Mental Health Therapy and Addiction Counseling In Person or Virtual Telehealth. Located in Doylestown, PA.
The APA defines trauma as: an emotional response to a terrible event. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.
Trauma every person, and their brain differently. What we do know is how the brain processes a scary or upsetting event when it happens.
Amygdala: This part of your brain is designed to detect and react to people, places, and things in the environment that could be dangerous. It's like the ever present body guard. This is important for safety and survival. After a trauma is experienced, the amygdala can become even more highly attuned to potential threats in the environment. This can cause a person to closely monitor their surroundings to make sure they are safe at all times (hyper-vigilance). A person might find that they have strong emotional reactions to people, places, or things that might be threatening or that remind them of the trauma. This hyper-vigilance can make it difficult to pay attention at work or school, go new places, or interact with people you don’t know.
Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC): This part of the brain helps to control the activity of the amygdala and is the part that works in therapy to identity what is a real risk versus a trigger to past trauma . Connections between the mPFC and amygdala are sometimes not as strong in people who have experienced trauma. As a result, the mPFC is not as effective at stopping the amygdala from reacting to people, places, and things that are in fact safe. This can lead to persistent elevations in fear and anxiety about cues that remind you of the trauma you experienced.
Hippocampus: This part of the brain is involved in learning and memory. It's like the file cabinet of the brain. Impairments in learning and memory have been seen in people who have experienced trauma. This suggests that trauma may affect how the hippocampus develops. Trauma likely impacts a variety of types of learning and memory, such as the ability to learn and remember information about the surrounding environment. As a result, people who experience trauma may not be able to remember information about how to tell if something is safe or dangerous. An example of this would be your brain feeling safe when walking past a dark alley, but feeling unsafe when walking around a dark corner in your home.
There is hope! The brain is an amazing organ and how the ability to learn, adapt and change for the rest of our lives. Changes to the brain due to trauma, can improve over time. Therapy is an important part of this process. So is your therapist. It's critical that you find a therapist that you feel safe with, and supported by. It's also important that you only use a therapist who uses evidence based approaches to treating individuals impacted by traumatic experiences and events.
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can happen in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, those who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury, and those who have experienced emotional, physical, sexual, verbal or spiritual abuse.
CPTSD stands for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. CPTSD is different from PTSD in that it usually involves a repeated experience of traumatic events. These events can be throughout a life span.
ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. These are experiences that someone had as a child, that could impact the choices and experiences that they have as an adult. There has been a lot of research about adverse childhood experiences, and how exactly they impact the future. There are also a lot of questions about what could be missing from the list of adverse experiences (like poverty, adoption and racism). What we do know for sure is that the higher you "score" on the ACEs scale, the more likely it is that you will experience issues around stability with mental and physical health, and the more likely it is that someone will end up involved in the legal system, using substances to cope, or picking friends and partners who are not healthy (and often not safe).
What are considered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
There are 10 things that are listed on the ACEs questionnaire. They fall under the following themes of experiences (occurring in a child's life before the age of 18):
What are risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing adverse childhood experiences? The CDC lists the following:
Individual and Family Risk Factors
Community Risk Factors
What are protective factors (things that decrease the impact or chances of ACEs)? The CDC lists the following:
Individual and Family Protective Factors
Community Protective Factors
So what can you do if you've already experienced ACEs and you are wondering about the impact, or you already see the impact? That's where finding a therapist to support you comes in. You need a therapist who is Trauma Informed, and who understands what ACEs are and can help you process your experiences, and learn how to continue building the resiliency that already exists inside of you.