The Problem with Labeling Trauma

There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.

Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.

What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?

  • Manipulative
  • Oppositional
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Temperamental
  • Trouble makers
  • Bipolar
  • Narcissistic
  • Borderline
  • No conscience
  • Destructive
  • Stressed Out
  • and many more…

In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.

Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.

The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”. 

This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.

If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at rehuxley@gmail.com.

The Road to Resilience

June 2019 is PTSD Awareness Month and we are honoring all the victims of war and trauma with one of our TraumaToolbox videos on resilience and the history of PTSD. Get more at http://TraumaToolbox.com

The other side of toxic stress and trauma is resiliency. We can build resiliency skills in our homes, schools, and the community-at-large. Trauma-informed care asks us to make a paradigm shift in our approaches from asking survivors “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”. The latter creates safety and respect in our programs and procedures with traumatized children, women, and men.

Learn the six key principles of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration): Safety, Trustworthiness, Peer Support, Collaboration, Empowerment, and Cultural Awareness.

Individual strengths of the survivor should be build on, expanded, and celebrated. Together the individual, organization, and community can heal together.

We must move beyond cultural stereotypes and biases and recognize and addresses historical trauma.

These principles lead to the development of the 4 R’s: Realize the impact of trauma, Recognize the signs of trauma, Respond in policies, practices and procedures, and ultimately, to Resist retraumatization.

What does this look like in your organization or business? Get helpful quizzes, handouts, checklists more at TraumaToolbox.com

June Is PTSD Awareness Month – Take the Pledge

https://content.govdelivery.com/landing_pages/10180/9839c2bc4840115d408f04cc183a0400

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.

Who Develops PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.

Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

Although there are a core set of PTSD symptoms that are required for the diagnosis, PTSD does not look the same in everyone. In addition symptoms may come and go and may change over time from childhood to later adulthood.

  • Avoidance
    Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions about a stressful event. But when avoidance is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.
  • Trauma Reminders: Anniversaries
    On the anniversary of a traumatic event, some survivors have an increase in distress. These “anniversary reactions” can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction with more severe mental health or medical symptoms.
  • Trauma Reminders: Triggers
    People respond to traumatic events in a number of ways, such as feelings of concern, anger, fear, or helplessness. Research shows that people who have been through trauma, loss, or hardship in the past may be even more likely than others to be affected by new, potentially traumatic events.
  • Aging Veterans and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms
    For many Veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat. Even if they served many years ago, military experience can still affect the lives of Veterans today.
  • Very Young Trauma Survivors
    Trauma and abuse can have grave impact on the very young. The attachment or bond between a child and parent matters as a young child grows. This bond can make a difference in how a child responds to trauma.
  • PTSD in Children and Teens
    Trauma affects school-aged children and teenagers differently than adults. If diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms in children and teens can also look different. For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years if they do not get treatment. There are many treatment options available including talk and play therapy.
  • History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5
    PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. Research about Veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis. So, the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history. * Source:

Abused Children Similar to War Vets

Children who have been abused or witnessed violence suffer similar trauma to war veterans…

LONDON (Reuters) ­ Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.

Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain areas ­­ the anterior insula and the amygdala ­­ which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats. This suggests that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyper­aware” of danger in their environment, the researchers said. “Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.

17 Hugs A Day

My wife and I have a joke that we tell each other and family members: It takes a minimum of 17 hugs a day to feel normal. I will confess that there is no scientific research that supports 17 hugs per day therapy…at least not yet. Nevertheless, we have come to recognize that need for touch and have adopted the idea that hugs, at least 17 is what gets us through the daily life hassles.

At a recent conference on Attachment Theory, where there was some real scientific data, a presenter on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stated that data suggests that the little stressors of everyday living can add up to the same effects of someone who has undergone a single, major life trauma, like a robbery or death of a loved one or car accident. We let these little incidents of life go by without any real concern. Perhaps we feel embarrassed to admit how much a poor marriage or teenager defiance or even workplace stress really does affect us.

Can parents acts as prevention specialists for our children. As adults, we need 17 hugs just to maintain normal living. Our children need them to counter the cumulative effects of stress on their lives to avoid PTCS – Post Traumatic Childhood Stress. If you don’t believe there is a such a thing, just observe children interacting on a play ground. There are some mean things thrown back and forth on the jungle gym, let me tell you! Add to that some homework pressures and the constant media bombardment of negative words and images and what child wouldn’t feel slightly traumatized? As parents, the least we can do is give some touch therapy with a few hugs a day.

John Bowlby, the great attachment theorist, stated that attachment is essential to normal development (see my blog post on this here). Guardians are supposed to be our safe haven from life. Home should be a place of refuge from the constant stress of school and work. Granted, there are chores and homework to be done but how can you carve our 30 minutes a day for some connection. Parents are quick to use Time-Out, how about some Time-In? It might be good for mom and dad too.

Starting today, give a few more hugs than usual. It is OK to start slow and work your way up. And yes, teenagers love them too. You just have to be a little more crafty in your approach.