TRAUMA CENTER: HEALING PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS A trauma center is a rehabilitative environment for individuals who suffer residual effects of past traumatic events. A trauma center functions as a safe haven for trauma survivors – a place where these individuals can utilize all available resources to begin the process of healing their psychological and emotional wounds. WHAT IS TRAUMA? After a traumatic experience or series of experiences, an individual’s psyche may endure permanent damage that can only be treated by combined therapies in the setting of a trauma center. A traumatic event can be defined as an event that overwhelms an individual’s power to digest any feelings or concepts that he or she associates with the experience. In the case that a traumatic event leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, the physical chemistry of the trauma survivor’s brain is changed, impairing his or her ability to manage situations that mirror the traumatic event in any way. If an individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder does not seek help from a trauma center, the inability to cope with situations and feelings that relate to his or her trauma will persist, and can worsen over time as the brain’s rewired arrangement becomes thoroughly entrenched. WHAT IS A TRAUMATIC EVENT? Treatment in a trauma center addresses both psychological trauma and physical trauma, which may coexist or exist independently of one another. Psychological trauma is most commonly caused by experiencing or witnessing sexual or physical abuse. In the case of experiencing these forms of abuse, it is likely that physical trauma will accompany psychological trauma. The body stores its own memories of the event, and as situational triggers can bring forward mental recollections of the original trauma, so can physical situations bring forward the body’s recollections. Psychological trauma is also common in survivors of major catastrophic events, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, war, or terrorist attacks. In addition it can result from long-term exposure to seemingly milder situations, for example the slow death of a family member, or consistent emotional abuse. There is no general rule about what type of experiences cause trauma – an event that psychologically traumatizes one individual might not traumatize another. Trauma is a personal affliction based on a personal experience, and thus requires the specialized treatment offered in a trauma center. While there is no standard description of a traumatic event, these events are almost always characterized by a violation of some kind, be it a physical violation or a violation of an individual’s understanding of the world. In either case the event perpetuates a state of insecurity, fear, helplessness, and confusion. The treatment provided in a trauma center focuses on these central themes during group activities, and makes space for individuals to explore the unique aspects of their trauma in more personal settings. WHAT DOES TRAUMA LOOK LIKE? The major symptom of trauma is the mental and physical re-experiencing of traumatic events. The return to the scene of trauma can be triggered by a diverse range of situations, and the controlled environment of a trauma center offers refuge from many such situations. In addition to these ‘flashbacks,’ trauma survivors often experience persistent nightmares in which they relive traumatic events. A re-experience of trauma can be set in motion by a smell, a place, an image, a loud noise, a feeling, or any number of other triggers. Common examples of psychosomatic reactions to triggers are panic attacks and dissociative episodes, where the body and mind, respectively, shut down in response to a re-experience. Even when a trauma victim is aware of the triggers that may cause a re-experience, it is impossible to avoid all situations in which the presence of a trigger is a possibility. When the triggers are unidentifiable, it is impossible to avoid these situations. In the early stages of working through trauma, it is critical to minimize exposure to potentially triggering environments. A trauma center functions as a protected environment in which the trauma survivor can begin to explore memories of traumatic events in a cautious and controlled manner. Because trauma survivors encounter these trigger situations frequently, they feel the need to be constantly vigilant – they perceive danger all around them. This vigilance may result in insomnia, a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. This agitation also manifests as irritability and sudden angry outbursts. Because memories of a traumatic event can be a tremendous obstacle in everyday life, in some cases the mind will block out certain parts of the memory for survival purposes. While this helps alleviate the trauma in the moment, it can be detrimental to one’s psyche over time, as triggers continue to provoke emotional responses. In cases where memories of the traumatic event are mentally inaccessible, recovery depends on integrative and experimental therapies. A trauma survivor in such a situation has the best odds of recovery in the setting of a trauma center, where he or she benefits from a multifaceted approach to therapy. Some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder persist even without the presence of triggers. The constant fear of returning to the memory of a traumatic experience, as well as the pain of reliving that experience again and again, can leave a trauma survivor emotionally exhausted. The nurturing environment of a trauma center is welcoming to those individuals who feel defeated by past trauma. As previously mentioned, it is also common for an individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to dissociate. Dissociation is the mind’s way of numbing itself when emotional and mental activity go into overdrive. An individual who dissociates will be emotionally inaccessible, and may appear to be flat, cold, or distant. In some cases, dissociation leads to problems with memory and the tendency to become confused in ordinary situations. For individuals who experience these symptoms, whose lives are constantly impaired by past trauma, treatment in a trauma center is crucial. The specialized care a trauma center provides will help them not only to work through the trauma itself, but also to relearn how to navigate the world around them. CAN A TRAUMA SURVIVOR RECOVER? As post-traumatic stress disorder is largely a condition of the mind and body acting of their own volition, individuals who suffer from it sometimes come to feel helpless against the condition. When symptoms do not subside on their own, these individuals lose hope and begin to experience depression and loss of self esteem. Treatment in a trauma center will help these individuals understand that essential aspects of their sense of self and the world around them have been violated, and these wounds do not heal on their own. In the care of a trauma center, survivors of traumatic events have the ability to commence the healing process. This process will not be easy, nor will it be quick, but it will offer these individuals the chance at a new life – a life in which they can finally be set free from the grasp of the events that haunt them.