How Do I Help Someone Recover from a Traumatic Event

Trauma sensitivity and how to help someone recover from a traumatic event. So I just completed an online search for books about trauma, and what I noticed is that there was a lot more books that showed sensitivity for children than there were for adults. And what I found significant is the way the books help children. They help them acknowledge and understand their feelings through stories, and the characters all provided validation for the person going through the trauma and they showed a lot of compassion, understanding, and they always work towards a resolution.

So this made me think, why do we have so much sensitivity when working with children, but we let it go when it’s with adults? Why is it that we don’t recognize that we minimize trauma responses in adults? Why do we overlook trauma instead of addressing it?

So my thought is to break this topic into a number of videos to increase awareness and sensitivity to those that are suffering from trauma. And my intent is I want to keep them as short and simple as possible in order to make it easier to understand.

So for those of you that don’t know me, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso. I’m the Clinical Director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. I put out these videos to just provide information and help demystify mental illness and try to help you guys get over mental illness and into emotional health.

So when I’m talking about these things, they’re not intended to be treatment. This video is not intended to resolve trauma. It’s just food for thought. So I want to start with saying trauma can be very complex and that can be based on circumstances and severity, but the important part, it doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. So it can be complex, but not complicated.

And the effects of trauma are significant. They’re very painful. They can be very debilitating, very overwhelming. But it’s important for people to know it can be overcome with the right approach and treatment.

So today, let’s look at two types of trauma and we’ll start with natural causes. Those would be caused by the environment. They’re sometimes referred to as acts of God. They would include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, health epidemics, lightning strikes, wildfires, even a falling tree.

The second category would be those that are caused by people, and that category would have two subcategories. So the first category would be, let’s say accidents caused by people such as car accidents, airplane crashes, oil spills, gas explosions, things that happened that have a human nature to it, but weren’t intentional.

Now the second category we would have is those that are intentional acts by people. Those could include terrorism, sexual assault, homicides, suicides, physical abuse, stabbings and shootings, bullying, domestic violence. I don’t think I need to say any more. You get the picture.

So you get natural causes, which people could say, hey, those were caused by God or they just happen. You have unintentional acts caused by humans. And then you have intentional acts by humans.

And the reason why I’m making a point about this is people’s responses and recovery from these can vary based on just those factors to begin with. So it’s important to know human caused traumas are experienced different than those that are natural caused, and the emotional reactions to trauma can depend on the intentionality, meaning was it intentional or was it not in.

So in order to make sense of a trauma, people often look to blame a responsible party. Well with natural causes, you don’t have this element, but those that are caused by humans can be significant.

Survivors could, regardless of the trauma, could feel angry and frustrated. With human caused traumas, they could say there was a lack of protection, or disbelief, not understanding the reason why someone would allow it to happen, or someone would actually commit something such as an intentional act of trauma, like a rape.

So let’s cover a few things. One would be, what responses are typical with trauma? Two, how to respond? And then the third thing would be how to get help? Now all of the symptoms I’m going to mention may or may not be present. They could vary in severity, but they’re all common and normal reactions to trauma. So one of the things that we don’t want to do is start dismissing things just because we don’t think they should happen. There are a lot of normal responses that are going to be emotional and behavioral in nature that come with these.

So the signs and symptoms could be emotional numbness, they could be isolation, they could be sadness and depression, anxiety, increased levels of frustration, agitation. We do see a lot with self-medication with alcohol and drugs, where people are just trying to avoid these feelings.

So the first thing let’s look at is, how to respond. First of all, it’s extremely difficult for someone to cope with the trauma, and it’s not easy for someone who hasn’t experienced the trauma, to see someone who’s struggling with one. And the way we interact, so let’s just say we’re interacting with someone who’s been traumatized, it can have a big impact on the way we respond.

So I want you to think about this. When we’re helping somebody who’s been experiencing trauma, or who has experienced trauma, we as an outside person can feel helpless. We can feel overwhelmed. Because we don’t know what to do. We don’t feel like we can fix the problem. And a lot of times it can be very frustrating for us.

So what you need to know is, we might unknowingly take that frustration out on the person that we’re trying to help. So, and believe it or not, this is more common than people would think. My intention is to help someone that is struggling and because I don’t have the right answer, or I feel bad for them, or I don’t know the right thing to say, or I don’t know the right thing to do, I get frustrated and they start to pick up my frustration, which then becomes, and I hate to say this, but maybe even more traumatizing for them. It’s just they feel bad that I feel bad, and they already feel bad because of what’s happened to them.

So what to do would be empathy, compassion, and validation go a long way. What you want to be able to do is active listening, emotional support, and making sure that you keep your feelings in check. And there’s nothing wrong with expressing, let’s say your own sadness, or maybe anger and frustration for what they’ve experienced, but you want to make sure that what you experience and what you feel is not preventing them from feeling what they feel. You don’t want them to start taking care of you. You want them to understand that you know, or at least you have sensitivity to what they’re feeling.

So that would be watching what your response is. The second part would be is, how do you respond? Where do you go? Number one is find a mental health professional, and I would say master’s and doctorate level, that is licensed and works proficiently with trauma.

If you don’t know somebody, then what I would do is I would ask a doctor. Doctors have connections with people. They know who the mental health professionals are in their area that actively work with trauma.

And so the other thing I would want to make sure that you guys are doing is once you connect with that therapist, making sure that they take a proactive evidence based approach to treatment, and what I’m saying is going in to see a therapist is not about just talking about your problems. To go in and just say, “Hey, this is the trauma I experienced,” and have them provide validation and support, but not really do much more with that, is going to be insufficient. You’re really looking for somebody that understands trauma, knows how to work with it.

Yes, disclosure and talking about it is part of it, but the other part is being able to find a resolution. Because I think there’s this misconception out there that if I suffered a trauma, it’s not going to heal and it’s going to be something I’ll deal with for the rest of my life.

It may be present in certain areas, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to negatively impact you. So it’s, one, I need to be sensitive. Two, I need to find a mental health professional that can help me work through it. And the third thing is, is I have to make sure that they take a structured approach to treatment, because I want to get this resolved.

So again, the whole point of this video is trauma happens to a lot of people. I will do additional videos. We’ve had actually requests from a number of people to address issues about this topic. It’s really being sensitive to what goes on with people and that their normal emotional responses can really vary, whether it was from natural causes to human causes that wasn’t intentional, to one that is intentional. And we’ll go into those factors in another video.

So again, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso from Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. If you have questions for us, please email us at info@nsightrecovery.com. Or, you can respond and put comments on this video. If you like it, share it with someone else. Give us the thumbs up. If you don’t like it, please let us know. Feedback is always good and we’re trying to make this stuff beneficial and useful for you. So again, until I see you next time, this is Dr. Jerry Grosso.

References

Dr. Jerry Grosso

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology.  Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

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