Trauma is painful. If you’ve been through traumatic experiences, you’re well aware of the pain, but there’s something you might not know: trauma changes the brain. According to research from the National Institute of Health (NIH), traumatic stress can cause increased amygdala function, decreased medial prefrontal function, and smaller hippocampal volumes. What does this mean in layman’s terms? And how can trauma therapy address these issues?
- The amygdala plays a major role in processing memories, making decisions, and responding emotionally. When it’s overstimulated, it can become highly alert and activated, looking for and perceiving threats everywhere.
- The prefrontal cortex impacts decision-making abilities, personality, and even the will to live. When the medial prefrontal cortex is not functioning properly, it negatively affects impulse control, nervous system regulation, the ability to communicate and empathize with others, self-awareness, and fear modulation.
- The hippocampus consolidates short-term memories into long-term memories. Smaller hippocampal volumes indicate that cells in the hippocampus have been killed, and this makes it less effective in making important synaptic connections. When that happens, the sympathetic nervous system stays on high alert, which creates fatigue in the body, particularly in the adrenal system.
Once this damage is done, can it be undone? The short answer is yes. The neuroplasticity, or malleability of the brain, which allowed the damage in the first place, can be used to heal the brain and allow the person to move forward. Sometimes it requires medication, but often, the key is therapy. There are more types of therapy today than ever before, so it’s important to find a trauma-informed therapist who understands the nature of trauma and what needs to be done to overcome its effects on the brain.
Trauma therapy is not just one kind of therapy. Different types of therapy can be used towards the same goals, as long as the therapy in question meets certain criteria. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma therapy must:
- Realize the widespread impact of trauma, understanding potential paths for recovery
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.
- Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
- Seek to actively resist re-traumatization.
Trauma therapy might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, EMDR, or Brainspotting, as well as things like mindfulness meditations, deep breathing exercises, and participation in social activities that support the therapeutic process. The benefit of these types of strategies is that by working with a trauma therapist, a person is able to:
- Face past traumas without becoming stuck in the past.
- Reduce or eliminate the symptoms of trauma.
- Shift focus from the past to the present.
- Improve daily function, including regulation of the nervous system.
- Become more aware of hereditary trauma.
- Reclaim personal power.
- Overcome addictions associated with trauma and stress.
- Gain coping skills that will help prevent relapse.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction because of unresolved trauma, BriteLife Recovery is here for you. A one-on-one approach to addiction recovery is at the heart of BriteLife’s philosophy, and it’s key to the success of the program. Individual therapy can give patients tools and help them find the strength they need to survive addiction, gain new coping mechanisms, and rebuild their lives. If know someone who you think would benefit from the BriteLife approach to addiction recovery, visit our website to learn more. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to find out how we can help.