Tag Archives: Trauma

Understanding Trauma

Trauma. It’s the latest trend in therapy, right? Yes, yet it’s more than a trend. If we look at how trauma has been perceived historically, it’s easy to see how this focus on trauma could be considered a trend. However, when we look at what recent research has to say about trauma, it changes our understanding of why we need to focus on trauma. When all of this comes together, then we can better understand what we need to do to address the trauma in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones who may be continuing to use substances to cope.

Brief History of Trauma

Historically, people think about trauma as something that happens to veterans in war. Shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart, and combat stress reaction are all names that have, over the years, been employed in attempts to describe what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Experts did recognize trauma as a possibility outside of a wartime scenario but believed these incidents to be limited. Therefore, these instances outside of wartime trauma exposure were not looked at much. So, when you look at trauma from this lens, it’s easy to see how limiting our understanding of trauma can be.

Current Understanding of Trauma


Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

Now days, though, researchers have done quite a bit of work around trauma in other settings. We understand PTSD can stem from things like abusive situations, bad car accidents, witnessing things that can be seen as life threatening, and more. And, thanks to researchers in the last few years, we also know how challenges and difficulties in the home environment that disrupt attachment can affect development. In fact, many researchers, therapists, and specialists are advocating for a new DSM-5 diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder as a result. This is because research has found that symptoms of PTSD and symptoms of trauma stemming from developmental trauma are distinct, even though they do have some overlap.

In sum, this shift to focus on trauma is not just a trend. It’s a broadening of our understanding of what symptoms of trauma look like and what trauma means. In fact, for most clients who struggle to maintain recovery and who struggle with mental health symptoms, underlying trauma is likely part of the problem.

Supporting Someone with Trauma

So, then, what do we do about it? How do we support someone with underlying trauma in their lives? There are a few key things to remember. First, we must keep in mind, people with a history of trauma are living their lives hyperalert to everything around them. They are constantly keyed into anything that could be conceived of as a threat. This hyperarousal is also exhausting. Which means not only is the person scanning for danger all the time, they are exhausted on top of it. Put those two things together and it’s clear they’re not going to be thinking things through as clearly as someone not in this position would be.


Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

Also, keep in mind they cannot control this. Just because the rational brain can understand the threat is not there, doesn’t mean the emotional part of the brain believes it. A classic example is the idea of walking through a parking ramp late at night all alone. Men tend not to be as alert in this scenario when compared to women. Why? Because most women have been taught situations like this are dangerous. In general, men have not had this same lesson. It doesn’t matter if it’s a parking ramp a woman knows like the back of her hand, she’ll still most likely be on high alert for any danger if she’s there late at night and all alone regardless of what ration and reason may tell her.

Once we establish this understanding that the part of the brain controlling the traumatic stress reactions doesn’t respond to ration and logic, it becomes clearer we need to tap into the emotional part of the brain to calm that stress reaction. That’s mainly a role for therapists and specialists. As a support person for someone with trauma challenges, we can remember to honor as many of their requests as possible while still ensuring we are caring for ourselves. For example, if your loved one feels like they need to sit in a specific place and there’s no obvious reason not to honor it, let them. Also remember their anger is not about you despite what it may feel like. Accompany them to therapy appointments when appropriate and when possible. Learn what you can from the experts to help you support your loved one. And keep those healthy boundaries we’ve talked about in the previous articles here and here.

Trauma and Yoga

A final thought for you on how to support a loved one who’s struggling with trauma. Encourage yoga. Research from The Trauma Center, a leading training and research institute on trauma, shows the use of yoga in people with trauma can be a very effective tool in being able to rebuild the mind-body connection that can be broken with trauma. But go slow and be prepared for it to trigger trauma reactions. Make sure if you choose to offer this as a support to your loved one, you’re working with their therapist.


Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay 

Trauma is not just a trend in the therapy world. It’s a very real part of what clients in substance abuse treatment programs, mental health programs, jails, prisons, and more deal with. It can be an underlying reason why they struggle to remain stable in the community for long. Caring for a loved one requires lots of understanding, patience, and insight. And healthy boundaries.

Stacy Overby, MS, LADC, CCTP is the program director. She has been a licensed drug and alcohol counselor since 2010 and a certified clinical trauma professional since 2017.