A traumatic event is one that threatens physical, emotional, or psychological safety. Some examples of traumatic events include rape/sexual assault; emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse; neglect; harassment; stalking; exposure to war or combat; the cumulative impact of racial, ethnic, and/or gender discrimination; the sudden loss of loved ones; natural disasters; car accidents; and/or some highly invasive medical treatments.
Reactions to traumatic events vary and can be influenced by a variety of factors including age, availability of supportive services, coping skills, and community support. While many experience posttraumatic reactions, some may find these resolves around the one-month mark following the traumatic event. If reactions persist, the individual may meet criteria for Acute Stress Disorder or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) states that PTSD encompasses four broad symptom clusters: intrusive and recurrent memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of trauma related stimuli, numbing and/or negative changes in mood or cognitions, and changes in reactivity and arousal. While PTSD is a mental health diagnosis, reactions to a traumatic event engage and impact neurological functioning and physiological systems throughout the body, from the nervous system to the immune system.
Experiencing a traumatic event threatens safety and can overwhelm typical coping skills and/or disrupt or curtain one’s experience of the world. Psychological trauma is frequently explained as “a normal response to abnormal circumstances”. It is impossible to predict how one will react to a traumatic event and therefore important to take care of yourself and ask for help from others, as best you can.
Counseling resources at USNA include MDC, Behavioral Health Clinic at NHCA, and Fleet and
- Midshipmen Development Center (see How Do I Schedule an Appointment at MDC)
- Naval Health Clinic Annapolis Behavioral Health Clinic
- Fleet and Family Services
If you have experienced sexual violence (rape, assault, unwanted touching, sexual exploitation, etc.) SAPR Victim Advocates can provide non-counseling support, resources, transportation to medical care, and information about reporting options:
Trauma Services at MDC
Though psychological trauma can have wide ranging effects and impact multiple domains of a person’s life, healing and recovery are indeed possible. Some people even experience “post-traumatic growth” --the realization of strength and resilience within oneself that one had not previously recognized. However, there is no shortcut to those experiences of growth and the road to healing is not experienced as a smooth, linear path
Recognizing the impact that a traumatic experience can have in psychological and physiological wellness is the foundation of trauma-informed treatment. This can be approached and achieved from multiple modalities, including:
- Cognitive behavioral techniques to manage symptoms and increase emotional regulation.
- Development of the therapeutic dyad, in other words, your relationship with your therapist to build and explore trust, boundaries, self-worth, and healthy relationships.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)If an individual meets criterion for PTSD, they may benefit from engaging in trauma-focused treatment, such as Cognitive Processing Therapy. Per the American Psychological Association (2017), “Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that has been effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD that have developed after experiencing a variety of traumatic events including child abuse, combat, rape and natural disasters. CPT is generally delivered over 12 sessions and helps patients learn how to challenge and modify unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma. In so doing, the patient creates a new understanding and conceptualization of the traumatic event so that it reduces its ongoing negative effects on current life. This treatment is strongly recommended for the treatment of PTSD.”(APA, Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD).
Midshipmen dealing with the impact of psychological trauma are encouraged to seek services at the MDC. Visit the Make an Appointment tab to learn more.
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