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The word trauma is used to describe overwhelming and emotionally painful experiences that people go through in life. The American Psychological Association describes trauma as ‘an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.’ Someone might also experience secondary traumatic stress, where the individual is affected by the traumatic event that someone close to them has experienced. Some people are also affected by disturbing news and coverage of shocking events even though they would not have experienced it first-hand.
Psychological trauma may set in after a life-threatening experience and Individuals experiencing trauma might develop mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety can manifest itself in various difficulties such as panic attacks, night tremors, mood swings and irritability. Even if no such symptoms are visible, it is very important to talk to someone you trust about a traumatic event. This is important because symptoms can manifest themselves even after several months or years have passed.
Apart from manifesting itself emotionally, trauma usually manifests physically as well. Research shows that the psychological splits that occur after a traumatic event are generally apparent in the body. They are held in the body by several small muscular contractions which might not relax and release back into their original, non-split state after the traumatic event is over. Persons experiencing trauma might notice that they have a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue and gastrointestinal difficulties, among other problems. If such symptoms are apparent, it is very important to speak to a health care professional to rule out any other possible physical ailments. If the symptoms are related to trauma and trauma is not resolved, the stress on the mind and body of having to contain it may even cause complications in a person’s immune system and on the body’s natural ability to regenerate tissue.
In therapy, a psychotherapist can help people understand their bodily sensations to help them slowly regain their non-split state of being. Therapy can include awareness about what is happening, psychological crisis management, psychoeducation about healthy coping techniques and relaxation techniques. Some therapies also help the client to reprocess the event and to add new experiences which help create a more gentle and positive outlook towards the experience.

– Claire is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on claire@willingness.com.mt.