Trauma and PTSD

Experiencing a single traumatic event or repeated exposure to trauma can have profound effects on your mental and physical health. Seeking trauma-specialized care is crucial and helps support improved mental health outcomes and a higher quality of life. By addressing the unique needs and complexities associated with trauma, specialized care provides you with the support and interventions necessary to navigate the aftermath of trauma and foster healing.

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Overview — understanding trauma

Trauma occurs from experiencing something unbearable and feeling unsupported or unequipped to deal with the experience. Trauma can result from a terrifying one-time event such as an assault, vehicle accident, or natural disaster; or it can result from repeated traumatic experiences. Even non-dramatic “minor” offenses, such as frequent verbal abuse by primary caregivers in childhood can result in trauma.

Trauma affects different people in different ways, and what one person might barely consider to be traumatic might affect someone else for years to come. Rather than casting judgment on how traumatic a particular event or experience is, it’s more helpful to consider trauma in the context of your individual experience and how it affects your life today.

Mental health issues that can often be traced back to trauma (although they might have other causes as well) include depression, anxiety, rumination or compulsive overthinking, difficulty making decisions, sleep disturbances, low energy, low motivation, feeling easily irritated, difficulty forming healthy relationships or maintaining employment, or an overarching sense of struggling in life without understanding what’s wrong or how to resolve it.

Exposure to traumatic events can result in PTSD

Experiencing a traumatic event, such as a sexual assault, can have lasting implications for one’s well-being. While the event itself does not equate to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can be a catalyst for developing this condition. PTSD is a complex and chronic condition characterized by persistent distress, impaired functioning, and the re-experiencing of traumatic events through distressing flashbacks and memories.
 
It is important to distinguish between exposure to traumatic events and the subsequent development of PTSD (the “result” of exposure). Post-traumatic stress disorder encompasses a range of symptoms that significantly impact an individual’s daily life and psychological well-being.

Symptoms of trauma and PTSD

Diminished ability to function in everyday life

Trauma disrupts your capacity to learn and process information, as you instinctively switch to survival mode when your sense of safety is threatened. While you are trying to survive (think of a bear chasing you in the mountains!), it’s a good thing that your thought process shifts gears to ensure your safety. But when you’re out of harm’s way, it can be hard to heal the neurological rift that’s been created by the trauma and to continue functioning effectively in the world.

Mental health challenges

Trauma is also strongly correlated with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, phobias, and ADHD. The effects of trauma interfere with executive functioning skills, such as your ability to prioritize, manage your time effectively, stick to a healthy routine, and maintain professional employment.

Trauma encourages unhealthy behaviors

Broad-reaching psychoanalytic research confirms the association between exposure to trauma and the development of dysfunctional and uncontrolled behaviors.

“Dysfunctional avoidance” refers to the attempt to avoid having to deal with unpleasant and discomforting experiences associated with numerous types of interpersonal trauma. This leads to an increased propensity to engage in substance abuse and problematic or self-injurious behaviors (including suicidal ideation and sexual risk-taking) while reducing the capacity to self-regulate injurious behaviors.

If you struggle with unhealthy compulsions or behaviors relating to food, sex, substances, or technology, unresolved trauma might play a significant role in your struggle. Fortunately, working to heal your trauma very often also heals the source of your behaviors, which makes it drastically easier to start changing your behaviors.

Physical health ramifications of trauma

In addition to lifestyle and behavioral challenges, poor physical health is often a result of trauma. Interpersonal trauma exposure is strongly associated with poorer physical health. 

Children who were exposed to trauma are at increased risk of developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, obesity, stroke, and substance use disorders, in addition to mental health issues.

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

Fortunately, there are multiple effective treatments for trauma available for adults and for children. Trauma-aware therapy can be an important part of recovery.

Your therapist may suggest:

  • Trauma-informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can teach you alternative ways of thinking, responding, and reacting to situations in order to reduce anxiety and fear. CBT has been extensively researched.
  • Exposure therapy is a CBT technique for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on tackling the worries underlying an anxiety condition in order to assist individuals in engaging in activities they have been avoiding. Sometimes, exposure treatment is combined with relaxation exercises.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) employs mindfulness, goal-setting, and other strategies to alleviate discomfort and anxiety. 
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Medication is often a complement to psychotherapy and holistic care.
  • Mindfulness or other approaches.

How does medication help treat trauma?

Medication can help treat trauma by addressing the symptoms and imbalances that often arise from traumatic experiences.

Here are some ways in which medication can be beneficial in trauma treatment:

  1. Alleviating anxiety and depression: Trauma frequently leads to symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can significantly impact a person’s daily functioning and overall well-being. Medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs are commonly prescribed to regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain, specifically targeting anxiety and depressive symptoms. By reducing the intensity of these symptoms, medication helps individuals feel more stable and capable of engaging in therapy and other aspects of their recovery.
  2. Managing hyperarousal and hypervigilance: Trauma can leave individuals in a constant state of hyperarousal, leading to heightened vigilance, irritability, and difficulty relaxing. Medications such as alpha-blockers or certain antipsychotics can help regulate the body’s stress response and reduce hyperarousal, allowing individuals to experience a greater sense of calmness and control.
  3. Reducing intrusive thoughts and flashbacks: Traumatic memories and intrusive thoughts can significantly disrupt daily life and cause distress. Medications like certain antipsychotics or alpha-2 agonists can help reduce the frequency and intensity of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks, providing individuals with relief and enabling them to focus on therapy and healing.
  4. Enhancing sleep quality: Trauma often disrupts sleep patterns, leading to insomnia, nightmares, and restless sleep. Medications such as certain antidepressants or sedatives can be prescribed to regulate sleep and promote better sleep quality. By improving sleep, medication helps restore energy levels, enhances emotional resilience, and supports overall recovery.

It’s important to note that medication alone is not a comprehensive solution for trauma treatment. In trauma treatment, medication is typically used in conjunction with therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or other evidence-based interventions. The combination of medication and therapy allows for a holistic approach to address the complex effects of trauma, targeting both the physiological and psychological aspects of recovery. Your psychiatrist has the expertise to prescribe and monitor medication, ensuring it aligns with your individual needs and treatment goals.

Compassionate therapy tailored to your needs

Dr. Dhrymes uses a psychodynamic psychotherapy approach to treat trauma. This therapeutic process involves establishing a safe and trusting environment where you can freely express your emotions, thoughts, and memories associated with trauma. Psychodynamic psychotherapy provides a comprehensive framework for addressing trauma and facilitating profound healing and personal growth.

Dr. Dhrymes can help you identify and understand your emotional triggers, unconscious defense mechanisms, and maladaptive patterns of thinking and behavior that have developed as a result of the trauma. By gaining insight into these underlying factors, you can gradually heal and integrate your traumatic experiences into your overall sense of self.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy can empower you to regain control over your life, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and ultimately find a path toward healing and recovery. 

Reach out today

Dr. Dhrymes offers psychotherapy and medication management services to treat trauma, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and more. Please complete the contact form with any questions or click here to schedule your free consultation. 

In-person appointments are available in Manhattan or online for all residents of New York.

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

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