Trauma can occur in a variety of forms. It can be physical or emotional. It can be life-threatening or as simple as a bad scare. In cases of severe bodily injury, a trauma unit is equipped to handle almost any type of accident. Therefore, a trauma definition is best explained by the type of injury it is associated with.
What Is Trauma?
It is easier to define trauma when it is known whether the injury is physical or psychological/emotional. Physical trauma is defined as an injury to the body that can be life-threatening or cause irreparable damage. Certain types of physical trauma can be related to debilitating illnesses. It is estimated that over $406 billion are lost each year due to decreased productivity and health care costs of treating trauma patients.
Psychological trauma can be caused by a very unpleasant or difficult experience resulting in severe emotional or mental problems for several months or even years. In addition, some types of trauma, such as child abuse or rape trauma syndrome, can be caused by physical and emotional injury.
Types of Trauma
There are several types of trauma. Each type of trauma can range in severity from mild to extreme. In some cases, people who have experienced different types of trauma may not realize how difficult dealing with the memories will be on a long term basis. A few of the most common types of trauma include:
- Childhood trauma – Childhood trauma can come in many forms, from sexual, verbal or physical abuse to witnessing a violent crime or death of a loved one. Trauma experienced early in childhood can lead to depression and low self-esteem.
- Shock trauma – Shock trauma results from a medical emergency or accident in which a patient goes into “shock”. When shock occurs, the body begins to shut down. The circulatory system slows down, preventing vital organs from getting the blood and oxygen they need to function correctly. Cells can start to die, and the person can suffer irreversible brain and tissue damage.
- Emotional trauma – Emotional trauma can result from bullying, abuse or the loss of a loved one, to name a few possibilities. Unlike physical injuries, emotional trauma leaves no scars and can remain hidden or suppressed for several years before making its way to the surface. Often, a similar event may trigger unpleasant memories that lead to emotional outbursts or reactions.
- Rape trauma syndrome – Rape trauma syndrome results from psychological trauma that stems from a violent rape or physical attack. It can disrupt every aspect of a person’s life, including mental, emotional, digestive, physical and cognitive functions.
- War and violent conflict – Soldiers who return home from war or individuals who have been involved in violent altercations with police or law enforcement can also experience mental, emotional and physical forms of trauma. Soldiers arrested or held in POW camps have an extremely high rate of post-war trauma associated with their experiences.
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that affects individuals who have experienced a severely traumatic event. With PTSD, the person continues to have feelings of fear, confusion and frustration long after the event has passed. PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event and may last for several years.
The symptoms of PTSD include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Avoiding activities that remind them of the trauma
- Actively reliving the event in real-time.
- Loss of interest in favourite activities
- Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
- Memory loss about the traumatic event or moments leading up to it
- Lack of emotion
- Inability to feel an attachment to friends or family
- Cannot concentrate
- Being constantly on high alert
- Easily irritated
Symptoms may be mild at first and become more severe when exposed to sights and sounds that remind them of the original trauma. While counselling and medication may calm their anxiety, individuals with PTSD may have emotional outbursts at inopportune times and when they are least expected.
Over time, the severity of the symptoms may decrease as long as the person being treated maintains a constant treatment plan and monitors their behaviour. In cases where the trauma was prolonged, the threat of suicide may be present. PTSD is unique to each person and will range in severity due to their level of trauma, the length of time the trauma took place and how the person was treated after the traumatic events ceased.
While physical injuries leave scars, many scars associated with PTSD induced-events are hidden. Because PTSD is a mental disorder, damage cannot be visibly seen. Instead, it presents itself through emotional outbursts and drastic changes in behaviour.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a specialized treatment plan that is designed specifically for children. Children often believe they are the cause of the bad things that continue to happen to them. TF-CBT helps children to gradually relive the trauma in such a way so that they begin to understand that the events that occurred were entirely out of their control and that they are not at fault.
In other forms of therapy, avoiding the actual event and focusing on getting past the difficult period without actually dealing with the details is expected. TF-CBT faces the trauma head-on and allows the person or child to see things from a different viewpoint. They are allowed to see things as they happened, but they are encouraged to experience the event from a new perspective.
TF-CBT is considered to be an evidence-based treatment program. This means that they use actual evidence from the event. The individual is taken through the entire event from beginning to end and given the tools and resources to deal with the trauma in a constructive and healing fashion. This type of treatment takes time and allows the person to address issues cognitively and productively.
Individuals who experience trauma-related episodes or PTSD may not see their behaviour as out of the ordinary. Many may have full-blown attacks and, later, have no recollection of their behaviour. This often occurs with soldiers who return home from deployment and do not re-acclimate appropriately into civilian life.
Families of people who have experienced trauma need to be aware of disorders that may surface due to the traumatic event. For example, panic disorder, anxiety attacks, and PTSD are possible and must be addressed as soon as symptoms present themselves.
Both the CDC (Centres for Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are working together to decrease the number of deaths related to severe trauma. However, it is believed that Who could significantly reduce most deaths and disabilities related to traumatic events if trauma care was available to individuals who needed it.
Each organization has dedicated itself to assisting countries across the globe with upgrading their healthcare to provide the best possible treatment methods. By working with each country, the organizations can help find affordable and sustainable healthcare options to treat trauma cases successfully.
Different types of trauma are handled in different ways. While the severity of each case depends on the event the person experienced, treatment options are available that can address each issue and provide the person with some relief. For example, healing the scars of physical injury resulting from a traumatic accident is easy compared to healing the invisible wounds associated with mental and emotional trauma.
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Some individuals may respond well to treatment. Others may continue to have emotional outbursts and PTSD attacks for the rest of their lives. Cases are evaluated and assessed on an individual basis. Treatment plans are as unique and personal as the person they are created for. Understanding the need for personalized treatment is the foundation for all types of trauma-based care.