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What is a Trauma Disorder?

Trauma disorder is any disorder that is caused directly by involvement or exposure to a traumatic and/or stressful event or experience. The traumatic event can include, but is not limited to, a natural disaster, act of terrorism, car accident, sexual assault, and combat. Trauma disorder is oftentimes related to similar disorders including anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and dissociative disorders. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of trauma disorders, their symptoms, and their treatment options.

Types of Trauma Disorders

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post Trauma Stress Disorder?

Post trauma stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder that is usually caused due to a life-threatening event, including events such as war, sexual abuse, a natural disaster, or a car accident. The symptoms, or stress reactions, of PTSD may include changes in a person's behavior and emotions. The symptoms make it difficult for the person to be able to continue with their daily routine, and many times, challenging to even get out of bed.

Symptoms of PTSD

Re-experiencing symptoms

One of the main symptoms a person with post-traumatic stress disorder experiences is reliving the traumatic and stressful event. During this moment, the person is experiencing and feeling the same terror and panic that they were exposed to during the initial trigger event. The re-experiencing can happen at any moment, but for many victims of PTSD, it frequently happens during nightmares, flashbacks, or when there is a trigger present.

Triggers vary from person to person depending on the traumatic event that was experienced, but most include a smell, a feeling, a sound, or something the person sees that triggers their brain and brings them back to relive and re-experience the traumatic event.

Avoidance

Many times, a person experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder avoids certain situations that cause them to have flashbacks of the traumatic event. Individual experiences of traumatic events will each have different ways of avoiding triggering situations.

An example could be a person who is trying to avoid thinking and/or talking about the traumatic event; therefore, he or she may keep a very busy schedule doing other things to take their mind elsewhere. Another example could be a situation in which the traumatic event happened in a crowd, so the victim now avoids crowds because they fear not feeling safe. If an individual fought in combat, he or she may avoid violent video games or shooting ranges, as they may involve sounds, sights, or feelings that trigger flashbacks to their traumatic event(s).

Personality Changes

A person with PTSD may experience an entire personality change after exposure to a traumatic event, acting in different ways than ever before. Depending on the traumatic event, a person may experience long-lasting effects that are due to the circumstances they experienced during the trauma. The person may feel upset, depressed, or that he or she cannot trust anyone, as nothing nor no one stopped the traumatic event from happening to them. Therefore, any positive relationships or acts of love are not initiated by the person that experienced the trauma.

People living with PTSD frequently block out the feelings and emotions he or she experienced during the traumatic event, and as a result, may forget parts of the event, or even forget the event altogether.

Hyperarousal

Hyperarousal is the reaction of intense anxiety and a change in the way a person responds to triggers. When a person is experiencing hyperarousal, he or she may come across as anxious, jumpy, and/or edgy. With these types of feelings, a person usually experiences difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or getting along with other people. The person may also become scared and shaken up easily, as he or she constantly feels uneasy or in danger.

The result of this behavior can lead to other behaviors, such as demanding to sit in a specific spot at the table (to keep an eye on the entrance of the restaurant, for example), or not being able to be in a room alone. In many situations, people experiencing these feelings ultimately decide not to go anywhere altogether, as they become too stressed, which leads to both poor mental and physical health.

Acute Stress Disorder

What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute Stress Disorder, also known as ASD, is similarly related to PTSD, as both disorders require exposure and/or some experience in a traumatic event.

The risks of developing acute stress disorder are much smaller than those of PTSD, but some of the factors are still important and worth noting. Those at risk include, but are not limited to, people that experienced past trauma, past psychiatric illnesses or disorders, a severe case of trauma, practiced avoidance as a form of coping, extreme unstableness, or female individuals.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

The symptoms of acute stress disorder and PTSD are very similar, such as re-living the traumatic event, avoidance, personality changes, and hyperarousal (You can read and learn more about these symptoms in the prior section on PTSD). However, ASD differs from PTSD as it is a mild form of a stress disorder, and stands only as a risk factor for becoming diagnosed with PTSD. Some people with ASD will develop PTSD, and some will not. Also, some people diagnosed with PTSD were never diagnosed with ASD before PTSD.

