Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a normal response to an intolerable experience. Whether the trauma was experienced in the military, an accident, a hurricane or another environmental disaster, or in response to a personal threat, we respond involuntarily to danger. Trauma comes with recognizing violence for what it is: an assault upon our spirit.
Healing is possible. The goal of counseling for trauma is not to restore life exactly as it was before, but to gradually nurture a transformed life, with genuine peace.
Emotions may not surface for some time after a traumatic experience. It’s only after the immediate danger is past, that we may recognize its impact, and it will vary from person to person. Nightmares and flashbacks are the most dramatic expressions, but we may also become numb, edgy or easily startled, or not sleep well. For some people, after trauma it becomes difficult to trust others, to focus on work or family, or to feel connected to the planet again. PTSD is the term for an intense and persistent trauma reaction. But the spiritual significance of trauma can get lost in the worries about diagnostic labeling. If a person is no longer at home in the world, he/she deserves help. To be traumatized doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Under the circumstances, it means you’re human.
Anxiety is often an unwelcome companion after trauma. The normal function of anxiety is protective: to keep us alert and ready in case of imminent danger, so that we can respond rapidly. Trauma reactions are an emotional short circuit; long after danger is past, this alert system remains extra sensitive, and it can get stuck there. We are not designed to live that way. Empathetic community can help. Counseling can help too. The sooner the better, but it’s never too late.
Counseling for trauma must be gradual and gentle, because the very last thing a person needs is to be retraumatized by the process of telling the story. There are a variety of treatment approaches with a strong record of success. Some are based on exploring the way a person makes sense of his or her experiences; we can learn to clarify our thinking about our post-trauma life, noticing and fixing the distortions the trauma introduced. In doing that, many people gradually feel more peaceful. This type of treatment for trauma is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Other approaches are designed to help people gradually revisit their story, in a process called exposure. Through brief recollections in a safe and prepared setting, the trauma can be transformed from what feels like a current threat, to a softening memory.
Trauma reactions may be normal, but that does not mean you are stuck with them forever. If they do not lift spontaneously when you are ready for the next chapter of your life, please accept help. You deserve peace.