Trauma & PTSD

Trauma & PTSD

Naperville Trauma & PTSD Therapists Serving the Chicagoland Area

According to Psychology Today, trauma is “a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience”.  This can be a range of experiences and as a person’s life evolves, there is more potential for trauma to occur.  Most people think of trauma as a response to something very acute, like witnessing a death, however, there are many different types of trauma for which psychotherapy can help. 

Big T Trauma

Big T Trauma is how we refer to the type of trauma that most people know would be distressing and would negatively affect your life or functioning.  Things like being in a plane crash or a natural disaster or losing a very close loved one unexpectedly would be Big T traumas.  When these types of traumas occur, the body usually begins by going into physical shock.  However, unlike more ordinary traumatic experiences, Big T trauma can result in a serious feeling of having no control and of having no safety in day-to-day life.  There are several types of Big T Trauma that a person may experience:

  1. Acute Trauma.  This is the exposure to a single traumatic event that is severe in nature
  2. Chronic Trauma.  This is the repeated exposure to a traumatic situation like domestic violence, in which a person is exposed for a repeated or prolonged amount of time.  This can be of an emotional, physical or sexual nature and may be perpetrated by many others as in severe bullying or relational aggression.
  3. Complex Trauma.  This is trauma that occurs as a result of being trapped in a series of traumatic events from which there is no escape.  Sexual abuse or incest is a type of complex trauma.  These traumas completely disable a person’s sense of safety and security in the world.
  4. Secondary or Vicarious Trauma.  These traumas are experienced by witnessing another’s suffering or death.  This typically occurs in people who have jobs that expose them to life-threatening situations, like first responders or combat veterans.  
  5. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are a wide range of situations and experiences where a child experiences or witnesses trauma before they have the capacity to learn how to be resilient and cope.  These are things like parental neglect, physical abuse, divorce, or the loss of a parent or caregiver.  ACEs typically disrupt emotional and psychological development and can affect a person’s life trajectory and potential for developing mental health issues later in life.

Little T Trauma

Little T Traumas are typically the “downs” of the ups and downs of life that people experience.  Things like the loss of a significant relationship, emotional abuse, or the death of a beloved pet.  These traumas are often overlooked or downplayed by people but they are just as capable of causing significant emotional distress.  Oftentimes, our society will address smaller traumas as “something everyone deals with”, however, our bodies respond in similar ways to complex trauma.  

What does Trauma do to my Body?

Trauma activates your body’s natural defense system, located in the Amygdala which is the structure in your brain that is responsible for keeping you safe and alive.  This system creates a response that we call the Fight, Flight or Freeze.  This is an exceptionally high level of stress that signals the “fire alarm” inside all of us.  When the alarm goes off, hormones are released that prepare us for what is to come.  This can result in short-term memory loss, feelings of fear, shock or aggression and hypervigilance which is an overreaction to small disturbances in life which causes that “always looking over your shoulder” response.  

This system helps keep us alive during the course of an experienced trauma, but can also linger on far after the incident has passed.  This can result in a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Acute Stress Disorder.  It can also cause lingering anxiety issues for someone who has experienced trauma of any kind.  The good news is that trauma will not harm you or derail your life forever.  Psychotherapy can help to “re-program” your Amygdala and help your system understand that the threat has passed.

What kind of therapy is good for trauma?

Talk therapies can be an effective treatment for traumas that are more frequent and small.  Larger traumas can be more difficult to navigate with talk as eliciting memories of the trauma can be re-traumatizing.  There are a series of things you can do in psychotherapy to manage trauma.  JCA Mental Health has trauma-informed psychotherapists that use a range of treatments from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Therapies which are talk-based to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy).

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