What is trauma?

What is trauma?

Trauma is an overwhelming and stressful event in which a person experiences  intense fear, hopelessness, and helplessness.  Trauma can be physical (such as a car accident or physical attack), or emotional (such as being called names or being put down).

When we face a traumatic experience, we face a threat to our overall well being and integrity.  We experience an extreme emotional or physical threat to our survival.

Important to note, is that the brain does not decipher a difference between the threat of emotional and physical traumas.  That is, being emotionally abused can have just as extreme of an effect on our psychological well being as being physically abused.  They are one in the same to our brain.

What are some examples of traumatic experiences?

  • Sexual assault
  • Combat
  • A motorvehicle accident
  • Physical abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Ongoing sexual abuse
  • Neglect as a child
  • Growing up in a home where drugs and alcohol were prevalent
  • Poverty
  • Growing up in a dysfunctional household
  • Witnessing the death or severe harm of another person
  • Sexual abuse

Trauma may be a single incident (such as a car accident), a series of single events (such as a car accident and and a sexual assault), or it may be an ongoing event (such as experiencing abuse throughout childhood).

The brain on trauma:

When we are faced with a life threatening situation, be it physical or emotional, our brain goes into survival mode.  We respond with what is referred to the fight, flight, freeze response.  This means that our brain makes an unconscious decision in a split second of how to respond to the threat, based on what it identifies to be the most likely option for survival.  Do you fight back, do you run away, or do you freeze?

This response is very primative.  If you have ever watched Animal Planet or Discovery Channel and have seen the gazelle running from the lion, you have witnessed the fight, flight, freeze response in action.

When this part of the brain is activated, there is little to no conscious thought.  That is, you do not have the opportunity to rationalize and use logic to decide how to react.  If you did, you would lose precious seconds and minutes that could result in your survival.  This part of the brain does not “think” necessarily, it simply reacts based on the best possible outcome for your survival.

What symptoms are associated with trauma?

After a traumatic experience, some people may experience psychological and/or physical symptoms.

Psychological symptoms can include:

  • Changes in sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Constant thoughts about the traumatic event
  • Being triggered by reminders of the traumatic event
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling on edge or nervous
  • Being overwhelmingly concerned about your safety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sexual drive or desire
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Feeling spacey or “checking out” more often than normal
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Feeling irritable
  • Increased anger or outbursts
  • Trying to avoid places, things or other reminders related to the trauma
  • Feeling detached from others or having difficulties relating to others
  • Flashbacks, or feeling as if the traumatic event were actually happening.
  • Easily startled
  • Inabilities to remember parts of the traumatic event
  • Sense of a foreshortened future
  • Feeling emotionally numb or emotionally constricted
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Intentionally harming yourself such as by burning, hitting, or cutting

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomache aches
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Heavy periods or painful periods
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulties breathing

There are a number of medical conditions which are also associated with the experience of trauma.

Can trauma be treated?


Symptoms associated with trauma can be treated through mental health counseling.  As trauma impacts the entire being of a person, at Entavida we also believe in supporting the needs of clients that may be beyond the scope of mental health treatment.  This may include a referral to a doctor for a medical follow up, work with a massage therapist to reduce muscle aches and pains, or developing an exercise plan to reduce depression and anxiety.

Clinicians with Entavida work to meet the unique needs of the clients we serve.  Counseling always begins with creating a safe and trusting relationship , and identifying your personal goals.

There are a number of therapies which have proven to be effective in the treatment of trauma.  Counselors at Entavida are trained in a variety of techniques, and each also have their own specialties.  Therefore, your counselor will tailor your sessions to meet your needs and compliment your strengths.

Counselors at Entavida have demonstrated outstanding success in reducing and/or eliminating symptoms related to traumatic experiences.  We believe that the human spirit has an amazing capacity to heal and grow, and that everyone has the potential to do so.