Trauma, Stress and Therapy

trauma,stress and therapy

Trauma used to be regarded as a rather rare event, but thinking has changed to a realisation of how frequently traumas occur. Terrorist attacks, tsunamis and armed combat are obvious examples of ‘trauma’ which spring to mind, but there are many different types of trauma. Bullying at school, parental separation, sexual abuse, diagnosis of a serious illness, medical procedures and operations, divorce, redundancy … the list is endless.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association only recognises a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder if there are life threatening injuries or a violent event. Yet the same post traumatic symptom clusters can be found for many different types of trauma.

Trauma also shades into stress and much of Han Seyle’s work on stress, coping and the immune system is also relevant. The grinding long term effects of poor housing, workplace stress, financial insecurity and illness may not have the shock component of a trauma, but can still have a devastating impact on a person’s life.

Trauma and Stress in whatever shape or form has a profound emotional impact on lives.

Jack Rachman when defining emotional processing said that ‘most people successfully process the overwhelming majority of disturbing events that occur in this life’. However, if the stress is too severe or if the person’s style of handling emotions is too closed, they may not properly emotionally process the stressful event, setting the scene for psychological and physical disturbance. Many psychological disorders such as panic, depression and schizophrenia have been shown to have been triggered by an intense period of stress.

Emotional Processing Therapy focuses around helping the person emotionally process significant traumas and stress. It especially applies to those who have not been able to process a major life stress. There is an element of this of course in all psychological therapies but the express focus on enabling emotional processing to occur is special. In Cognitive Therapy, for instance, the focus is on changing cognitions about events in a practical here-and-now way. The therapist is primarily looking for cognitive healing, expecting emotional healing to automatically follow, not focussing on emotional healing itself. Person Centred Counselling does focus around helping clients resolve issues in their emotional life, but without assessment and discussion of their emotional processing style.