What is actually Traumatic
The word trauma is thrown around a lot, often without precision; and we can understand why. The past couple of years has seen more people seeking mental health support than is common. You've probably seen headlines claiming we are in a "National Mental Health Crisis." A survey from the APA (American Psychological Association) is one bit of data that leads to such assessments. It documents dramatic increases in complaints about emotional stress, anxiety, depression and trauma that have led to many therapists having unprecedented demand for their services.
While not all mental health complaints are about trauma, much of the increase in demand for mental health support is linked to traumatic experiences. Several departments within the US government state that 61% of men and 51% of women experience one or more traumatic events in their lifetimes.
If you feel emotionally unstable, stressed, anxious or depressed, how would you know if you have trauma. When someone has been sexually assaulted or in a life threatening accident, or military combat, or physically assaulted, it's easy to assume that emotional issues are linked to that traumatic event. Just as often, the person who comes to see me is not sure what is behind the trauma; she or he just knows they don't feel well. And, surprisingly often, a person has no memory of a traumatic event, but suspects something happened to them that was traumatic. I think about it from the point of view of what is going to help someone feel better. From that point of view, we can sort what might be the best approach for dealing with something emotionally stressful.
"Big T" and "little t".
Some people use this terminology to describe the severity of what happened to you, the cause of your symptoms: Big T are life threatening events, like war or physical assault. Little t comes from less intense events, that lasted over a long period of time, such as verbal abuse. Both can lead to Big T, in the way I am using the term.
Big T Treatment
The term Big T refers to the type of response a person has to a difficult event, whatever the cause. Big T events lead to traumatic memories. Someone knows they have this when their emotional response to the memory is fear, terror or helplessness - often a combination of these. Sometimes a person can recall a very severe traumatic memory with little emotion, if any. The next sign of Big T trauma are the symptoms; typically some combination of: nightmares, interrupted sleep (even if you don't remember nightmares), hyper vigilance (being very jumpy or startled, for not obvious reason), flashbacks (where someone feels as if she or he is reliving the traumatic event), intense anxiety when thinking of or describing the traumatic event, increase in risk-taking behavior, and addiction (while there are many factors that can lead to addiction, trauma is certainly a major one). And people with these symptoms are likely to have traumatic memories, even if they can not remember them. Recently, I worked with a woman who had several of the symptoms, but no memories whatsoever. She did have an instinct that she was abused by a relative, very early in her life. While we could not confirm her suspicious, by acting as if it was true, we were able to eliminate her symptoms.
As difficult as the experience of traumatic memories (Big T) can be, the good news is that the RTM Protocol can eliminate all the symptoms in two to three sessions, with little or no discomfort and no drugs. The results are permanent! For a brief description of the RTM Protocol, see the PTSD section of this site.
When someone has a phobia, which is an intense fear of some situation, the RTM protocol works especially well and even more quickly, usually in one session. Common phobias are fear of heights, driving over a high bridge, being in an elevator, or flying.
Little t Treatment
In the next blog, I'll write about how Little t is caused, and how resolving it is a different process.