Are We Overusing the Term Trauma in Modern-Day Society?
Trauma is a hot topic for different reasons and different people. When we talk about trauma in the mental health setting, we are talking about witnessing or being subjected to events or actions that profoundly affect us emotionally to the core. These effects are usually adverse and take a piece out of us, even if we recover from them and become “stronger” people. In the clinical setting, when treating mental health and substance use disorders, addressing trauma is a significant part of developing the treatment plan and how we help our patients when they return to their everyday lives. Addressing trauma can often be a breakthrough in treatment.
It is estimated that about a third of all mental health disorders have underlying associated trauma; this is the case for about half of all addiction disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in every eight people globally (almost 1 billion) suffers a mental health disorder. Unfortunately, for most, appropriate treatment is simply out of reach.
Overuse of the Word Trauma Can Make Treatment Harder
There is a fine line between what would be considered a traumatic event in a person’s life and what should be considered less-than-ideal, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Whether for dramatic effect or to take advantage of a situation, the term can be used flippantly, giving those suffering from actual trauma less credibility.
This can also translate to the treatment setting. If the patient has been told repeatedly over their lives that their trauma is insignificant or that they should “buck up” and “deal with it,” they are often reluctant to discuss it during treatment, given their experience of invalidation. This reluctance can extend the time needed to treat them effectively and lead to a vicious cycle where underlying trauma is not addressed or resolved and repeatedly resurfaces in the form of mental health or substance abuse issues.
The Definition of Trauma Is Fluid
No matter the dictionary definition of “trauma” or a “traumatic event,” each person will ultimately be affected by their experiences differently. Trauma is very personal, and what is significant for one may be discounted by or seem inconsequential to someone else. In a clinical setting, we look to understand how and if an event profoundly affected someone’s clinical presentation and treatment needs. This effect can be life-altering, especially when the trauma is experienced at a young age. Ben Brafman, the co-founder of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center, often says, “You develop that substance use disorder or mental health problem on the day you experience the trauma, even if its physical manifestations are not visible for months or years.”
Ben goes on to discuss what trauma means. “Trauma is, in somewhat simplistic terms, somebody or something imposing their will on somebody else – an unsuspecting person. It can take the shape of sexual trauma, mental trauma, physical trauma, or spiritual trauma. It’s also an overload of the brain – something chemically clicks with the person, and they’re stuck. They can’t move forward; they can’t go back, metaphorically. They’re stuck in that trauma loop like a merry-go-round.”
~ This excerpt was adapted from Episode 3 of The Mind-Soul Connection Podcast
The Spiritual Component of Trauma
Counselors without extensive training in trauma-informed care often see trauma as a singular problem that must be addressed linearly and clinically. Did trauma cause or contribute to addiction or mental health issues? Was it vice versa? These are essential questions, but it is not that simple. Trauma creates a prism that has complex causes and effects. Beyond getting the patient to address the trauma, there is also the challenging aspect of family involvement. Trauma, or the response to a traumatic event, is often colored by how the family – a person’s primary support system – reacts to it. If family members are dismissive of the trauma or convince a loved one that the traumatic event is not significant, they continue the trauma cycle; at times, the invalidation of their traumatic experience by their closest supports can re-traumatize them. Trauma does not end in childhood or at the time of the event; you never grow out of it; it is carried with you. Often, addressing trauma effectively requires the person receiving treatment to handle it, their loved ones, and those who were more peripherally involved.
We must also remember that trauma may not be a single event but a series of events or a continuous experience. Continuous traumatic stress, for example, may describe living conditions in which the trauma or threat of it is ever-present. This is often seen in domestic violence, war, abuse, chronic medical illnesses requiring invasive procedures, etc.
The multifaceted nature of trauma is precisely why focusing on the family system is a core part of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center’s comprehensive program, alongside Through the Archway. It is indeed far more challenging to heal from physical, emotional, and spiritual injuries without the family than if you have family support.
How Do We Address Trauma?
When a patient is admitted to our facility, we often assume they have experienced some trauma; this is simply deduced from the statistics. This may be trauma from childhood or adulthood in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual trauma. Still, it can also be trauma experienced during their active addiction or mental health struggles. Addiction is often a way to cope with trauma; likewise, trauma may occur due to circumstances experienced while under the influence of substances or mentally compromised. If the patient does not discuss their trauma with our intake specialist, it doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. After treating thousands of collective patients between our physicians and clinicians, we look for signs of underlying trauma at every juncture of a patient’s treatment.
Active listening is part of the counselor’s skill and success, which is often intuitive and the result of experience. This is a technique where a counseling professional truly listens to understand and interpret what the patient is saying and what they are not saying. This is when the counselor builds trust; eventually, even the most reticent patient often divulges essential information that guides future treatment by revealing underlying trauma.
A form of psychotherapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a mainstay in mental health and substance use disorder treatment. Treatment can be exceptionally effective in working through the causes of trauma and addressing its symptoms and manifestations. With adjunctive therapy like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, we can treat depression, anxiety concerns, traumatic events, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Our medical professionals and the clinical care team are integral to each patient’s care plan. When necessary, supportive psychiatric medication can help the recovery process.
The Future of Trauma Understanding
Ben Brafman continues, “Addiction equals trauma. If your life has led you to a point where you are now an addict, it doesn’t matter what the drug of choice is or whatever it is you’re addicted to. You are a trauma victim, plain and simple. You are suffering from trauma, and the best way to look at that is: why do we use substances? Because, on some level, we don’t like how we feel and want to feel differently. Some event, some circumstance is so unbearable that we have to change the way we feel and change the way we think…That’s trauma. Addiction and trauma are synonymous.
~ This excerpt was adapted from Episode 3 of The Mind-Soul Connection Podcast
As long as we experience natural disasters, wars, and life, there will be trauma. We can catalyze change by approaching those who have experienced a traumatic event. Not only do you have the power to help by educating yourself and being there to support someone who has experienced trauma, but with knowledge, you can be empowered to assist them in getting help from the professionals that can best treat them.
We can educate the next generation, our friends, and colleagues about how severe trauma truly is and give them the knowledge to avoid discounting or dismissing the gravity of this mental health concern. As is often the case with other conditions and diseases, we can improve the understanding of trauma and give it the importance and attention it truly deserves.
The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center and Through the Archway have combined to offer world-class treatment and support for the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of trauma. We are proud to have thought leaders in the medical and clinical treatment of trauma. To that end, we are dedicated to the personalized care of every patient and family who trusts us to help them through the darkest times of their lives. We encourage you to contact our admissions specialists for free insurance verification, learn more about how we can help, and discover the treatment programs available to you or a loved one.