If acute stress disorder is identified and treated immediately, it is likely that the person will avoid being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the future, thus escaping the longer-lasting symptoms.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is a condition when a child is handicapped from forming a relationship or an attachment with his or her parent, caretaker, or guardian. Generally, when a child experiences RAD, he or she suffered some trauma early on in life. This includes events such as abuse, being an orphan, or being taken away from one of the parents with whom they may have had a healthy and close relationship with. Other events considered to be a form of trauma include a lack of attention given to the child as a baby, such as the primary caregiver not feeding or changing the baby for an extended period of time, a lack of comfort, or absence of love.

Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

The issues from this disorder may accumulate and lead to much more significant problems later on in the child’s life -- mainly a delay of mental development and be experiencing difficulty in forming or establishing relationships with other people. This stems from the child feeling unsafe, abandoned, angry, and/or uncared for by others.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

What is Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder?

Disinhibited social engagement disorder, or DSED, is often related to RAD, as its symptoms are generally present in babies and young children. It refers to the attachment of a child or baby, but unlike that of reactive attachment disorder where the child avoids forming any relationship with people, children with disinhibited social engagement disorder develop a behavior in seeking attachment and/or affection with whomever they can receive it from.

Symptoms of Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

The symptoms of children with DSED include the child approaching people unfamiliar to him or her, with a lack of hesitation in doing so, saying or doing things unusual with the unfamiliar person, having or showing no sense of fear in returning to the parent or primary caregiver, and being willing to leave with anyone who gives the child any sort of attention.

Adjustment Disorder

What is Adjustment Disorder?

An adjustment disorder occurs when a person experiences extreme reactions to certain stressors. The reactions and responses are generally different than those anticipated from the specific stressor that was experienced, and can seem abnormal or excessive. If not addressed or properly treated, these types of reactions can affect other aspects of an individual's life, such as social life (relationships), professional life, and educational life (schooling).

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

Common symptoms observed in individuals with adjustment disorder include any reactions to a stressor that appear exaggerated or excessive compared to the average response. The stressors that usually cause these types of disorders are experiences such as moving away to college, suffering from an illness, the death of someone close in a person’s life, and other life-changing events that cause discomfort and create change in a person’s life.

Trauma Disorder Treatment Options

Each individual with a trauma disorder experiences different symptoms in varying degrees. It is essential that each person receives an individualized treatment plan for their specific trauma, along with the personal emotions and feelings caused by the trauma. It is important to understand the different treatment strategies and techniques -- even those for one type of trauma disorder.

Although a group of individuals may have been involved in the same traumatic event, it is unfair and also dangerous to group them into the same category of symptoms, feelings, and treatments.

Provided below are the suggested treatments and techniques for the different trauma disorders mentioned in the prior section. Before deciding on one specific form of treatment, take time to explore the variety of options available.

PTSD Treatment

Whether intervening at an early stage or later on, is important to be careful when doing so. It is crucial to remain calm, reduce as much anxiety as possible, learn about the disorder and possible treatment options, and offer reasonable support.

Ways of going about treatment vary from person to person. This is important as veterans, men, women, children, older adults, and families will each have their own needs in coping with PTSD. It is helpful to get to know about the individual before jumping right into treatment options. Knowing the people who were affected by the trauma before starting treatment based solely on their disorder will make the recovery process much smoother, quicker, and more manageable.

PTSD Hyperarousal Management Techniques

Symptoms of hyperarousal and anger are prevalent in people experiencing trauma disorder. It is important to recognize when a person is experiencing these types of feelings and how to help them cope. The same idea works if you are the one experiencing these types of emotions. It is crucial that you recognize what you are feeling and know what you can do to handle the situation calmly.

