In addition to providing general assessment and counselling services for adults, I have a special interest in working with individuals that are experiencing difficulties following a traumatic event.
A traumatic event can be defined as a situation that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. Examples might include a car accident, being attacked, abused, or experiencing a traumatic injury. A traumatic event might happen to a person directly or happen to another person and be seen, for example witnessing the serious injury or death of a coworker on the job.
Following such an event, some people find it difficult to shake the feeling of being overwhelmed, terrified, and on guard. Powerful memories of the event may play through the mind like a repeating loop. Thoughts or interactions with certain people that serve as reminders of the event may cause significant fear and anxiety. Places that used to feel safe and normal might instead feel dangerous and as though they are best avoided. Some individuals find that they are hyper-alert for signs of danger from their fellow citizens or from the world in general.
Mood and personality can also be affected and some people report that they don't feel like themselves anymore, and feel depressed, detached, or cut off from loved ones. Some find that their body is in a hyperaroused state, on guard for danger and unable to wind down while others feel numb and disconnected from their body.
Normally when we are threatened, brain and body chemicals kick into gear to prepare us to ‘fight or flee’ the potential emergency. This is the feeling you might get if you hear a branch snap nearby while hiking through the woods in bear country. The heart starts pounding faster and stronger, muscles tense up, and we become hyper aware of our surroundings. After the threat has been neutralized or has diminished (think of being back at the cottage), the body and mind usually return to a state of relaxation and normal functioning. One way of thinking about symptoms that persist following a traumatic event is that the threat was too much for a person to cope with in the moment and the nervous system became overloaded. The body and mind get ‘stuck’ in that reactive state, on guard and waiting for the next emergency. Some individuals describe it as though the traumatic event keeps happening well after it has actually ended.
Of course, not everyone who experiences a threatening or traumatic event has significant difficulties afterward. Some people feel fine while many others experience mild or moderate symptoms that slowly improve on their own. Others find that their symptoms do not improve on their own, and in fact get worse as time goes on. This may be a sign that additional help is needed in putting the traumatic event behind you.
Treatment for trauma- and stressor-related disorders begins with a thorough and careful assessment of symptoms and difficulties, personality, social history, and other important areas of functioning. There are many different approaches to treatment, but most involve some combination of the following: education about common reactions to trauma, assistance with processing the trauma and confronting the memories of the traumatic event slowly and carefully, learning techniques to help calm anxiety and hyperarousal, and challenging inaccurate and unhelpful beliefs about the self and the world.
I have worked with individuals who have experienced a range of traumatic events, including motor vehicle accidents, workplace violence, personal attacks and abuse, cumulative traumatic scenes experienced by first responders, and injuries involving industrial machinery. I use evidence-based treatments for trauma, including Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Trauma, and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). If you are interested in learning more about one or more of these treatments or want to get help for symptoms you are experiencing following a traumatic event, please call or email the office.