You have taken the step; you are going to start trauma treatment! A very brave decision that you may have made with some hesitation.

You may be asking yourself a lot of questions right now. What does trauma treatment entail? How am I going to respond to treatment? What do all these complaints I am experiencing mean? What exactly do we mean by trauma?

We will answer these questions for you in this article.

What is trauma?

Trauma is the Greek word for ‘open wound’. It has the same meaning in the medical world, too. Within psychology, however, it refers to a psychological wound, caused by a negative event that you experienced in the past that was too difficult to properly cope with. Thus, an event that was traumatic for one person may be an event that was difficult for another but not necessarily traumatic.

Does that mean that all events that are difficult for you to deal with are traumatic events? What about a dismissal, a divorce or a big fight? Although these are all events that can have a lot of impact on you and can also lead to psychological complaints, they are not necessarily traumatic. According to the DSM-5 – the manual for psychological complaints – there is a criterium that a situation must meet in order to refer to as a trauma.

Why a specific event leads to complaints in one person and not in another depends on a large number of factors. Consider, for example, the care and support you received after the event, but also whether you are someone who finds it easy or difficult to talk about their feelings. In addition, the meaning that the event has for you can play a role; an event that affects something that is important to you increases the risk of developing complaints. Biological factors, such as the regulation of cortisol (stress hormone), also have an influence. The degree of hardship you experience from an event does not, therefore, depend on how ‘strong’ or how ‘weak’ you are as a person.

What complaints can occur after a traumatic event?

There are a number of physical and psychological complaints that can arise as a result of a trauma. You may notice that you have difficulty sleeping, that you suffer from nightmares, or that you have flashbacks of your trauma. You may be jumpy, withdrawn, or very irritable. In addition, you can feel guilty, be constantly tense or have difficulty enjoying the things that you used to enjoy.

If the trauma forces itself on you in such a way that it interferes with your daily life, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When you are confronted with one or more traumatic events early in your life (or chronically), the trauma may not only cause flashbacks, avoidance, tension and negative thoughts/emotions, but may also affect the way you look at yourself (self-image), others and the future. You may also occasionally switch yourself ‘off’ to cope with the negative emotions.

In addition, we see that people who suffer from PTSD often also have other complaints, such as depressive symptoms or problems with substance abuse.

Many people with PTSD symptoms feel different, are ashamed of their symptoms or are afraid that they are ‘crazy’. Therefore, it is important to keep reminding yourself that what you have had to experience was far from normal or is even abnormal, but that your resulting symptoms are normal.

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