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The experience of trauma can leave lasting psychological scars, affecting us in ways that we're not always aware of. Most of us experience at least one traumatic event in our lives, but while trauma is a common human experience, the way we react to it is something that's unique to each individual. Many people are able to recover from trauma with support from loved ones, but others need professional help to deal with the experience and cope with its effects.
What is Trauma?
In psychological terms, a traumatic event is one that's deeply distressing or disturbing, or otherwise emotionally painful, to the point where it overwhelms a person's ability to recover from the effects of the event. Psychological trauma can be caused by a wide range of events, even including those that might not normally be viewed as such.
Living through a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake
Being the victim of a crime
The death of a family member or friend
Being the victim of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse
Undergoing surgery or spending time in hospital
One thing that's important to understand about trauma is that it's a very subjective experience. Two people who experience the same event—for instance, a car accident—can have completely different reactions, with one person experiencing it as a traumatic event, and the other bouncing back with no lasting psychological harm. Whether or not an event is traumatic depends on your individual reaction to the event, not the nature of the event itself.
Trauma can have a wide range of lasting effects, many of which affect a person’s ability to function normally at work or in their personal life. For example, people who live through traumatic events have an increased risk of problems such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as substance abuse.
How can Therapy Resolve Trauma?
Trauma is a very common human experience, and it’s also something that can be treated very effectively with therapy or counseling, even when the trauma is related to events that took place a long time ago. Common therapy techniques for trauma include cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people process their thoughts and feelings about the trauma, and EMDR, a technique that can help people deal with traumatic memories.
Trauma evokes complicated emotions, and therapy is a good way to help people make sense of and manage them, to learn skills that enable them to cope with traumatic experiences and memories, and ultimately to heal from the trauma they went through.