Recovering from trauma

People can suffer from emotional or psychological trauma as a result of various traumatic events, such as rape, war, accidents, abuse and natural disasters.

For people who have gone through traumatic situations, there is sometimes a recovery process to prevent trauma from having a long-term negative impact.

Trauma survivors do have hope for a normal life, where their current life does not center around disturbing past events. Experts have input on the recovery process from traumatic events, including different steps trauma survivors can take.

As a refresher, the American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.”

You can read more about this connection in my previous article May is Mental Health Month: Healing Trauma's Wounds.

Shahla Modir, a primary psychiatrist at Summit Malibu, a treatment center for addiction and other mental health issues, also gives her input on the definition of trauma, and how it relates to mental health.

Modir defines trauma more as the event itself. “Trauma is an experience or event which causes either severe physical or mental harm,” she said.

“In relation to mental illness, trauma is often a horrific experience which impedes or is detrimental to one’s overall mental health until the event is processed and dealt with in a positive manner.”

In order to start the recovery process for trauma, it’s important to determine the severity of the trauma, Modir said. Here are other major recovery steps survivors can take:

1) “The very first step is recognizing that your trauma is affecting other areas of your life, and that you may need help to move past it.”

2) “Speaking up and asking for help – whether it be to a loved one or a friend – is usually the best route to take. Trauma can be so severe in individuals that they simply cannot begin the treatment process without help.”

3) “Accept the advice of others and seek out an accredited therapist or psychiatrist so they can properly evaluate your mental condition and offer suggestions of treatment protocols which they believe will be the most successful."
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Some people may have gone through traumatic events, but don’t fully realize what happened to them or are uncertain how they are affected by it.

“Oftentimes individuals who have experienced trauma bottle up their emotions and bury [them] deep inside,” Modir said.

“In some cases, people block out the memory of the experience completely. When this happens, the trauma manifests itself in other areas of their lives – specifically through abuse of alcohol and drugs and sexual compulsions.”

“People generally are not equipped with the coping techniques required to deal with traumatic events, so they turn to self-medication in order to escape their feelings,” Modir added.

“In these cases, individuals are completely unaware that their trauma is the underlying cause of these erratic and destructive behaviors. If you notice behavioral changes such as these, it’s a great indicator that you’ve been through a traumatic event and require professional treatment.”

Some people aren’t affected as severely by traumatic events, but generally these people still suffer from some mental health issues as a result.

“On the other end of the spectrum, people who’ve suffered trauma can appear to function OK, but in most cases they go through bouts of depression, mania, or impulsiveness/compulsiveness,” Modir said.

“It may not drastically affect their work or social lives. These individuals simply need to spend time working with an individual therapist to obtain an unbiased perspective on whether or not they in fact need treatment for their trauma.”

“Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event is affected the same, though,” Modir added.

“People who openly talk about their feelings surrounding the event with others are much less likely to have their mental health suffer as a result. The value of encouragement, support, and companionship of other people should never be underestimated.”

Even if some people are more resilient than others, it can be helpful to go through some type of recovery steps.

“Someone who has been through a traumatic event but is still resilient should absolutely still take steps to deal with it positively,” Modir said.

Here are some suggestions:

1) “The most effective steps you can take are to keep the lines of communication open about your experience and to reach out and help others who have also been through trauma but are not functioning well as a result.”

2) “Helping others is one of the most powerful tools for people trying to recover, as it helps you stay out of your head, feel good, useful, and develop meaningful relationships with others who have been through similar experiences. Camaraderie and being of service to others can help you remain resilient and function without your mental health suffering in some other area down the road.”

Modir said that trauma can result in other mental disorders like depression, addiction, alcoholism or bipolar disorder. In cases of trauma and also other comorbid disorders, therapies like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective treatments.

Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and post-traumatic stress, and author of the upcoming book “Overcoming Trauma and PTSD: A Workbook Integrating Skills from ACT, DBT, and CBT,” has some suggestions for recovery from trauma as well.

“The most important thing is to keep trying and experimenting until you find a set of techniques that work for you,” Raja said.

“Some people respond well to cognitive exercises, and other people prefer to focus on their behavior. Others might benefit from other types of healing, including yoga, meditation and mindfulness.”

She said people who are more resilient, have more “protective factors” and support, and who aren’t necessarily impacted as greatly after a traumatic event, don’t necessarily need to go through formal treatment.

“There are many paths to healing - not all paths all have to be through traditional therapy,” Raja said.

“For example, some people who have lived through traumatic events can find healing in community service, volunteering, spirituality or activism.”