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Trauma, trauma & PTSD

What is Trauma?
In short, trauma is a psychological term that refers to a deeply distressing experience with lasting consequences. In the moment, it is overwhelming, horrifying and scary. It makes one feel helpless and shatters one’s sense of security. From a therapist’s perspective, a person has been traumatized when the experience exceeded one’s ability to cope. The person gets “stuck” and has difficulty getting over the experience. It can leave a person struggling with upsetting memories, difficult emotions, nightmares that won’t go away.

"Capital 'T' Trauma" versus "Small 't' trauma"


Not all trauma is the same. Some events are more traumatic than others. Therapists use a short-hand way of distinguishing the severity of the trauma by referring to “Capital T” Trauma and “Small t” trauma. “Capitol T” Trauma refers to events like a horrific car crash, combat in war, physical or sexual assault or some other life-threatening experience. One may directly experience the event, or one may be traumatized by witnessing the event in person as it occurred to others, or even learning of a violent or accidental event that happened to a family member or close friend. “Small t” trauma refers more to events like a relationship breakup, a bad argument with a loved one, job stress, or being teased or humiliated, but that is not to say it’s no big deal. Small “t’ trauma can still be clinically significant. Any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Sometimes the traumatic event may not sound like much to others, but trauma is a subjective emotional experience. The more frightened and helpless one feels, the more likely one is to be traumatized.

Symptoms of Trauma
Symptoms of trauma include a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. Different people react in different ways to trauma and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. In fact, it’s not unusual for two people who were involved in the same traumatic circumstances to react differently.

Possible Emotional & Psychological Symptoms:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Grieving for any loss that occurred
Physical symptoms:
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is psychological disorder that may develop in someone when they have been exposed to an event which creates fear of death or serious injury or sexual violence and they have trouble moving past it. Not every trauma results in PTSD. One must have certain types of symptoms for over one month following the traumatic event before one qualifies for the diagnosis of PTSD. For more information on PTSD, click here.

When to seek professional help.
It’s normal for recovery from a traumatic event to take time, and everyone heals at his or her own pace. But if your symptoms aren’t letting up over time, you may need professional help. It’s especially important to seek professional help if you're:
  • Having trouble functioning at home or work
  • Suffering from problematic fear, anxiety, or depression
  • Unable to form close, satisfying relationships or having formerly close relationships grow distant or fall apart
  • Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
  • Feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from others
  • Using alcohol, drugs or other destructive behavior to numb yourself or to feel better
  • Having bouts of anger or irritability that you didn’t have before the trauma
If you feel you are suffering from trauma of any degree, please feel free to contact me for an appointment. I want to help you heal and move on with your life.


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Susannah Muller, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #49050
San Diego Counseling & Therapy
5230 Carroll Canyon Rd., Suite 314, San Diego, CA 92121
(619) 787-2743

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