What is Trauma?

While the word trauma is commonly used to mean anything that we really don’t like or had a strong negative response to, eg, “that dinner was so awkward, I feel traumatised!” Trauma is much more than  that.  

Below I have included some of my favourite trauma definitions, because they each highlight a particular part of trauma that emphasises the way in which I work with trauma. My work with clients and trauma focuses on overwhem, shame, lack of relationship, helplessness and the science of the autonomic nervous system.

Trauma is:

”Any experience which threatens your life or your body, or any harm which is inflicted on you intentionally.” APA, 2013

”Trauma is about fear in its most primal form. It is the fear of total helplessness, knowing that no one can save you or protect you or your loved one...your physical and psychological integrity is breached.”  S. Gerhardt, 2015

“An overwhelming demand placed upon the physiological human system.”  R. Macy, President of the International Trauma Center

Trauma and mental health

Traumatic events may go unacknowleged, unexplored and unsupported.  This can have a great affect on our physical health and our emotional well being.

Medical professionals understand that the phrase, “its all in your head”, has less and less meaning as we understand more and more about the links between body and mind.

I find it an important and empowering part of working with trauma, to share with clients, how their brains and nervous system actually works during trauma. When they understand the machinery, the shame begins to dissipate. And this a critical part of trauma work.

Some of the types of trauma I work with

Sexual abuse. Domestic Violence. Assaults - stranger and known. Accidents. Chronic and sudden illness. Bullying. Verbal and emotional abuse. (during childhood or adulthood or both)

A word about childhood trauma

As children, we can find a wide range of things traumatic, and we lack the consciousness and vocabulary to express it.  This can often mean that we think things are fine, until some later point in adulthood when “out of the blue” things start to ”go wrong”.  This is very common, and almost always terrifying for people.  Coming into therapy and dealing with the effects of past trauma can put some of those feelings into a less overwhelming context.