Acute, chronic, or complex. Not all trauma is the same, but the impacts of trauma are widespread and well documented. There are different types of trauma, but they all can leave us scarred, with lasting effects on our physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual functioning. Some traumas, like war, car crashes, and assaults, are called acute or “Big-T” traumas. Others, like being belittled or embarrassed, are called chronic, or “little-t” traumata. Complex traumas refer to children’s exposure to multiple, ongoing traumatic events which have long-term, wide-ranging effects. The differences in these types of traumas are clear but the results of each type can be devastating. Our work as clinicians is to help our clients overcome the effects of their traumatic experiences. Energy Psychology is particularly helpful in addressing trauma.

Acute Trauma

The most well-known and well-documented aftermath of trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Soldiers returning from the first world war were “shell shocked”. Its history is much longer, with references in literature as far back as 2,000 years ago. You can read a fascinating summary of it here.

It was in the 1980s that the American Psychological Association included PTSD in their glossary of mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Even then, the mental health establishment considered it incurable. Thanks to advances in treatment approaches, and the growing acceptance of body- and energy-based practices like EMDR and EFT, we now know that PTSD is something that people can indeed heal from.

We often associate PTSD with war trauma, and rightly so. Today, we know that other traumatic experiences can also lead to PTSD. Things like vehicle accidents, assault, and rape leave their mark, and the mark is often PTSD. We call this set of traumatic experiences acute or “big T” traumas.

Effects of acute trauma

The classic symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts, nightmares, hypervigilance, and emotional or physical reactions to trauma reminders. These problems lead to behavioral changes as the sufferer tries to avoid the trauma. They either avoid places and things that remind them of the trauma or try to avoid their own thoughts and feelings. They also cause changes in mood and reactivity as the trauma sufferer grapples with their unresolved trauma.

Until now, people with PTSD suffered, and dealt with it as best they could. They often used drugs, prescribed or not, to try to mask or manage their symptoms. They sweated their way through talk therapy sessions until they stopped going. Sometimes they got a bit of relief for their efforts.

The prognosis changed with the advent of somatic and energy-based techniques like EMDR and EFT. EFT, along with Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and the Trauma Tapping Technique (TTT), are acupressure-assisted exposure therapy and they help people heal trauma. Now, PTSD sufferers can find quality help to overcome their trauma symptoms as they remove the emotional valence from their trauma memories. You can read about the research on EFT for PTSD here.

Chronic or little-t trauma

Little-t traumata are more personal and much more common. Anyone can experience these. Think of the loss of a job, financial stressors, relationship breakups, and even problems with family, friends, and friend groups. These are traumatic, but not in the same ways as big T trauma can be. However, they leave us less resilient, and we need to heal them.

Often, people who experience these types of traumas think they “shouldn’t” feel as upset as they do. However, every traumatic experience leaves us with less resilience to deal with the next one. The effects of trauma are cumulative and get more difficult as each succeeding trauma is left unhealed.

Complex, childhood, ongoing trauma

The ACEs or adverse childhood experiences study found that people who experienced adversity during childhood were more likely to develop problems in adulthood. These problems include obesity, depression, heart disease, COPD, and early death. The triggering childhood adversity includes abuse, neglect, and household challenges. The more ACES, the worse the problems.

People who are members of the LGBT community and people who identify as BIPOC are at an increased risk of trauma. This is because they experience many microaggressions which cause trauma responses. Persistent trauma takes its toll on health and wellbeing. Two examples are the increased rate of Black women dying in childbirth and the increased risk of suicide among LGBTQ teens.

The problem, however, does not exist only among members of diverse communities. Even children of privilege can endure traumas that leave their marks. Having parents who are poorly emotionally regulated; being bullied in school; experiencing academic problems; cyberbullying; and even social media-induced social comparisons can leave a scar no matter the cultural background of the family or status of the individual.

The effects of trauma.

No matter the type of trauma, the effects can be pretty much the same. They include flashbacks, nightmares, problems sleeping, hypervigilance, irritability, physical symptoms, intrusive thoughts, and distress. For adults who experienced complex trauma, the fallout can include relationship problems, insecurity, attachment fears, and emotional labiality. Clinicians see the fallout of both types of traumas in our practices every day.

Helping with both types of trauma

When our clients come to us with the aftermath of trauma, energy psychology methods are particularly effective. Conventional approaches have been lackluster in their results. EFT, on the other hand, is very effective at treating trauma. Thought Field Therapy or TFT helped many people overcome the aftermath of trauma, such as after the genocide in Rwanda. Other energy psychology approaches such as Advanced Integrative Therapy or AIT, and holographic memory resolution or HMR, also show promise. In every case, clinicians have pushed the envelope, looking for more effective treatments to help our clients overcome their traumatic experiences. That is how we make progress, and this is where energy psychology shines!

Want to deepen your skills? Sign up for ACEP’s trauma-informed EFT training designed especially for licensed mental health providers.

Author bio:

Sarah Murphy, LPC, NCC, is a licensed and nationally certified professional counselor. She specializes in energy psychology, including EFT, as well as mindfulness and meditation. Sarah works with people who have cancer or other serious medical diagnoses, individuals seeking to find peace within themselves, and couples who want to resolve conflict and live in harmony. Sarah is an ACEP Board member and chair of its communications committee; she has a private practice and serves as a counseling provider for Unite for HER.