Clinical Psychologists
Sydney CBD, Wynyard

Enq:(02) 9262 6156

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Trauma and PTSD

Psychological trauma can occur as a result of a severely distressing event. When that trauma leads to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the effects may involve physical changes inside the brain and to brain chemistry, which changes the person's response to future stress.

A traumatic event can involve a single experience, an enduring situation or repeating events. A traumatic event will completely overwhelm the individual's ability to cope and their ability to integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. Often the person's familiar ideas about how the world or people work are violated by the trauma, or if those beliefs were already negative, confirmed by the trauma, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion or vulnerability.

Events that can produce a trauma response include: war; sexual, verbal or physical abuse; assault or violence; violent crime such as hold-ups; accidents; medical emergencies and natural disasters.

More common life experiences will cause a trauma reaction where the people or institutions involved are seen as depended on for survival, and violate or betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way. For example, in the workplace, traumatic events can include: redundancies; unfair dismissal; poorly managed performance management processes; workplace bullying; long periods of overwork and employment discrimination. In the relationship realm, traumatic experiences can include: relationship breakdowns; affairs; parental separation or divorce; illnesses and unexpected life transitions.

Different people will react differently to similar events. One person may experience an event as traumatic while another person would not suffer trauma as a result of the same event. Similarly, how severe trauma symptoms are depends on the person, the type of trauma involved, and the emotional support they receive from others. Some traumatized people may feel permanently damaged when trauma symptoms do not go away and they do not believe their situation will improve. This can lead to feelings of despair, loss of self-esteem, and frequently depression.

Psychological therapy is essential in these situations to help with the trauma symptoms, to recover from the trauma and move ahead in a positive life direction.

Symptoms of trauma include:
Unwanted thoughts, images and distressing memories of the trauma.
Nightmares and daytime flashbacks.
Physical feelings of re-experiencing the event.
Feelings of fear and constant alertness for danger.
Being easily startled.
Being irritable or having angry outbursts.
Concentration or sleep difficulty.
Avoiding reminders (e.g. places, people) of the trauma.
Feeling numb and detached from others.
Loss of interest or pleasure in your usual activities.
Use of substances including alcohol to try to escape the distressing feelings.
Intense anxiety and panic attacks.
Emotional exhaustion.
Memory problems or loss of memory for aspects of the trauma.

Symptoms of trauma include:
Nightmares and daytime flashbacks.
Physical feelings of re-experiencing the event.
Feelings of fear and constant alertness for danger.
Being easily startled.
Being irritable or having angry outbursts.
Concentration or sleep difficulty.
Avoiding reminders (e.g. places, people) of the trauma.
Feeling numb and detached from others.
Loss of interest or pleasure in your usual activities.
Use of substances including alcohol to try to escape the distressing feelings.
Intense anxiety and panic attacks.
Emotional exhaustion.
Memory problems or loss of memory for aspects of the trauma.