Trauma and Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder

ptsd long

The old saying goes “time heals all wounds,” but if you’ve experienced trauma in your life, you know that that isn’t always true. Some wounds don’t heal with time. Weeks, months, years, even decades, don’t heal traumatic injuries. Those wounds stay open, reminding you of their presence through painful memories, anxiety, flashbacks, feeling unsafe and more.  They linger, painful and persistent. Going near them is terrifying but living with them is unbearable

Traumatic experiences leave us with more than just flashbacks and nightmares. They change how you feel about yourself and about other people. They change how you see the world and what you expect out of life.

PTSD IS...

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the name of the psychological condition you may experience after trauma but the name is misleading. PTSD is not a mental illness or even really a disorder. It’s a combination of learning and physiological (body and brain) responsiveness that represents your survival mode. During traumatic events, being in survival mode allowed you to make it through terrible experiences. Even though the traumatic events are over, your body and your brain haven’t caught up. They are still in survival mode. YOU are still in survival mode.

Survival mode is supposed to be a phase that helps save your life. It is not meant to be how you live.

The good news is we can update your brain and body to get you out of survival mode. I can help you to shift out of your traumatic past and into the safe here and now. The even better news is that we don’t start by talking about what happened to you. For some people, telling the story of their trauma is an important part of the healing process, but it is not the starting point. Instead we start by learning how to respond to your symptoms and difficult feelings in ways that provide relief. We identify the old messages you learned from your trauma (“I’m not safe.” “People can’t be trusted.” “It’s my fault.”) and update them to reflect your current reality and the way you want to live in the world.  We can reset your nervous system so that it no longer reacts to minor situations as if they are full-blown emergencies.

Once you are no longer being hijacked by symptoms and triggers, we can move into trauma processing if it makes sense for you. I am trained in a number of therapeutic modalities that are effective for working with traumatic memories and can guide you safely through this journey. 

Complex Trauma

I work with individuals who have had single incident traumas, like an accident or an assault. I also work with people who have “complex trauma,” or PTSD resulting from a number of traumatic experiences, often spanning years or even decades, and often at the hands of more than one person. I can help you if you have experienced…

  • childhood emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • abusive romantic relationships in adolescence or adulthood
  • physical or sexual assault
  • “attachment issues” related to the loss of a parent or separation from a parent as a child
  • dysfunctional family dynamics in your childhood home (which may continue in the present)
  • absent, unavailable, or unloving parents during childhood
  • difficult losses, including the traumatic death of a loved one

Trauma and Dissociation

One of the hallmark symptoms of trauma, especially complex trauma, is dissociation. Formally, dissociation is a stress response in which you separate from your thoughts, feelings, memories, or even your awareness. It’s like an extreme survival mechanism – if you can’t get your body out of a bad situation, at least you can mentally escape it so it dulls the pain and horror of what’s happening. There are many different dissociative symptoms but some of the common ones include:

  • zoning out, blanking out, or blacking out
  • feeling floaty, outside of yourself, or disconnected from your body
  • feeling like the world around you is surreal or more like a dream than real life
  • feeling numb, physically or emotionally
  • feeling like you’re on automatic pilot
  • feeling like you’re not really in control of what you’re doing or saying
  • changes in your senses like sounds seeming like they are coming from far away or your vision going blurry
  • confusion, fogginess, and difficulty thinking clearly
  • gaps in your memory
  • feeling like you are someone else

In my practice, I work with dissociative symptoms (including depersonalization and derealization) as part of trauma treatment. Dissociative symptoms are another example of being in survival mode.  People who tend to dissociate a lot have often had lives where they experienced trauma frequently at a young age. Dissociation is one of the main survival strategies for children and is common among adults as well. 

In its more extreme form, trauma lead to a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Though I do work with dissociative symptoms, I do not currently see individuals DID. DID requires a specific and highly specialized treatment approach. If you have DID, please be sure any therapist you work with is significantly experienced in the treatment of this disorder. 

If you’re ready to get started or if you’d like to learn more, click the button below and contact me today. 

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