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.

Symptoms include:

 Heightened startle response

Avoidance of emotions or thoughts about the trauma

Avoidance of people or situations that remind one of the trauma

  • Flashbacks

  • Nightmares

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • 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

  • Irritability

  • Hypervigilance

  • Difficulty Concentrating

 

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.

 

Complex Trauma

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:

  •  panic attacks

  • little or no memories

  • depression

  • numbing

  • insomnia

  • hopelessness

  • shame, self-hate

  • chronic pain, including headaches

  • self-destructive behavior

  • history of drug and alcohol abuse

  • eating disorders

  • self-harm

  • suicidal ideation

  • inattention

 

Dissociation

 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

  • depersonalization/derealization

  • not recognizing yourself

  • rapid mood shifts

 

Some common traumas we see are:

  • Car accidents

  • Adult sexual assault and rape

  • Domestic violence

  • Childhood trauma for adults

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Verbal or emotional abuse

  • Neglect

  • Adoption

  • Bullying

  • Having a narcissistic parent or partner

  • Growing up in a dysfunctional family

  • Growing up in a family impacted by addiction

 

Extreme Abuse

 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

  • Organized abuse

  • Trafficking

  • Multigenerational family abuse

  • Ritualistic abuse

 

Approach

 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.