We can become emotionally harmed for a long time following experiences which are painful, distressing or shocking. These experiences may be “one off” events or may occur over a period of time.
A trauma following a single event can impact on a limited part of our life, e.g. a driving phobia following a car accident. It can also lead to more severe problems, such as experiencing distressing flashbacks. Flashbacks are usually present when a person has post traumatic stress disorder. Trauma which has occurred over a period of time can also lead to flashbacks and post traumatic stress disorder. Usually with a trauma which has taken place over a longer period of time the effect is spread more generally, often resulting in a lack of trust and personal safety. This is because in the Western world these traumas tend to occur in the context of a relationship. However, there are also many people in Britain who have experienced trauma through war and torture.
Whatever the nature of the trauma, and whether or not a person has post traumatic stress disorder, it can leave us emotionally scarred in many different ways, and have a profound effect on our day to day functioning. The type of therapy best suited to the effects of a trauma you may have experienced will depend on the nature of the trauma.
There is a good evidence base for trauma-focussed CBT. The main focus for this will usually be the reprocessing of unprocessed aspects of the trauma. There will often be some preparatory work before this if the person is finding emotional regulation difficult. There is also good evidence for the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in the treatment of trauma. Where CBT is a talking therapy, EMDR sessions involve reliving traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while the therapist introduces bilateral stimulation. This could be through eye movements, tapping, self tapping or other means.