Each day, the staff at DASACC provides services to women and children who have experienced trauma. What is trauma? Trauma is defined as “an event or series of events that is experienced as physically or emotionally harmful and has lasting adverse effects on functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual bell-being” (SAMHSA, 2014). So, as discussed in the definition, there are three parts to trauma: event, experience of the event, and effect. Let’s look at each part individually.
The first part, event, is when an individual is part of a situation that involves actual or extreme threat of physical or psychological harm (i.e. violence, abuse, war, loss, etc.) or, for a child, severe neglect that impedes healthy development (SAMHSA, 2014).
The second part, experience, is the individual’s perception of the event. An event, as listed above, may be traumatic for one individual and not for another. How the individual assigns meaning, labels the event, and is disrupted physically and psychologically by an event will contribute to whether or not it is experienced as traumatic (SAMHSA, 2014). Traumatic events include a power differential where one element (i.e. individual, force of nature, event) has power over another which elicits a questions of “why me?” (SAMHSA, 2014). This power differential often causes the person to feel powerless and is often accompanied by a sense of humiliation, self-blame, shame, guilt, etc.
The third part, effects, is an important part of trauma and may occur immediately or be delayed and may be short or long term. If there is a period of time that occurs between the event and the effects, the individual may not understand that the effects they are experiencing are tied to the traumatic event. Some adverse effects from a traumatic event may include an inability to cope with the normal stresses or daily living; to trust and benefit from relationships; to manage cognitive processes (i.e. memory, attention, thinking); to regulate behavior or control their expression of emotions (SAHMSA, 2014). There may also be physiological effects, as advances in neuroscience have shown how the brain responses to traumatic events. Some physiological effects may include hyper vigilance, numbing, and avoidance (SAHMSA, 2014).