Understanding Trauma: Part II

By Carrie Jones, LCSW

Director of Counseling, Community Center Shanghai

This Spring, Lorraine Li of INWARD and CCS Director of Counseling Carrie Jones, presented a workshop entitled Understanding Trauma to help community members better recognize and understand trauma, how it impacts us, and how to support those who have experienced trauma.  This article is Part 2 of a two-part series summarizing the information covered in the workshop.  To read Part 1, click here

Treatment for Trauma

            As discussed in Part 1 of this series and as defined by physician Dr. Gabor Mate, “Trauma is a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically and then interferes with your ability to grow and develop.” 

Fortunately, there are various effective approaches for treating trauma.  Lifestyle changes and self-care such as eating healthy, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and connecting with loved ones can help relieve symptoms of trauma.  Psychotherapy can help those who have experienced trauma to work through their experience and its impact, build resilience and healthy coping skills, and address unresolved feelings or cognitive distortions related to the trauma.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are all among treatments that have been shown to be effective in treating trauma.

People who experience persistent or severe symptoms of trauma should reach out to a mental health professional, especially if the trauma symptoms interfere with daily functioning or relationships with others.  However, even if the symptoms are relatively mild, reaching out for professional help can help in the immediate circumstances and also can reduce the risk and likelihood of the individual developing more prolonged symptoms. 

Helping a Loved One Who Has Experienced Trauma

          When a loved one has experienced trauma, we generally want to help but sometimes feel helpless and unsure what we can do.  While we cannot erase the trauma someone has experienced, gentle support and a caring presence can play a crucial role in their recovery.  Here are a few ways you can help a loved one who has experienced trauma:

  • Just listen – It can be very difficult for survivors of trauma to talk about their experience, so don’t pressure your loved one to talk, but if he/she chooses to open up, be ready to listen (and sometimes to listen to the same story over and over – retelling the story is a healthy and normal part of how the survivor processes the trauma).  Do not feel the need to try to “fix” things and be careful not to express judgement.  If the survivor is not ready to talk, even you just being a quiet supportive presence can be tremendously valuable.
  • Offer practical support – Help manage groceries, meals, childcare, housework etc.
  • Don’t take the trauma symptoms personally – Trauma can cause individuals to be angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant.  Remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship.

Creating a Trauma-Informed Society

          Trauma impacts our relationships, our families, our communities, and our world in profound and often unrecognized ways.  Trauma can be passed down generationally and even those who themselves may not have experienced a traumatic event may experience vicarious or secondary trauma as they witness and/or support those who experienced the traumatic event firsthand.  The cost of unrecognized and untreated trauma is high – it is closely connected with and often even the root of issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and suicide.

          Dr. Mate proposes a way to begin to change this by creating a trauma-informed society.  According to Dr. Mate, “A trauma informed society is the first step towards breaking the cycle of trauma and reclaiming our authentic selves.”  He lays out the following vision for how we can work together to create a more inclusive and supportive world for the many who have been impacted by trauma:

  • We recognize the prevalence of trauma among all of us
  • We learn to notice and feel the trauma symptoms in ourselves
  • We acknowledge that whenever we have an emotional reaction, an old wound is being triggered
  • We understand the imprint of trauma on our behaviors and its impact on our relationships
  • We recognize the pain in others and understand how that pain might be driving their behavior
  • We see the real person underneath the behavior and the trauma
  • We support connection and compassion as the foundations of safety
  • We know that the experience of safety is the beginning of healing
  • We understand that all trauma is intergenerational

CCS and INWARD hope that as an international community here in Shanghai, we can all work together to create just this kind of trauma-informed and sensitive and supportive community and will soon be introducing some exciting new plans, projects, and initiatives to do just this.  Please join us as we work together in this endeavor.

To Learn More About Trauma

            If you are interested in learning more about trauma, the following are excellent resources:

  • Dr. Gabor Mate’s website thewisdomoftrauma.com
  • What Happened To You?  Conversation on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, a book co-authored by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, and Oprah Winfrey

If you have experienced trauma, you do not have to suffer alone. Here in Shanghai, you can find help and support by calling Lifeline (400 821 1215) for free, confidential, anonymous support or by arranging to see a professional counselor through CCS or other organizations.  Reach out for help – there is hope and healing.

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