As one of the leading experts on trauma and addiction, Dr. Gabor Mate states: “The reality is that, in every case, mental illness is an outcome of traumatic events. And by trauma I don't mean dramatic events. There's a difference. Fundamentally, it has to do with whether human needs are being met or not.” According to Dr. Mate, trauma is not the actual injury but the disconnection from ourselves that follows - the separation of our body and our emotions. Thus, the path to healing is the path to reconnection. *Appear after clicking on "Read More"* The word trauma is typically associated with a major negative event in one's life. However, in the therapeutic context, less emphasis is placed on the event itself and instead the focus is placed on one's reaction to an event. We cannot control what our bodies will perceive as a threat, therefore, everyone will respond to life experiences differently. Even seemingly mundane events can result in trauma. Psychological injuries from trauma are often severe and manifest themselves in different ways. Thus, it's important to heal the trauma response in order to successfully move on with one's life.
What happens when trauma goes untreated?
From a long-term perspective, unprocessed trauma often leads to harmful attempts at coping, all-consuming negative emotions, and destructive behaviours. The effects of trauma go beyond the mind and manifest in the body as well. In fact, unresolved trauma is correlated with chronic inflammation, an indicator of psychological and physiological pathology. Chronic inflammation, amongst other physical health disorders, ensue partly because of the excess release of the stress hormone cortisol which is released in response to trauma. Unresolved trauma can linger below our conscious awareness, affecting our everyday functioning many years after the initial experience. Lingering trauma can resurface without notice, often when something related to the trauma triggers us. Most commonly, triggers include environmental stimuli like a particular sight, smell, or sound. Such triggers are often sufficient to stimulate our fight, flight, or freeze response which indicates that we're under threat. Typically, when our fight, flight, or freeze response is activated, it only lasts for a short period of time before our bodies return to a baseline level of functioning. In trauma disorders, however, we never return to baseline and we continue to maintain a triggered state; our brains continue to tell our body that a threat is present when it's not. Therefore, in cases of trauma, the intent is to re-train the mind to let go of the threat response. Whether we're facing a recent or new post-traumatic injury, it's important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms displayed by our bodies. Indeed, intense headaches, severe digestive issues, inability to focus or concentrate, lower work productivity, mood swings, severe anxiety episodes, and panic attacks all indicate that we may be dealing with a traumatic injury that requires attention. *Appear after clicking on "Read More"* Unfortunately, trauma can occur even in early childhood years. It's estimated that 60% of adults experienced difficulties during their childhood, ranging from instances of neglect, being a witness to their parents' divorce, domestic violence, and/or physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. The damaging effects of trauma on a child's psyche are long lasting. When our response to trauma remains unresolved and goes untreated, it typically resurfaces in adulthood as depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and even physical illness.
How can seeking therapy help?
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of seeking therapy is a therapist's ability to desensitize clients to their trauma, allowing them to store the traumatic memory in a way that no longer harms them. This is done by reframing the traumatic experience, overturning cognitive distortions, and assessing the event with a new perspective. A therapist will assess the nature and severity of trauma and suggest coping mechanisms so the client can cope with their symptoms as they learn to overcome their disorder. Often times, the simple act of talking to a compassionate and trustworthy individual about our experiences is enough to initiate our healing journey. Another benefit of working with a therapist is their ability to create an environment conducive for personal growth. When we grow, we inevitably become more resilient and feel empowered, hence we become better equipped when dealing with similar challenges in the future. Reference Mate, G. (2017, May 9). Addiction Expert, Speaker and Best-selling Author Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Gabor Maté. https://drgabormate.com/.