumatic experiences. More importantly, it restores a sense of basic trust in your mind and in your important relationships, heals your heart, and allows you to resume a positive and meaningful life.
Incidentally, recent neuropsychological research is showing that traumatic experiences, especially early in life, can change the structure and function of a person’s brain. Particular brain structures that are responsible for emotional regulation become thin and weak when a person is neglected or exposed to overwhelming emotional turbulence. Conversely, it has been shown that psychotherapy, especially a longer-term psychodynamic therapy, stimulates growth in areas of the brain that were previously underperforming. These findings confirm that psychotherapy restores wellbeing in the mind-body system.