As reported by the New Britain Herald, January 20, 2005.

Counseling Helps People Suffering from Trauma, UConn Prof Says

By Tricia Stuart

FARMINGTON -- Trauma is nature’s way to readjust and bounce back from a traumatic event, such as a car accident, domestic violence or the events of war, according to Julian Ford, associate professor, and director of the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Department of Psychiatry, in the Center for Trauma Response, Recovery and Preparedness.

"Emotional systems tend to be pretty strong. I know some people who thought they weren’t strong and they find out they were stronger than they thought. It doesn’t mean trauma is good, but it can teach," said Ford.

The early reactions to a traumatic event (called acute stress) can occur over hours, days and weeks, and can include anxiety, grief, anger and disbelief.

"If those reactions interfere with a person’s day-to-day life, it can be the beginning of longer trauma. Some people experience this for a few weeks, then just go on. I recommend that people not go to counseling unless the trauma is severe and the person needs to get through the immediate moment. We’d never turn away someone for counseling. If a person thinks they need counseling right away, we respect that," he said.

Crisis intervention and immediate counseling is necessary if the person feels anxious, on edge, never at ease, and can’t sleep because they feel they can’t ever let down their guard.

"That person is going to have certain experiences or conversations and they experience anxiety way out of proportion. The person who has been assaulted may feel like that person is going to assault them again, even if that’s not the case. A person who has been rear-ended, and who is later driving, may feel that they are going to be rear-ended all the time," Ford said.

Different people react to a traumatic event differently, and the events themselves run an emotional and physical gamut of intensity, depending on the severity or violence and duration of the event. Uncertainty becomes the watchword when repeated trauma, "whether of the same type of trauma, such as domestic violence or war" or a series of different types of trauma, is experienced.

"The added uncertainty, when the trauma could actually happen again, is a serious complication," he said.

The mixture of uncertainty and trauma means being in survival mode.

"Being in survival mode sometimes means a fight or flight response or shutting down," he said. "The common denominator is, the person is constantly on alert. One of the things we try to do in therapy is to recognize when the body is on alert," Ford said.

"One of the biggest things making recovery more protracted is if someone has had repeated trauma, even if it is a different kind of trauma. Repetition of trauma takes longer to heal. In the case of repeated domestic violence, the pattern may be broken by recognizing the narcissistic, self-involved personality and staying away from that; and recognizing that abusive person’s habits and tendencies may be something that is beyond one’s power to change. The person may do better by analyzing the qualities that one needs in other people and analyzing what one is attracted to, and why," he said.

It is important that a person get completely, and permanently, away from abusers and to know that no one deserves abuse. Some people may have a history of getting involved in abusive relationships, but the pattern can be broken with effort.

"The other important reason [people get involved in abusive relationships] is because the people don’t feel they deserve any better. People need to learn what is driving these choices and how different choices can be made. An important step is to reconnect with healthy relationships instead of going against the natural instinct to [withdraw]. Reconnecting is not easy. Counseling can be important to help people reinvest in relationships in a positive way, to feel safe enough. It is not always possible to feel safe. It is important to feel safe enough," Ford said.

Seven Freedom Steps are listed on the Target Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Web site www.ptsdfreedom.org to help manage trauma, which has links to other aids. Among those steps, recognizing triggers, becoming aware of emotions, evaluation of thoughts, defining personal needs and goals, opening new options for achieving goals, and living according to your values, are listed.

People learn steps in therapy to help recognize physical signs of trauma, and awareness lets people learn how to regain control.

People may suffer trauma when abused by someone whom one thought could be trusted. A person may assume guilt over what s/he could have done to prevent an abusive situation, and these thoughts and emotions tend to complicate things.

Depending on what happened, and who was involved, recovery may take months or years, said Ford.