What is Trauma?
The difference between PTSD and a normal response to trauma
Traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. Often times after experiencing a traumatic event, we are in shock or a state of disbelief and may not even realize the effect. We often tend to minimize such experiences in order to cope and carry on with our lives. The realization of the effects of a trauma tend to come much later. However, when your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events.
For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. A lot of people experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse.
After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened and process your emotions, you come out of it. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.
Why talk therapy alone doesn’t work when treating trauma?
“From my vantage point as a researcher we know that the impact of trauma is upon the survival or animal part of the brain. That means that our automatic danger signals are disturbed, and we become hyper- or hypo-active: aroused or numbed out. We become like frightened animals. We cannot reason ourselves out of being frightened or upset”.
“Of course, talking can be very helpful in acknowledging the reality about what’s happened and how it’s affected you, but talking about it doesn’t put it behind you because it doesn’t go deep enough into the survival brain”.
– Dr.Bessel Van der Kolk; Considered the foremost expert on trauma in the world.
What is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a big word for spacing out. Dissociation is often used by therapists to refer to a person who is unable to stay present to their emotions. Dissociation is a very complex defense mechanism as it evolves through living with years of chronic painful experiences. For example, when I was a child I grew up with a very angry mother. She was not just angry, she was rageful. She would rage about something every single day. I learned very quickly in the first 10 years of my life to avoid her rages; Yet sometimes I had to be in the pathway of her rages regardless of what I wanted. In order to feel like I could survive through these rages I would have to look away from her and go some other place in my mind. I would have to be present enough to hear her, in case she asked me a question, but I would also check out enough that I didn’t have to be there with her and feel what was happening because it was so scary. If I could, I would play with a toy while she was so angry.
Dissociation is an unconscious defense mechanism. This means that it happens the majority the time without conscious or thoughtful choice. This may seem confusing, but it can be made much more experientially clear to us through understanding the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the opposite of dissociation. Mindfulness is a noncritical, objective state of self observation. Observing oneself as one is without negative or positive evaluations about what one is observing. In the state of mindfulness one is completely consciously aware of what one is observing. One is so aware that concentration is present in order to maintain awareness.
Dissociation in contrast is to habitually try, at some level to space out and forget what is really going on with oneself. Often when driving in a car listening to music while stuck in traffic, for example, we may fantasize with the music we are listening to about being some other place other than traffic. There are varying degrees of dissociation. Everyone dissociates to a degree, in other words we all space out now and then. Whether it’s watching TV or sometimes ignoring someone really unpleasant. However with people who have trauma, dissociation can become a debilitating habit. So much so that most people who have some form of complex trauma or long-term PTSD have received diagnosis such as ADD or ADHD. This is common because dissociation looks like ADD. However when a person needs to dissociate just to survive, one learns how to space out to survive not because of a biological malfunction. In fact, we might need to become very focused at work, but when we come home we need to space out in order to survive the attacks that we fear will come.
Anyone who has trauma struggles with some level of dissociation, however the extreme end of this is what is known as a dissociative disorder. Someone who has a dissociative disorder will sometimes experience what is called, dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia refers to periods of memory loss. This is also sometimes experienced as time loss. In other words, later this evening you’re having dinner and you realize that you don’t recall anything at all about what you did before dinner. It’s sort of like a blackout but without drugs or alcohol.
What are the symptoms of dissociative amnesia?
There are three types, or patterns, of dissociative amnesia:
- Localized: Memory loss affects specific areas of knowledge or parts of a person’s life, such as a certain period during childhood, or anything about a friend or coworker. Often the memory loss focuses on a specific trauma. For example, a crime victim may have no memory of being robbed at gunpoint, but can recall details from the rest of that day.
- Generalized: Memory loss affects major parts of a person’s life and/or identity, such as a young woman being unable to recognize her name, job, family, and friends.
- Fugue: With dissociative fugue, the person has generalized amnesia and adopts a new identity. For example, one middle manager was passed over for promotion. He did not come home from work and was reported as missing by his family. He was found a week later, 600 miles away, living under a different name, working as a short-order cook. When found by the police, he could not recognize any family member, friend, or coworker, and he could not say who he was or explain his lack of identification.
Dissociative amnesia is different from amnesia caused by medical problems, such as illnesses, strokes, or brain injuries. In medically caused amnesia, recovering memories is rare and generally a slow and gradual process.
Most cases of dissociative amnesia are relatively short. Often, when memories return, they do so suddenly and completely. Memory recovery may happen on its own, after being triggered by something in the person’s surroundings, or in therapy.
A person who experiences a dissociative fugue often has the most extreme forms of dissociation called dissociative identity disorder. You could read more about this in the section called how we work, under specialties.
What is Complex Trauma?
Complex trauma refers to someone who has not just experienced traumatic experiences as an adult, but has numerous traumatic experiences throughout their life. These past experiences will of course, affect the way we structure perception of our world. And growing up with repeated traumatic experiences creates a person who lives in a defensive manner habitually, and often continues to believe that living defensively is the best and only way to live. This philosophy shows itself problematic however always in personal or intimate relationships if the person can even maintain them.
A person with complex trauma often feels a sense of constant anxiety and/ or shame in the background of their psyche. Childhood trauma refers to what mental health professionals call attachment trauma. This means that growing up, we learned that the world is a dark and untrustworthy place through sequential occurrences of painful or scary experiences. This would include one or more of the following: emotional abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, religious abuse, and generally just living in constant vigilance to try to protect ourselves from the next scary or confusing event. These experiences are chronic and begin in early childhood.
