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Understanding Psychological Trauma

Special Reports

by Dr William Hughes F.R.C.Psych, Jungian Analyst, Trauma specialist

We naturally understand trauma as a damage done and in a physical sense, the damage done will often relate to the degree of force or part of the human body affected.

Because the development of a stable personality capable of running a complex self-organising system many of us , perhaps, most, have a way to go before our self organising system is coherent and stable enough to manage life in our complex society.

If a person has attained sufficient emotional stability and educational ability to be self supporting by legal means , to sustain a long term relationship with another human being and to enjoy pleasurableactivities , then we usually think that the job is good enough and any more “personal development” is for the self obsessed or “hippy types” who want to mess with things outside of practical reality.

A psychological trauma can change all that overnight.

People we trusted may have let us down badly or actively betrayed us.

Contracts we trusted turn out to be no more worth than the paper they are written on.

A fellow road user seems to have become a predator, as might a trusted friend or relative. A trusted member of society in a position of responsibility and authority abuses their power that we gave them.

Health care systems we have faith in turn out to be run by mortals capable of making mistakes.

At the extreme end of psychological trauma we may have a mental breakdown or a psychotic episode, and chronic trauma can lead to chronic depression or numbed out frozen states of mind where self respect has gone.

Understanding trauma means that we have to be aware of what stage of personality development and system stability a person has reached.

Just like with brittle bones a “slight tap” may prove to be fatal or cause long term damage.

In our society today we are all waking up to realisation that what might be a trauma to one person may not be to another.

As a rough guide try a suggestion that the next office party should take place at a nudist colony. Responses would have to be kept private of course because shame is a hidden manipulator of honesty. In the assessment of the “ impact” of a psychological trauma it is important to take into account not only what happened but the response of the nervous system affected.

We have powerful modern methods of treating the symptoms of traumatic experiences, such as Eyemovement desensitisation ( EMDR) hypnosis, mindfulness based cognitive behavioural therapies and compassion focussed therapies.

These all contain an element of building resilience and building self confidence which help to reduce the risk of increased sensitivity to a trauma based
psychol;ogical disturbance.

In some countries an element of “restorative justice” where the perpetrator and victim can meet following the dispute can give favorable outcomes. Our adversarial system does not easily lend itself to this approach which may be an interesting point for debate.

What we are trying to do at Traumacare Norfolk is to build a website with local information concerning all aspects of psychological traumatisation whatever the cause.

Some useful reference books :
About human resilience and what is important in the early stages of life, a good introduction is “ Why Love Matters” by Sue Gerhardt.

For the more academic mind Robert Scaer, a neurologist with over 30 years experience of working with car accident victims has pulled together research from a variety of disciplines that puts “ traumatic stress” related disorders in a new light.

Since the early publications from 1914 onwards (largely ignored at the time) the research field in trauma related publications provides a solid background of evidence that I would say nowadays a psychological trauma needs to be treated on an equal par with a physical trauma.

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