Trauma & Dissociation
Trauma can take many different forms. We believe that trauma is any event or experience that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope. Often when people hear the word trauma, they think of experiencing war or combat, natural disasters, rape, or other life-threatening experiences. Although these events are more obviously traumatic, trauma can encompass a wide range of experiences.
There are “big T” traumas and “little t” traumas. “Big T” traumas include the more obvious traumatic events such as experiencing natural disasters, rape or sexual assault, war or combat, etc. However, there are also “little t” traumas, which include things such as experiences of bullying, emotional neglect, repeatedly being given the message that you aren’t good enough, etc. In fact, a build up of “little t” traumas can be more pervasive and take longer to recover from. We believe that many negative belief patterns and unhealthy behaviors stem from traumatic experiences or relational wounds from the past. It’s important to note that something that is not traumatic to one person may be traumatic to another. People experience and respond to things differently, which is why trauma is based on one’s perception.
Trauma often creates blocks in people’s lives that inform how they view themselves and others. It impacts how individuals interact with the world and the people in it.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often caused by a traumatic event where there is actual or threatened serious injury, death, or sexual violence. This can be an event you experienced yourself, something that you witnessed or heard about.
Heightened startle response
Avoidance of emotions or thoughts about the trauma
Avoidance of people or situations that remind one of the trauma
Memory issues related to the event
Negative thoughts or beliefs about self and others
Feelings of horror, sadness, shame
Loss of interest in events that were once enjoyable
Feeling isolated, detached, and alone
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
There is now also a dissociative subtype of PTSD. This includes feelings of depersonalization and derealization. Depersonalization is a feeling of disconnection from self, whereas derealization is a feeling of disconnection from the world. See our page on Depersonalization/Derealization for more information.
When trauma is repeated and prolonged, the result is complex trauma. This type of trauma is often relational, meaning it stems from how you were treated by other human beings, sometimes the individuals that were supposed to be trustworthy, nurturing, and protective. The results of complex trauma often play out in people’s lives through critical self-talk and relational problems. You respond as if people are untrustworthy or out to get you. Or you may believe that you don’t deserve good things or that something is inherently wrong with you.
There is no diagnosis for complex trauma, though some will use the term, “Complex PTSD.” Individuals with complex trauma histories have often received multiple diagnoses and may have experienced little success in previous therapy. We feel confident and equipped to successfully treat those with complex histories.
Symptoms can often include:
little or no memories
chronic pain, including headaches
history of drug and alcohol abuse
Often those with complex trauma have learned to use dissociation as a way to cope and survive. If the trauma is now over, many times individuals need to learn grounding skills and how to live in the present.
Symptoms can include the following:
being zoned out
not being able to remember important parts of conversations
black outs, not attributable to excessive drinking or drug use
losing large chunks of time
feeling like you’re going through the motions
not recognizing yourself
rapid mood shifts
Some common traumas we see are:
Adult sexual assault and rape
Childhood trauma for adults
Verbal or emotional abuse
Having a narcissistic parent or partner
Growing up in a dysfunctional family
Growing up in a family impacted by addiction
We are also able to treat individuals with the most complex of histories who have experienced events that are unfathomable for most. Complex trauma can include extreme abuse that is sadistic and cruel in nature, perpetrated in an intentional, organized way.
We have experience working with the following:
Kidnapping or captivity
Multigenerational family abuse
We use a phase-oriented approach to trauma treatment, which is strongly recommended in the treatment guidelines created by the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. You can find their website here. This phase-oriented approach includes:
Phase 1: Improving safety, stabilization, and management of symptoms
Phase 2: Facing, processing, and integrating trauma memories
Phase 3: Continuing integration and personal growth
We integrate a variety of modalities including, but not limited to: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Hypnosis, Comprehensive Resource Model, Internal Family Systems, Trauma Sensitive Yoga, and other somatic interventions to safety address past trauma in a stage-oriented fashion. Different clinicians have specialized training in these various modalities. We believe you are the expert on your own life and use a collaborative approach where you have a choice and a say in every step of your treatment.