Trauma is a difficult term to define. Many people think of The Worst Possible Scenario (like wars, disasters, and death) when they hear the word “trauma.” Others think of physical ailments, as in “extensive trauma after a car accident.” In mental health, and at Oasis specifically, we define trauma as:
“Any event that changes the way we feel about ourselves, others, our future, or our sense of power, control, and safety.”
In trauma psychology, we speak of “Big T Traumas” such as wars, natural disasters, sexual assault, abuse and/or neglect, where a person comes face-to-face with an imminent threat to their safety or wellbeing, as well as “small t traumas” that may include job loss, divorce, moving to another area, being bullied, or medical procedures.
Recovering from Trauma and PTSD
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Many therapists believe that it is always a good idea to “talk about” the traumatic event that happened to you. And while it is true that through telling our stories, we may be able to derive meaning, support, and understanding, trauma is not just a story that happened a long time ago. Many individuals who have experienced trauma come to Oasis and tell us that they feel “stuck.”
In other words, their trauma may have occurred in the past, but it is re-lived in the present over and over again through intense, overwhelming emotions such as rage, anxiety, and sadness; physical sensations that accompany those emotions; intrusive memories or nightmares; or quite the opposite: feeling completely numb and disconnected from the self. Given this re-living of the past, just “talking about” trauma in therapy actually may not improve the situation, but may inadvertently make it worse.
At Oasis, our trauma-informed therapists first focus on helping you cope with the emotions and sensations that occur in the present moment. We help you connect logic and reason with emotions and physical sensations so that you can make sense of what is going on for you. We build a bridge between body and mind, so that you can become fully informed about what is important to you, what your needs and wants are, what you like and dislike, and in doing so, who you are as a person. Restoring this balance will help you feel in control of your own actions. Instead of being reactive, overwhelmed, or disorganized, we help you take charge of your own responses.
Once we know you have the tools to manage your (stress) response, we will help you integrate your trauma memory with your autobiographical memory (historical events that happened over the course of your life). We make sure that while we access the past traumatic material in therapy, you will feel safe and in control in the present moment. We use several interventions to help you do this; all of them scientifically proven to be effective treatments for trauma. One of these treatments is called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (please click here for an explanation of this treatment approach).
At this time, you may start to recognize that the trauma belongs to the past, that it no longer defines who you are, and that you can remember the event without being overwhelmed by it. In other words, we will help you get “un-stuck.”
Throughout the entire therapy process, we work closely together with you so that you can reach the goals you have set for yourself. We also often collaborate with other providers (for example, prescribing physicians) to ensure you experience the best possible outcome.
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
ACEs are childhood traumatic experiences that can cause toxic stress and can affect physical and mental health. Prolonged exposure to ACEs and toxic stress disrupts the development of the brain, nervous system, and other biological systems such as the cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal systems.
This can lead to many long-term negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, self-injurious behavior, substance abuse, suicide attempts, the risk for violence, learning disabilities, difficulties with executive functioning (ADHD), sleep disturbances, and dissociation, as well as obesity, asthma, cancer, cardiac and autoimmune diseases, chronic pain or chronic illness, or poor academic or work achievement.
The ten most common ACEs are
Mental illness in a member of the household
Family member incarcerated
Mother treated violently (domestic violence)
Household substance abuse
Parental separation or divorce
How common are ACEs?
ACEs are very common. Repeated studies have shown that 67% -- or two out of three people -- have experienced at least one of the 10 ACEs. 12.5% -- or one in eight people -- have experienced four or more of the 10 ACEs, which increases the risk for negative outcomes significantly. Currently, 34.8 million children in the USA are estimated to have at least one ACE.
Why are ACEs so damaging?
Adverse experiences result in the body's natural stress response. When we are truly in a dangerous situation, for example, when we encounter a bear in the woods, this stress response is adaptive and life-saving. Our brain sends stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) to our bodies to react fast and keep us safe. But if the exposure to stress is prolonged or chronic (for example: "If the bear comes home every night" (Nadine Burke Harris, 2014), the stress becomes toxic and damages the developing brain and body.
Why Do We Screen for ACEs?
Our practice asks every client about exposure to adversity and trauma because we know that stressful life events can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of children and adults. Understanding what you or your child has experienced is part of giving you good care.
All of our clinicians and staff are trained in the science of ACEs, and we are able to answer any questions you may have about adverse childhood experiences or your personal ACE score.
We will also work with you to utilize and continue to build your Resilience, or the ability to bounce back and overcome adversity and adapt in healthy ways. We can teach you about the six domains of stress health (mental health, meditation and mindfulness, healthy relationships, sleep, nutrition, and diet) as well as about the importance of self-care, which all have been proven to combat and even reverse the damaging effects of (traumatic) stress.
Would you like to know more about ACEs?
Give us a call to make an individual appointment or contact us at (630) 256-8007 to hear more about the professional presentations and training we provide to the community about ACEs, Trauma-Informed Care, or Trauma-Sensitive Schools.