Trauma disorders are mental health conditions that originate with being exposed to a traumatic or highly stressful event. Examples of traumatic events include such things as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, the sudden loss of a loved one, a serious auto accident, a natural disaster, or witnessing violence or military combat. While these types of traumas are very upsetting and even life altering, most people will not suffer from them for a prolonged period of time. After a certain amount of emotional processing of the event or loss, the symptoms of distress will begin to subside.
For others, the effects of the trauma remain a daily struggle and can cause serious impairment in functioning. In some cases, the individual is suffering so much that they may develop a substance use disorder in an attempt to manage the psychological distress. Trauma disorders can cause disruption in work, relationships, and family relations. In addition, those with trauma disorders also may struggle with features of anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or dissociative disorder. Trauma disorders can be treated effectively through the use of therapy, lifestyle changes, social support, and sometimes medication can help as well.
Types of Trauma Disorders
There are different ways that a traumatic event can manifest itself in disordered thought and behavior patterns. For this reason, there are three types of trauma disorders identified:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD features a long-term and persistent response to having experienced or witnessed an overwhelming traumatic event. Debilitating PTSD symptoms may last for a month or more, and is characterized by recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and memories of the event, insomnia, emotional numbness, avoidance of situations, people, or places that might trigger painful reminders and emotions, jumpy or easily startled, and withdraw from friends and family, and feelings of guilt. There is a high occurrence of a co-existing substance use disorder among individuals with PTSD, as well as depressive symptoms that accompany the disorder.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
ASD aligns with the same type of causal events that are featured in PTSD, a significant traumatic event that one was exposed to either directly or indirectly, and with the same types of symptoms, but with the distressing symptoms lasting less than one month.
Adjustment disorder is characterized by an inability to cope with or adjust to a significant life event. A single highly stressful event, or a series of stressful events may cause so much emotional distress that it becomes difficult to function normally in daily life. Symptoms may include feelings of being overwhelmed, neglecting responsibilities, loss of appetite, excess worry, insomnia, and withdrawing from friends and family. Adjustment disorders may last up to six months in duration.
How Are Trauma Disorders Treated?
Treatment for a trauma disorder is multi-pronged. Together these interventions can make a significant improvement in the individual’s ability to resume normal daily functioning. These treatment elements include:
Psychotherapy. Meeting one-on-one with a therapist to discuss the traumatic events or stressors while expressing the emotional impact of the trauma can help the individual begin to process the painful event. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to bring about perspective and relieves much of the resultant distorted thinking surrounding the event.
Group therapy. Meeting as a small group with trauma disorder as a common denominator can facilitate productive peer interaction that allows each person to share their stories and gain support from the group.
Exposure therapy. The therapist will gently expose the client to situations that they have been avoiding, or use a fantasy situation to help the client relive the trauma in a safe and supportive setting.
Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is another type of exposure therapy that involves the client following a therapists finger back and forth with their eyes while discussing the traumatic event.
Medication. Antidepressants have been found to help mitigate the psychological effects for some clients with trauma disorder.