Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a trauma of shattering proportions.  PTSD results from being exposed to an event that involves actual or threatened death or injury with a response of intense fear and helplessness.  The event is then re-experienced in dreams, flashbacks, recall or situations that include cues that connect back to the original event.   Events that fall into this category include war trauma, being taken hostage or being a victim of disasters such as earthquakes or a 911 type event. 

More common are life events that cause significant distress in our life.   Emotional trauma can result from such common events as auto accident, relationship breakup, illnesses, bullying, or physical/emotional abuse.

A way to tell the difference between stress and trauma is by looking at the outcome—how much residual effect is the upsetting event having on our lives.  If we return to a state of equilibrium following a stressful event we are looking at stress.  If we become frozen in a state of active emotional intensity—chronic distress—we are experiencing emotional trauma.  An example is the chronic inability to rest or relax for weeks for fear of a break-in from hearing of a neighbor’s break-in. 

Symptoms of trauma include:
Eating disturbance
Sleep disturbance
Low energy
Chronic unexplained pain
Panic attacks
Obsessive behaviors
Memory lapses
Inability to make decisions
Unable to concentrate

Effects of emotional trauma include:
Substance abuse
Self-destructive and impulsive behavior
Inability to make healthy lifestyle choices
Feelings of shame, despair, hopeless, of being permanently damaged
Unable to maintain close relationships
Sexual problems
Social withdrawal  
Feeling constantly threatened


  • Traditional approaches include talk therapy, CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), intentionally changing thoughts and behaviors, systematic desensitization, exposure therapy.
  • These approaches were developed without brain science information and have varying degrees of success.
  • Recent developments in the treatment of trauma include new and effective forms of psychotherapy and somatic or body therapies developed with brain science information in mind.                                                          
  • The common element of these therapies is that talk therapy is combined with a focus on the body.
  • This group of therapies relies on inner resources to bring about healing rather than external resources such as medications.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

  • EMDR was founded by Francine Shapiro, psychologist, in 1987 after noticing her stress diminish when her eyes went back and forth. 
  • It is a left brain-right brain process that combines back and forth eye movements, sound, or left-right tapping combined with holding an image of the event and the body sensations.
  • SPECT scans or brain scans of blood flow show positive change from EMDR.
  • This therapeutic modality is used by licensed mental health professionals with specific training. 
  • EMDR has been incorporated into my practice for ten plus years.  (See testimonials)

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