What is Trauma?
“Trauma” is like no other experience. While historically it was defined as something out of the “normal” realm of human experience, today we understand that trauma is much more complex and that it deserves an expanded definition. Unfortunately for many, traumatic or adverse life experiences can happen repeatedly. For some, what might be perceived as no big deal or something that may not have directly involved them can lead to unexpected reactivity and problems in living. “Trauma”, therefore, can apply to both major life events (a threat to life or safety, a natural disaster, abuse) as well as experiencing grief or a significant loss, witnessing the adverse life experiences of others, and repeated exposure to stressful or traumatic events.
What makes an event “traumatic”? The severity, direct or indirect involvement of a person, the personal impact it causes, as well as the circumstances that follow, all contribute to an event’s classification as traumatic. Depending on the individual, resiliency to trauma is influenced by the availability of a support network, attachment status, temperament, and duration or repetition of exposure. So, while some may “get over it”, others may not be able to recover as quickly from some adverse life experiences. With trauma, our brain’s survival instinct, or flight-fight-freeze response, becomes activated. When a traumatic experience gets pushed behind a wall, instead of being processed or “digested” by our brain, certain factors can trigger those memories and cause us to kick into survival mode (specific to the state in which we experienced the trauma). This can obviously lead to problem behaviors and often goes misunderstood by others (“Why do you react so strongly to things that are so small?” or “That didn’t happen to you, it happened to your cousin; it shouldn’t bother you so much!”). Often, people are told to “get over it” or to “move on, it’s in the past”. The trouble is, as long as those memories stay behind the wall, they can be triggered at any time and come out in unexpected ways that are not easy to control. Until those memories get processed, or “digested” by the brain, and stored into our long term memory, they will remain fresh and often get in the way.
Why does “Trauma” matter? Trauma is not the only reason people have problems, but often traumatic reactions to adverse life experiences can be at the root of problem behaviors, difficulty coping with stress, and issues communicating or forming healthy relationships with others. Trauma therapy, or a therapist who uses a trauma-informed approach, is not afraid to “go there”; they will take into account the life experiences of a person and help them understand how to overcome those experiences that might be affecting their behavior, so they can make successful personal change. Utilizing an approach such as EMDR, trauma therapists provide clients with a safe and tolerable means of processing traumatic memories, as well as tools to cope with everyday stressors. When the root of problem behaviors is ameliorated, people can get well and maintain that wellness. Trauma therapy and EMDR are therapeutic approaches aimed at helping people recover and sustain change on a long-term basis.
For more information on trauma, trauma trainings, and more, please visit the website of the Trauma Institute/Child Trauma Institute: www.childtrauma.com (The information on trauma provided above was taken in part from the following source: Child Trauma Handbook, by Ricky Greenwald, PsyD, founder of TI/CTI).
Many of the therapists within the Art Therapy Buffalo community have had extensive training in trauma-informed treatment and integrate related therapeutic techniques into their clinical practice of art therapy. Please visit the individual therapist profiles on our site for more information about the training backgrounds and unique skills sets of the therapists in our community.