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  • Trauma: What is it?

    Written by Bailey Boothe, MSW, LCSW

    Trauma: What is it? How does it present? What do I do about it?

    It’s about time I introduce myself a little. My name is Bailey and I am one of the therapists at Mood Psychotherapy and Coaching. I’ve worked in the mental health field for several years and something I have become particularly passionate about is trauma work.

    To explain trauma in a sentence is not easy, yet here it is. Trauma is anything that has happened, or not happened, to an individual that impacts their ability to show up in the world the way they would like to. Trauma can be anything from bullying, violence, abuse, neglect, community/world disasters, medical issues, prolonged stressors, financial scarcity, or lack of community.

    Trauma presents itself in so many different ways and forms, which is why it’s so “tricky” to understand and treat. Often trauma shows up as symptoms of depression or anxiety, relationship issues, substance misuse, low confidence/self-esteem. Trauma may show up as difficulty connecting with yourself and others. Trauma may also be there, hiding, without you knowing it. The truth is that most all of us have trauma. And because of the way trauma presents, sometimes our ‘depression diagnosis,’ may actually be past trauma.

    The other “tricky” thing about trauma is that it is stored in our body. This means our body holds onto emotions, beliefs, and experiences so that our brains don’t have to. Cool right?! NO. It means that our bodies respond for us when there is a perceived threat. And often our bodies perception of a threat and what truly is a threat don’t match up. Our brains sometimes can’t respond to what’s happening in the present and use past trauma experiences to drive our behaviors. Most people describe this as “I don’t know why I act like that. I’m crazy. Why can’t I maintain relationships?” Then comes the shame and guilt.

    One of the best ways to treat trauma is through a form of therapy called EMDR. This stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is one of the most effective and evidence based treatments for trauma. I found this definition on Psychnet that I really love. They define EMDR as:

    A phased, focused approach to treating trauma and other symptoms by reconnecting the traumatized person in a safe and measured way to the images, self-thoughts, emotions, and body sensations associated with the trauma, and allowing the natural healing powers of the brain to move toward adaptive resolution. It is based on the idea that symptoms occur when trauma and other negative or challenging experiences overwhelm the brain’s natural ability to heal, and that the healing process can be facilitated and completed through bilateral stimulation while the client is re-experiencing the trauma in the context of the safe environment of the therapist’s office.

    I describe EMDR like this- picture our brains like a filing cabinet, storing everything from experiences, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, etc. Trauma takes over this file cabinet and makes everything in there extremely disorganized. Picture papers spilling out of the cabinet, no labels on folders, many folders missing the required documents. This means that for a person with trauma, when you have a conflict with a loved one and go to pull the “file” for relationships you either can’t find it or you pull the wrong one. Subsequently we don’t show up in the way we would like to because we can’t access the information appropriately.

    Through EMDR therapy we are able to pull out all of that information, lay it out in front of us, and reorganize it in a way that makes sense. Now picture a file cabinet with big bold labels, color coordinated folders, and papers stored just where they are supposed to be. Then, when you experience a conflict and go to access how to navigate it you pull the information you were looking for.

    If any of this rings true to you there is a way through it! Through treatment with a licensed therapist, you can work through all that trauma and come to a place with enhanced calm, connection, and energy.