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by Amy Fowkes, Psy.D.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26
Often individuals who behave in confusing and challenging ways are actually struggling with the lasting effects of trauma. The difficult behavior of a person dealing with trauma can create tension and distress in a community or ministry environment. This leaves the rest of us searching for ways to manage the resulting conflict as well as minister to the individual in his or her distress.
How is trauma defined?
Traumatic experiences can be defined by three principles:
The impact of trauma can be experienced by individuals as physiological, cognitive and emotional changes. Physiological concerns include episodes of heightened illness or unregulated anxiety reactions. Cognitive disturbances include memory changes, distorted beliefs, emotional triggers and attention difficulties. Emotional changes are often expressed as numbing of emotions or extreme mood swings.1 Other concerns that are often associated with trauma include eating disorders, mental health disorders, sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse problems and the early onset of criminal behavior. 2
Judith Herman, a renowned expert on trauma, describes the experience as follows:
Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. Unlike commonplace misfortunes, traumatic events generally involve threats to life or bodily integrity, or a close personal encounter with violence or death. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror, and evoke the responses of catastrophe. The common denominator of trauma is a feeling of intense fear, helplessness, loss of control and threat of annihilation. 3
What are some examples of trauma?
Trauma survivors may:
Ways to support trauma victims:
To learn practical strategies for coping with trauma, see the following:
1Harris, M., & Fallout, R.D. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
2Messina, N., & Grella, C. (2006). Childhood trauma and women’s health outcomes in a California prison population. Psychological Reports, 91, 849-854.
3Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.
4Roxburgh A., Degenhardt, L., & Copeland, J. (2006). Posttraumatic stress disorder among female street-based sex workers in the greater Sydney area, Australia. BMC Psychiatry, 6(24).
5Coccozza, J.J., Jackson, E.W., Hennigan, K., Morrissey, J.P., Glover Reed, B., Fallot, R., & Banks, S. (2005). Outcomes for women with co-occurring disorders and trauma; Program-level effects. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28, 109-119.
6LaBel, J., & Goldstein, R. (2005). Special section on seclusion and restraint: The economic cost of using restraint and the value added by restraint reduction or elimination. Psychiatric Services, 56, 1109-1114.
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