Some specific helpful tips include exercising, such as going to the gym or going for a walk, punching a pillow, crying out the anger, listening to music, watching a favorite movie, or reaching out to a supportive friend or family member.

Anything that provides some distraction or diversion from what initially triggered the anger or anxiety is the best way of coping with the rage.

Acute Stress Disorder Treatment

The first step taken by many people in treating acute stress disorder is cognitive behavioral interventions type therapy, or CBT. Studies have shown that this treatment option not only helps to improve the individual’s disorder and help them recover, but also indicates progress by moving away from the next, subsequent disorder, PTSD.

Psychological first aid is helpful for treating ASD during the early stages of response. This includes practices similar to psychoeducation, where the person living with the mental disorder is informed and taught topics about his or her current psychological state. Education can consist of different coping skills for the individual, characteristics of mental and physical health when experiencing trauma, how to be able to communicate personal feelings about what has happened, and even tips and exercises to work on getting out of a depressed and hopeless mental state. Therefore, this psychological education isn’t necessarily considered direct treatment, but can still be considered a way to overcome and cope with the mental disorder.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Treatment

Treatment of RAD requires involvement by a therapist to work on helping a parent and child establish a relationship. As mentioned before, the treatment should be unique to the specific child and his or her symptoms. For this reason, it is important to seek counsel and receive an individual mental assessment by a therapist or doctor, for them to understand the relationship and to use or prescribe proper treatment.

The best way for a parent to mend the relationship between themselves and the child is to work on regaining the child’s trust and by making them feel safe. This is made possible by interacting with the child and being calm, but also steady. Do not bring any stress into the interaction, as that will result in the child putting his or her guard up and losing trust again. Be patient and understand that the transition to creating a healthy relationship with the child will not be smooth nor will it happen overnight. Provide nothing but support to the child and make them feel loved and supported. Participating in activities the child enjoys is an excellent start to creating a relationship. If the child is distracted by laughter and feels happy, it will be much easier for them to let down their guard, and to become more comfortable and attached.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder Treatment

Similarly to the treatment of RAD, disinhibited social engagement disorder treatment requires intervention by a therapist to help form or strengthen the relationship between the parent and child by using a personal treatment plan. This cannot happen until visiting a therapist or doctor and receiving a thorough psychiatric assessment.

Parents or primary caregivers can try similar activities like those mentioned in the treatment section for reactive attachment disorder, as they too work and focus on forming a relationship for the parent and child. This is done mostly by participating in different activities that bring happiness and distraction to the child.

Adjustment Disorder Treatment

Because normal, everyday stressors cause adjustment disorder, it is sometimes unnecessary to seek help from a specialized therapist for treatment of an adjustment disorder. Many times, this disorder passes with time. However, if the disorder seems to be extreme and long-lived (lasting longer than six months), it would be worth seeking help from a professional.

If experiencing symptoms of adjustment disorder, it is sometimes suggested to participate in solution-focused therapy. This type of treatment creates an environment of recognizing the cause of the initial reaction to the stressor, then coming up with strategies and techniques how to problem solve and stay calm while being faced with the stressor. After these two activities are accomplished, the individual can practice the strategies and see how well they work for him or her.

Drug therapy is another recommended treatment for people experiencing adjustment disorder.

What Not to Do for Treatment

It is highly recommended that individuals that have experienced or been exposed to a traumatic event not be put into a psychological debriefing intervention. This type of treatment may be problematic as it assumes victims of the same traumatic event are affected in the same way. It doesn’t account for individual feelings and reactions, which for some people, can make them feel even more depressed and anxious, negatively resulting in the development of a more severe disorder, such as PTSD.

Peaks Recovery Center in Colorado Springs, CO.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a trauma disorder, please reach out to Peaks Recovery Center to learn more information about trauma disorders and treatment plans. We care about you and are here to help.