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Trauma is an injury caused by an external source that can be physical and/or mental and may affect the person physically and/or psychologically. The effects of trauma can be experienced weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event or events took place.

A 2008 survey in Canada found that 76.1% of respondents had experienced at least one event significant enough to cause post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some of the most common forms of trauma were the unexpected death of a loved one, sexual assault and seeing someone badly injured or killed.[1]

The percentage of men and women who experience trauma in the form of violent crime Canada is similar, but the type of crime and perpetrators are different according to a 2008 police report. Men are more likely to be a victim of a serious physical assault perpetrated by a stranger in a public place outside of the home. Women are more likely to be physically assaulted by a spouse and are 10 times more likely than men to report a sexual assault.[2]

There are two primary forms of trauma: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma / childhood abuse.

Forms of Trauma: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Veteran Affairs Canada explains that someone experiencing PTSD will have symptoms that can be grouped into one of three main categories[3]:

Intrusive Symptoms

For people with intrusive symptoms memories of the trauma intrude into their daily lives, sometimes overwhelming them to the point where they have difficulty paying attention to the present. The person may:

  • Relieve traumatic memories,
  • Have nightmares,
  • Experience flashbacks, and
  • Become upset when reminded of the event, possibly experiencing physical symptoms like sweating, an increased heart rate and muscle tension.

Avoidance and Numbing Symptoms

People with avoidance and numbing symptoms try to shut off memories of the trauma and will avoid talking about or putting themselves in situations that will remind them of the trauma.

They may withdraw from friends and family to avoid situations that will remind them of or force them to face traumatic memories. They may turn to alcohol and drugs to help become numb to their memories.

Someone experiencing avoidance and numbing symptoms may:

  • Avoid anything that might remind them of the trauma,
  • Experience memory gaps,
  • Become emotionally distant, numb and cut-off from loved ones,
  • Lose interest in normal activities, and
  • Have difficulty imagining a future for themselves.

Arousal Symptoms

People with arousal symptoms typically have become "primed" to be fearful of the world around them, often a result of having a fundamental belief about the goodness of the world shattered by the traumatic experience or experiences.

Someone with this reaction is often agitated and emotional, living "on edge" as they are hyper-aware of possible threats in the environment around them. Anger is an emotion that often plays a prominent role in a person experiencing arousal symptoms as a response to trauma.

It is common for someone responding to trauma with arousal symptoms to experience:

  • Anger and irritability,
  • Agitation, with the person being easily startled,
  • A heightened awareness of possible danger,
  • Difficulty concentrating, and
  • Difficulty sleeping.

Forms of Trauma: Complex Trauma / Childhood Abuse

Complex Trauma is caused by emotional or physical abuse (including neglect) occurring during early childhood development.

Complex Trauma may result from[4]:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect  
  • Exposure to violence against loved ones
  • Emotional abuse, such feelings of worthlessness, humiliation or betrayal

The resulting trauma can follow the victim into adulthood, causing long-term physical and psychological distress, such as[5]:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-worth
  • Chronic health problems and sleep disorders
  • Difficulty with intimacy and relationships
  • Substance abuse and self-destructive behaviour

How ASYR programs address trauma

The relationship between trauma, mental illness and substance abuse in women has been described as staggering, with as many as 66% of women with a substance abuse problem also reporting a concurrent mental health problem. Many of these women also report having survived a physical and sexual abuse as a child or adult. [6]

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that 60-80 per cent of Vietnam Veterans who are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder also have problems with alcohol abuse. The department finds that veterans with PTSD tend to be binge-drinkers.[7]

When working with a client, at ASYR we address medical and non-medical factors, including trauma, as our clinical philosophy takes the whole person into account.

For a list of our treatment programs, click here
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[1]Epidemiologic studies of trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other psychiatric disorders.

[2] Gender Differences in Police-reported Violent Crime in Canada, 2008

[3]Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Family

[5] Ibid.

[7] PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.