Complex psychological trauma involves multiple repetitive psychological stressors. Most adults who have complex trauma report harm coming from people in their lives who were supposed to be the ones they could trust the most, caregivers; mothers, fathers, grandparents, etc. The result of years of chronic neglect or abuse is a feeling of disconnection from life, difficulty trusting and connecting with others, difficulties setting boundaries with others. In some cases, it can also mean that we continue to seek out relationships with people who misuse or abuse us.
People with complex trauma are most often those that have been given multiple diagnosis along the road of their life, along with PTSD. So if a person has grown up seeing therapists and had each therapist give different diagnosis like depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.; often underneath these real observations and diagnosis is layers of trauma. And when you live with complex trauma usually all the energy of your life ends up being used to help you just… cope. It feels hard day to day to just manage emotions.
One of the differences between complex trauma and PTSD is that it involves childhood or happens during our developmental years (0-18). As well, adult PTSD is also not always necessarily personal. Fighting in war may not feel personal for all marines or soldiers. Surviving a boating accident or surgical mistake may be terrifying but not feel like a personal attack on the core of our self. Trauma that happens during our formative years with our primary caregivers always feels personal. This is why it is referred to as attachment trauma. Complex trauma usually means that, we have both childhood and adult trauma together.
We can help you if you are struggling with any of the following:
- Panic Attacks
- Anxiety Disorders: Phobias, excessive worry, feeling judged, general anxiety, obsessive thinking
- Relationship Problems: Couples and Marriage counseling with direction- not just coming to fight in a session
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Nightmares and Flashbacks. We can help you to stop chronic nightmares without the use of psychiatric medications.
- Military and Combat Related Trauma or Marriage Issues
- Complex Trauma: which is the result of both childhood trauma and adult PTSD
- Sexual Trauma and/or Addictions to Sex, Pornography or Relationships
- Cheating, Real or Emotional affairs
- Depression and Hopelessness
- Dissociative Identity Disorder: (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder) We have extensive knowledge and experience on how to work with this issue
- Cross Cultural Issues: I provide support for people with intercultural adjustment difficulties related to the experience of living abroad. Depression related to cultural adjustment. Sensitive to Expat issues.
- Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) are the children of expatriates who live in a foreign country for their work. Often growing up having to move and adapt to other cultures brings with it unique issues and depression.
- Religious Trauma
- Religious Issues: We specialize in work with; 7th day Adventists; Mormons; Witnesses; Muslims; Religious leaders- Pastors; Priests and nuns.
- Process Addictions: Gambling, Video Games, Shopping, Hoarding
How We Work
We want to provide all our clients with proven and researched methods that assist you in changing your inner state from one of anxiety, to one of calmness. This section will introduce you and provide explanations of the different trauma therapies that are available to you through Seattle trauma counseling therapists.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people come to therapy looking for something... and they are usually they are looking for relief from their suffering. It could be grief over the loss of a parent, panic attacks arising from a recent or long ago trauma, or feeling stuck in life. About 2500...read more
Buddhist conceptions of self are radically different from the conceptions of self that you find in Euro-American Psychology; such as those found in self psychology and depth psychology. The very foundation of the Buddha’s teaching warns about the trickster as being...read more
Who We Are
LMFTA, LMHCA, NCAC II
I have over 24 years experience helping people and working in the Mental Health field. I have been a psychiatric nurse, worked many years in the field of addictions including; sex, love and relationship addictions. I found that the majority of people I worked with who struggled with addictions or dependency issues also had some form of trauma.
I feel a lot of compassion for those who struggle with trauma, nightmares, excessive worries, anxiety and panic attacks because I struggled myself with early childhood trauma and was able to work through it with the help of others. For this reason I never ask my clients to do something, i.e.use a method that I have not done or worked with myself. I strongly believe one must walk their talk and live in integrity to feel healthy. I have been blessed to have traveled and lived in many countries and to have had the opportunity to have studied cross cultural psychology experientially. My primary purpose for traveling in other countries was to study with various teachers on the nature of consciousness. I lived, for example, with a group of Indians studying indigenous medicine in the Amazon jungle of Columbia. I also traveled through India, Europe, Canada, Latin America, Mexico and Turkey studying the psychological teachings contained in the religious teachings, histories, sacred sites and art of these cultures. I have studied and practiced classical Meditation methods for over 25 years, and have over 6 years of formal meditation and mindfulness training from Buddhist and Christian Monasteries. I have integrated this learning over time into the work I do with clients. For more detailed about me click on the linked in link for my complete work history or to go to my individual website.
I have over 25 years of experience in the education and counseling fields. Much of my early work was with very at-risk teens. I have taught high school in Alaska and Washington, and worked in the community college setting for 11 years. I earned my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology in 1998. I have been in private practice since 2011. The main focus of my work is helping those who have experienced some form of trauma, particularly complex trauma. Complex trauma can be difficult to recover from because it is not just one trauma, but many; most often, the people who have harmed us were also the people who took care of us, making it doubly confusing. Finally, sometimes these traumas are subtle—we can’t always point to a specific incident or even anything that seems that terrible. This is most likely something called “attachment trauma” and can cause us to have lifelong depression, anxiety, self-harm behaviors, unstable relationships, a tendency toward substance abuse, and a deep sense of self-doubt and self-loathing. I have found that most of us who are truly interested in treating trauma are survivors of trauma ourselves. This is certainly the case for me. I have invested many years in my own work to understand the role that trauma had played in my life and recover from it. This gives me a great compassion and understanding for the clients who come to me. I understand the process of healing from trauma and can help you come to a much better place. I work mainly somatically, which means I pay a lot of attention to what is happening in the body in the present moment. Our body is the keep of traumatic memory, not our brain, so it is essential that we use it in the work to recover. I am trained in the first level of a method called Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, a safe, gentle way to process trauma. For more information about me check out my website, or call me for a free consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.