By W. CARLTONAca,!E+HARRISON, LCSW, Behavioral Health ServicesMarch 27, 2009
Trauma is an extreme psychological wounding that produces a sense of fear, horror or helplessness. Trauma in daily life is seen through war, natural disasters, terrorism and shootings. The experience of trauma is internal stress due to a life-threatening wound. This traumatic experience is both shocking and memorable to the extent that one's natural coping skills are overwhelmed.
Many people experience the trauma of war as if they were standing in a museum looking at a picture of a historical war. Some people in that museum cannot look at the same picture without being in that war in the present. These are people who have been "traumatized" -- unable to use their emotional and psychological skills to restore themselves to healthy functioning. Trauma is a wound that is person-specific.
This traumatic stress response encompasses the whole person and affects all areas of functioning. Someone traumatized by war may experience uncontrolled rage, defensiveness and suspiciousness, or they may cope by taking on the victim role, feeling helpless, unworthy and inadequate. Alcohol is often used ineffectively as a means to manage the stress associated with trauma and eventually leads to a greater impairment.
Fear does horrible things to people. So much so that people may resort to avoidance at all cost, as it seems to be the quickest solution to regain control and a sense of safety. But here's the catch: The solution to "shut out" fear is an illusion. The fear is still there, only now temporarily camouflaged in a "box." "Out of sight, out of mind" does not mean an end to the suffering. The "expected unexpected" typifies the dread of another potential trauma or of potentially re-experiencing the original trauma when it is on-going or any memory associated with a past unresolved trauma.
So, how is the stress created by the wound of trauma relieved' By doing what man has been doing for thousands of years, from the time when men gathered around fire at night -- talk and share experiences. Some people start talking at once, others need to take some time off, and yet others need to digest the trauma one bit at a time. Just as each person's trauma wound is specific to themselves, each person's natural way of coping with the stress of trauma differs, too.
Every person has a deep need to be heard and understood by others. Trauma survivors have experienced the world as an unsafe place due to unexpected events that have been out of their control. Counseling in groups or individually is one way to heal and enter into recovery. This treatment will encourage you to take care of yourself and express your feelings; even if not everyone understands.
One of the most difficult things for traumatized people is to learn to live without answers. Some people seek to recover from trauma and regain control over life through shame, guilt, and condemnation of self and others to create those answers. Some traumatized people believe that by shutting down their emotions in the present, they can deny any and all aspects of the past trauma.
Many Soldiers believe that showing emotion is a sign of weakness rather than a normal aspect of being human. Some feel threatened by emotions and don't know how to talk about them. Others feel disbelieved, stigmatized, or shunned by their command, which only adds to the wound. Soldiers report a conspiracy of silence, a belief that acknowledgement of trauma treatment is a career-ending move -- and feeling threatened by emotional pain is an additional impediment to recovery. Lack of support and personal denial can make the traumatized Soldier feel more alone, helpless and worthless. Ineffective coping and lack of support keeps the pain inside unexpressed and unprocessed. Recovery from the trauma of war means talking about it as a way to make sense of it. It has nothing to do with craziness.
Recovery from trauma is about growth in life. Life is feeling. To not feel is to be dead. To be at peace with all feelings is to heal. There are seven principles of healing:
Healing starts with management of the trauma and anger.
Healing starts when the memory of the trauma is processed -- recalled from the "box," coming to terms with and making sense of it, and changing the way the trauma is viewed.
Healing starts when confronting replaces avoidance.
Healing occurs in a climate of safety and pacing. When you were traumatized, you were not safe.
Healing occurs when boundaries are intact. Boundaries allow you to feel safe.
Kindness and acceptance of feelings aid the healing journey: "Even though I'm imperfect, I matter."
Balance in life is necessary to heal. Healing is work, so like any work, you need to take some time for laughter and recreation.
Healing from trauma with group counseling was pioneered with veterans of the Vietnam War and is helpful when the symptoms of trauma are stabilized with medication and the cessation of drug /alcohol abuse. Individual counseling is an additional way to stabilize these symptoms.
Groups provide a sense of community so that no one feels abnormal. Groups de-stigmatize the experience and address the feelings of worthlessness. Groups help in the disclosure of secrets to unburden the secret keeper and challenge the idea of: "My secret is too horrible to tell." Group members will challenge you to take a more realistic view. Groups help process survivors' memories in a supportive climate. They permit members to share ideas on how to cope and combine the strengths of many people. Finally, group participation helps the traumatized person to learn how to trust again.
Individual counseling and group therapy are offered at Fort Polk to those traumatized by war. Social Work Services and Behavioral Health offer medication and individual counseling by appointment at Army Community Service and Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital on the sixth floor. Groups are available on Wednesdays at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. for Soldiers without an appointment on the sixth floor of BJACH.