Psychologists attending Brisbane Counselling Centre are experienced in evidence-based treatments for Trauma, Complex Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex PTSD (CPTSD).

What is the difference betweenTrauma & PTSD?

The International Society for Trauma Stress Studies defines trauma as a set of mild to severe reactions to, “shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity.” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), on the other hand, is a mental health ‘diagnosis’ by a qualified professional based on symptoms experienced as a result of trauma or prolonged stress (see below for symptoms).

Definition of Trauma

The DSM-5 defines PTSD trauma as any situation where our life, physical or psychological integrity is threatened. These can be thought of as large ‘T’ traumas, which can lead to developing PTSD and can include symptoms described below as well as flashbacks, anxiety, depression, anger changes in personality and often substance misuse. There are also small ‘t’ traumas which may be signs which may be signs of problematic trauma or stress rather than symptoms fitting a PTSD diagnosis, these include being triggered by situations, not being able to stop thinking about issues, being unable to recall experiences, being upset all the time, low mood, anxiety and poor energy levels, and difficulty engaging fully with life and others.

While we can often deal with small T traumas with assistance or on our own, some people experience lots of small T trauma in their lives. Multiple small T traumas can have a compounding effect and put us at risk for PTSD.

Both big T and small T trauma affect quality of life and intimate relationships. It is important to seek assistance to resolve both types of trauma as there is growing evidence that many people who resolve traumas experience a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. This means that not only do they recover, they make positive changes in their lives and actually, cope better than before the trauma. This is because successfully working through trauma causes us to change our worldview and leads us to develop new perspectives and life skills.

Different Types of Trauma:

Small ‘t’ versus Large ‘T’ – Smaller, everyday events can still be traumatic.

Most people recognise a large ‘T’ trauma and tend to think that trauma only affects those who have been exposed to these types of events.

Examples of Large ‘T’ Trauma

  • War
  • Combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Abuse: physical or sexual
  • Terrorism
  • Catastrophic accidents

Examples of Small ‘t’ Trauma

  • Conflict with significant others or children
  • Infidelity
  • Divorce
  • Conflict with supervisor/boss or colleagues
  • Abrupt or extended relocation/move
  • Planning a wedding
  • Starting a new job
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Legal trouble
  • Financial worries or difficulty
  • Expensive and unplanned home repairs (e.g., after storm damage)

Small ‘t’ traumas can sometimes tend to be rationalised as common, and therefore we feel ashamed or think that we are overreacting or not coping.  There are also people who may not recognise just how disturbing the event or situation was to them until later.

Not everyone will become traumatised by the same traumatic experience, as we are all different. However, everyone can become traumatised if they experience a sufficiently stressful event.  Personal reaction to trauma is dependent on predisposing factors, such as our past experiences, personality type, beliefs, perceptions, expectations, level of stress tolerance, values, and morals. One issue to be aware of is both big T and small T trauma is marked by avoidance. When people attempt to avoid their trauma or aspects of their trauma, it makes the trauma response worse and increases anxiety and mood problems.

Developing post-trauma symptoms is by no means an indication of psychological weakness or deficiency. By most standards, these individuals would likely be referred to as “strong-minded” or “tough”; their ability to experience such hardships and seek assistance is considered a sign of strong character and self-responsibility. There is some positive news here as there is a significant body of evidence in scientific studies that psychological treatment is very effective for treating both big T and small T trauma. People often find they improve in a surprisingly short period of time compared to the amount of time they have had the trauma. Examples of approaches to trauma that are evidence-based include EMDR, CBT, Exposure Therapy, and Psychodynamic therapy.

What are the symptoms of Trauma & Complex Trauma

Common symptoms of trauma include: Mood symptoms: depression and anxiety.

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Frequent nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Startled easily
  • Fatigue
  • Edginess
  • Self-medication with drugs and alcohol
  • Self-harming behaviours
  • Difficulty concentrating

What is considered trauma?

A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm.

Examples of traumatic events include:

  • Divorce
  • Ongoing or severe physical pain or injury (e.g. serious car accident)
  • Community violence (shooting, mugging, burglary, assault, bullying), sexual or physical abuse
  • Rape or dating violence
  • Domestic or family violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Severe illness or injury
  • The death of a loved one or family member, lover, friend, teacher, or pet
  • Witnessing an act of violence

What are the symptoms of PTSD & Complex PTSD

For symptoms following the event, they are grouped in four ‘clusters’:

  • Re-experiencing e.g., intrusive thoughts, trauma memories, nightmares, feeling distress when thoughts/memories occur to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence
  • Avoidance e.g. of thoughts, conversations, people, memories, external reminders
  • Thought/mood changes e.g. blame/guilt, “stuck points,” amnesia, numbing, loss of interest, disconnection from others
  • Arousal and reactivity e.g. sleep and concentration difficulties, hyperarousal, sensitive startle

For those who do not meet these criteria, they may be experiencing post-traumatic stress that does not meet the ‘clinical definition’ of PTSD. In both instances professional support can be life-changing.

What is Complex PTSD?

PTSD is typically related to a single traumatic event, while complex PTSD is typically related to a series of events that have a compounding effect, or one prolonged event. Diagnosis by a qualified practitioner of complex PTSD may occur when a person has experienced trauma on an ongoing basis. Most frequently, this trauma involves long-term physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best therapy for overcoming trauma?

    The best therapy for overcoming trauma is known as trauma therapy, which differs in treatment from general therapy. It often includes elements of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based CBT, ‘exposure’ therapies including Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in its various forms, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET). Trauma counselling, provided in a safe and supportive space, can be particularly effective for those who have experienced traumatic events and are struggling with feelings of depression, stress and anxiety as a result of their overwhelming experiences. Working with a trauma-informed therapist can help individuals manage distressing feelings and cope with traumatic memories.

  • How do therapists help people with PTSD?

    Therapists help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by offering specialised PTSD treatment and counselling services. Techniques such as those listed above, psychoeducation, trauma therapy and coping skills training are utilised to address PTSD and trauma symptoms to improve mental health and wellbeing. The practitioners at Brisbane Counselling Centre emphasise creating a supportive environment where individuals can explore their traumatic experiences and learn new skills to manage the distress in their lives.

  • Is complex PTSD more serious than PTSD?

    Complex PTSD, while considered more complicated to treat than PTSD due to prolonged or repeated exposure to traumatic events such as sexual assault or childhood trauma, is not insurmountable. It may lead to intense feelings, panic attacks, relationship difficulties, and a profound impact on self-image and self-confidence. With the guidance and empathy of an experienced trauma therapist, treatment may include trauma counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy. These therapies are designed to help individuals rebuild and regain control, fostering a brighter, more hopeful future.

  • How can I access trauma counselling?

    Accessing trauma counselling in Brisbane is possible through various mental health services, including Brisbane Counselling Centre’s specialised trauma therapy services. Those seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, complex trauma, or traumatic incident-related issues can find support through qualified trauma-informed therapists. The centre offers a safe and supportive environment for those dealing with anything from emotional trauma to violent attacks.

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