What Is Trauma?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines Trauma as, “An emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Long and even short-term reactions can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms. Shock and denial are also typical reactions to traumatic events. An individual may experience multiple traumas in the course of their lifetime that may impact their level of functioning. Individuals who experience traumas are ‘triggered’ by an event or experience that previously occurred which has left a lasting negative impact.
What is a Trigger and How Does It Relate to Trauma?
A trigger is defined as an event or situation that leads to the individual psychologically re-experiencing the event or his/her original trauma. Triggers are personal and vary depending on the person and how they experienced the traumatic event. When an individual is triggered they often experience many of the common signs and symptoms associated with trauma.
Trauma: Physical and Emotional/Psychological Symptoms
There are a variety of physical and psychological/emotional signs and symptoms typically associated with individuals who have been impacted by a trauma.
An individual may experience one or more physical symptoms immediately after the traumatic event which may include following:
- Feeling Fatigue
- Becoming Easily Distracted
- Breaking into Sweats or “Hot-Flashes”
- Shaking and or Fidgeting
Emotional/ Psychological Symptoms:
An individual may experience one or more emotional or psychological symptoms after the traumatic event, which may include the following:
- Anxiety symptoms
- Depressive symptoms
- Minimal social and emotional responsiveness to others
- Difficulty forming and maintaining supportive relationships with friends or family members
- Inconsistent mood
- Avoidance of distressing thoughts, feelings, or situations related to the trauma
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Problems with concentrations
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
- Sleep disturbance
- Changes in eating patterns
An individual’s level of functioning in social, occupational, educational settings may be negatively impacted due to experiencing emotional and psychological symptoms.
How We Understand Trauma:
Fairmount Behavioral Health utilizes a variety of sources to identify and understand the impact that an individual’s trauma has on their level of functioning.
A psychiatrist or psychologist typically interviews individuals once they are admitted into the hospital to gather historical and/or bio-psychosocial information. This information is essential in determining the individual’s level of insight into his or her own traumatic experience.
Family Member Inquiry
If proper consents are completed, these professionals may request more information about the individual and his or her functioning from their family members. This portion of information gathering is very important in cases related to trauma because it is common for these individuals to repress or forget traumatic events.
The hospital’s psychiatric nurses use observational information about the individual to help inform mental health professionals’ determine a diagnosis. An individual’s clinical presentation may be unclear due to other factors such as complicated trauma history or substance abuse. The treatment team may choose to administer formal assessments to get a clearer picture of the individual’s diagnosis.
An accurate diagnosis is needed for the treatment team to plan treatment interventions and make appropriate recommendations for after-care once the individual is discharged.
Treatment Options & Best Approaches
Fairmount Behavioral Health System utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to treat individuals diagnosed with trauma related concerns and/or disorders.
The individual’s treatment team consists of psychiatrists, medical doctors, psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses who address the individual’s needs within their own specialties. The treatment team comes to together for every case to ensure the continuity of care across disciplines.
Individuals who are impacted by trauma typically are offered two methods of treatment to help them manage their symptoms at Fairmount.
Psychotherapy is offered as a way of helping individuals understand how a trauma may be impacting their level of functioning. We believe in the importance of trauma informed care. This means that we aim to approach treatment with these individuals with sensitivity and awareness of their traumatic experiences in order to limit the likelihood of re-traumatization. These individuals work with therapists to development personalized treatment goals and identify new coping strategies to help them manage their symptoms. There are two types of psychotherapy offered at Fairmount.
Group psychotherapy allows individuals to address challenges or concerns related to their traumatic experiences within a group setting. This also gives individuals a space to be supported and/or support others who have had similar experiences. This method of psychotherapy helps normalize the emotions the individual may have about their experience. Some individuals find discussing their traumatic experiences to be distressing so our groups specifically aim to help them find a safe and therapeutic way to do this. For example, one technique used in-group is to talk about one’s emotions related to the trauma but not the specific event if recalling specific details becomes too distressing.
Individual psychotherapy can be an opportunity for the individual to address concerns or experiences he or she may feel uncomfortable sharing with one of our psychotherapists. The individual’s psychotherapist may identify and practice another coping skills that are unique to that individual’s circumstances. For example, the therapist and individual may use therapeutic techniques such mindfulness exercises to help the individual practice staying emotionally present when they encounter an event that triggers them. A therapeutic relationship individually may also assist the individual in understanding how traumatic experience has impacted his or her own thoughts and behaviors.
Common medications used to manage symptoms associated to trauma and related concerns or disorders are SSRI’s (Serotonin-Specific Reuptake Inhibitors). This type of medication is typically used to help individual manage symptoms related to anxiety and depression, which are common side effects of trauma. The combination of medication, group and individual therapy has shown to be the most effective in treatment.
After the individual receives treatment during their stay at the hospital, the treatment team works to plan their discharge and identify appropriate aftercare services for them. The treatment team focuses on identifying the proper level of care that will be most helpful and accessible to ensure the continuity of care.
If any of these symptoms are causing concern for you, a family member or a friend, please contact Fairmount Behavioral Health to schedule an evaluation at 215.487.4100. You can also visit our Admissions Page for additional information.
Marissa Lawrence B.A.
Doctoral Level Practicum Student