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Trauma is an emotional response to a threatening event such as an accident, sexual assault or natural disaster. Shock and denial are common after experiencing a traumatic event. While it’s normal to experience longer-term emotional reactions to the trauma, such as flashbacks, mood changes, relationship issues, headaches or nausea, in some cases these symptoms can prevent you from functioning in your daily life.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will go on to develop a trauma disorder. However, if you or a loved one are struggling to move on after trauma, you may have a trauma disorder. The seven different types of trauma disorders in adults are as follows:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Approximately 8 million adults are affected by PTSD in the United States in a given year. Initial symptoms may appear anywhere from days to months after experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms can be grouped into four categories:

  • Intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks about the event
  • Avoidance of people or situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Behavioral changes (for example, insomnia, withdrawing from loved ones and engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors)
  • Cognitive changes such as irritability, negative thoughts and fear or paranoia

In order to receive a PTSD diagnosis, you must experience a certain number of symptoms from each category for over one month. When individuals are exposed to repeated or prolonged trauma, such as childhood abuse, they may develop a slightly different condition known as complex PTSD (C-PTSD).

Acute stress disorder (ASD)

Acute stress disorder is similar to PTSD, except that it is shorter in duration. ASD symptoms develop immediately after a traumatic event and last three days to one month. If symptoms persist beyond a month, the individual is considered to have PTSD.

Secondhand trauma

Also known as trauma exposure response or secondary traumatic stress disorder, secondhand trauma results from exposure to someone else’s trauma. Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feeling like you can never do enough to help
  • Hypervigilance
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Negativity or cynicism
  • Chronic fatigue

Secondhand trauma can affect anyone, but it’s most commonly seen in professionals who work with trauma victims such as counselors, social workers, first responders, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)

Reactive attachment disorder occurs in children who cannot form stable attachments to their caregivers. If a child’s basic needs are not met or they are frequently placed with new caregivers, they are at increased risk of developing RAD. Symptoms may include:

  • Emotional withdrawal or inhibition
  • Lack of response to comfort from caregivers
  • Impaired emotional response to others
  • Limited ability to experience positive emotions
  • Episodes of irritability, sadness or fearfulness

Although rare, this condition can be devastating to a child’s normal development and may affect their lives into adulthood.

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)

While disinhibited social engagement disorder has the same root cause as reactive attachment disorder, the symptoms are vastly different.

DSED causes children to exhibit culturally inappropriate behavior, usually familiarity with strangers. Children with DSED feel no fear around strangers, and may even be comfortable getting into a car with someone they’ve just met. This disorder poses a serious threat to safety. Caregivers should seek immediate treatment for a child who displays this kind of behavior.

Adjustment disorders

Adjustment disorders are usually transitory, triggered by stressful life events such as divorce, job loss, illness or death of a loved one. Some people are able to cope with the stress of these situations on their own, but others may need help from a doctor or mental health professional.

Someone with adjustment disorder may present with the following symptoms:

  • Frequent sadness or hopelessness
  • Crying often
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Not enjoying your favorite activities and hobbies anymore
  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Neglecting your responsibilities at home or work
  • Having trouble focusing
  • Difficulty functioning in daily life
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Usually, treatment for adjustment disorder is temporary. However, for chronic life events like an ongoing illness or relationship problems, long-term treatment may be required.

Call Silvermist at (724) 268-4858 or contact us online to learn more about our trauma-focused residential mental health treatment program.

Residential trauma disorders treatment program for adults of all ages

Effective treatment approaches for trauma disorders require a deep understanding of the effects of trauma on the brain, body and spirit, and are tailored to the unique experiences and needs of each client.

Our residential, trauma-focused Primary Psychiatric Program at Silvermist combines a phase-based approach, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and clinical applications of polyvagal theory for the treatment of trauma disorders.

Phase-based approach to trauma processing and stabilization

The early stages of residential treatment for trauma disorders focus on building the relationship between client and clinician, allowing the client to connect with their inner emotions and other people, as well as educating the client on the trauma response and treatment process.

Safety, Stabilization and Skill Building

In phase one of our trauma disorders treatment program, treatment goals include:

  • Reducing symptoms
  • Developing the ability to function across life domains
  • Developing containment and reattunement skills
  • Establishing a sense of safety
  • Preparing for therapeutic work in aftercare

Often, people entering residential treatment for trauma disorders are unable to feel safe and are ‘stuck’ in defense against internal and external threats. Clients with trauma disorders have a paradoxical desire to be close to other people while maintaining distance. Our program addresses this through ACT flexibility processes, building trust between the treatment team and client and emotion-focused family therapy (EFFT).

Present moment awareness with a reduction in avoidance of the future and ruminations about the past is another primary treatment goal for trauma stabilization. The goal is to reduce dissociation (a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity) and increase the client’s ability to reattune to the present moment. Mindfulness techniques allow for the use of regulation skills and behavioral strategies that are in accordance with clients’ values.

Additionally, acceptance and willingness processes are important in treatment planning for clients struggling with trauma. These processes are necessary for reducing unhelpful avoidance strategies that contribute to clients’ suffering and inability to function.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for trauma disorders

The treatment philosophy at Silvermist is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Rather than focusing on overt behaviors alone, this evidence-based approach focuses on increasing overall psychological flexibility leading to symptom reduction, behavior modification, improved functioning and increased well-being and life satisfaction.

ACT is based on the concept that suffering does not come from feeling emotional pain, but from attempts to avoid that pain. Avoidance is a core symptom of PTSD and other trauma disorders, as people try and cope by avoiding painful memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the traumatic event. By helping clients with trauma disorders face and focus on their inner feelings rather than escaping or avoiding them, we can help them live a meaningful life.

Polyvagal theory: a neuroscience approach to trauma treatment

In addition to stabilization and the application of ACT, our program utilizes polyvagal theory to increase clients’ internal awareness and sense of safety. Therapy based in polyvagal theory aims to re-pattern the ways the autonomic nervous system operates when the drive to survive competes with the ability to connect with others.

Silvermist’s multi-faceted approach to trauma treatment helps prepare clients to engage in their next level of care and continue on their journey toward building a healthy life.

Call Silvermist at (724) 268-4858 or contact us online to learn more about our trauma-focused residential mental health treatment program.