Offering in-person therapy in Westchester or online sessions for all New York residents.

Offering in-person therapy in Westchester or online sessions for all New York residents.

Trauma and PTSD

Experiencing a single traumatic incident, or enduring recurring exposure to trauma, has the potential to induce significant mental health challenges, including addiction or substance abuse. Seeking specialized care tailored to trauma can lead to enhanced mental well-being and an improved quality of life.

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Overview

Trauma arises from encountering overwhelming situations without proper support or coping mechanisms. Trauma can stem from a singular frightening incident like assault, accident, or natural disaster, or from repeated “minor” mistreatments, such as frequent verbal abuse by primary caregivers during the early stages of life.

Close-up of a sandy beach shoreline with footprints trailing away and gentle waves washing ashore, capturing a moment of reflection akin to the personal journey in Dr. Mijin Kim's therapy sessions.

The impact of trauma varies from person to person, and what may seem insignificant to one person could profoundly affect another for an extended period. Instead of evaluating the level of trauma experienced by a specific event or circumstance, it is more constructive to understand trauma within the framework of personal experiences and their ongoing impact on your life.

Certain challenges that you face could stem from trauma, such as mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, persistent rumination and compulsive overthinking, decision-making difficulties, disrupted sleep patterns, decreased energy levels, diminished motivation, heightened irritability, challenges in forming healthy relationships or sustaining employment, and an overarching sense of struggling in life without clarity on its cause or resolution.

Trauma and PTSD

Encountering a traumatic incident, such as sexual assault, can profoundly impact your overall wellness, potentially leading to PTSD. However, it’s important to note that the event itself does not constitute PTSD. PTSD denotes a chronic state marked by notable distress, impairment, recurrent flashbacks, and the reliving of traumatic experiences.

Symptoms

Diminished ability to function in everyday life

Trauma disrupts your ability to learn and process information, as your instinctive response shifts to survival mode when your sense of safety is jeopardized. While this adaptive mechanism is crucial for ensuring your immediate safety, however, once the threat has gone, it can be challenging to repair the neurological impact of trauma and resume functioning effectively in everyday life.

Mental health challenges

Trauma is closely associated with mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and ADHD. Additionally, the repercussions of trauma can impede executive functioning skills, such as prioritization, time management, adhering to a healthy routine, and sustaining employment.

Trauma encourages unhealthy behaviors

Extensive psychoanalytic research confirms the link between experiencing trauma and the emergence of dysfunctional and unregulated behaviors.

“Dysfunctional avoidance” describes the effort to evade confronting unpleasant and discomforting experiences linked to different forms of interpersonal trauma. This behavior can heighten the likelihood of involvement in substance abuse and detrimental actions, such as suicidal thoughts and risky sexual behavior while diminishing the ability to regulate harmful behaviors.

If you find yourself struggling with detrimental compulsions or behaviors concerning food, sex, substances, or technology, unresolved trauma could be a substantial factor in your difficulties. Thankfully, addressing your trauma can lead to the resolution of the underlying causes of these behaviors, significantly easing the process of changing behaviors.

Physical health ramifications of trauma

Alongside lifestyle and behavioral obstacles, inadequate physical health frequently stems from trauma. Exposure to interpersonal trauma is closely linked to diminished physical well-being.

Children who experience trauma face elevated risks of developing serious health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, stroke, and substance use disorders, alongside mental health challenges.

Causes and risk factors

The chances of developing  PTSD or other problematic responses to trauma may be  affected by:

  • Hereditary and environmental variables. 
  • Repeated exposure to traumatic events.
  • Feeling helpless during traumatic events.

Treatment for trauma

Thankfully, there are numerous effective treatments accessible for both adults and children dealing with trauma. Trauma-informed therapy can serve as a significant component in the journey towards recovery.

Your therapist may suggest:

  • Trauma-informed CBT for teenagers, adolescents, and children
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) instructs individuals on alternative thought patterns, responses, and reactions to mitigate anxiety and fear. CBT has been researched extensively.
  • Exposure therapy is a component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that can be utilized for treating anxiety disorders. Its primary aim is to address the underlying concerns contributing to an anxiety condition, in order to help individuals confront avoided activities. Occasionally, exposure therapy is complemented with relaxation techniques.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) utilizes mindfulness practices, goal-setting techniques, and other strategies to alleviate distress and anxiety.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Mindfulness or other approaches.

Related information

Briere, J., Hodges, M., & Godbout, N. (2010). Traumatic stress, affect dysregulation, and dysfunctional avoidance: a structural equation model. Journal of traumatic stress, 23 6, 767-74

Dimopoulou, I., Anthi, A., Mastora, Z., Theodorakopoulou, M., Konstandinidis, A., Evangelou, E., Mandragos, K.E., & Roussos, C. (2004). Health-Related Quality of Life and Disability in Survivors of Multiple Trauma One Year After Intensive Care Unit Discharge. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 83, 171-176.

López-Martínez, A., Serrano-Ibáñez, E.R., Ruíz-Párraga, G.T., Gómez-Pérez, L., Ramírez‐Maestre, C., & Esteve, R. (2018). Physical Health Consequences of Interpersonal Trauma: A Systematic Review of the Role of Psychological Variables. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19, 305 – 322.

Sanderud, K., Murphy, S., & Elklit, A. (2016). Child maltreatment and ADHD symptoms in a sample of young adults. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 7.

Schnurr, P.P., & Green, B.L. (2004). Understanding relationships among trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and health outcomes. Advances in mind-body medicine, 20 1, 18-29