Specialist Psychotherapeutic Services for Former Servicemen and Women | The Bridge

What is Trauma?


The impact of trauma occurs on various levels and can interfere with a person’s ability to function in daily life, affecting relationships, work, physical and mental health as well as personal development.  How a person responds to trauma is dependent on so many things, including how pervasive and prolonged the trauma was, the context in which it took place (war, family setting, school, work etc.) and type of life experiences before and after the trauma was experienced, particularly in regard to the amount of appropriate care and support the person received.

Traumatic Events

Traumatic events can happen to anyone.  They can cause a range of reactions, some of which are normal, involving distress but for some people the reactions may last longer or be more severe leading to a range of reactions such as hypervigilance, they may experience flashbacks, a sense of reliving the traumatic event, hypervigilance to reminders of the trauma, sleep problems, loss of appetite, irritability, anxiety, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, avoidance of triggers that remind them of the trauma, feeling detached from and not trusting others, anger problems and other symptoms not mentioned here.

Any person who has experienced a traumatic event(s) will know how debilitating it can be, including negatively impacting upon the ability to function in daily life, affecting relationships, work, physical and mental health as well as personal development.  Trauma can cause a variety of problems including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance misuse, risk taking behaviours, anger management difficulties, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and dissociative disorders.  Whilst this list is not meant to be exhaustive it helps to show that each person responds to trauma differently and at The Bridge our individualised clinical treatment plans reflect this.   

Experiencing a traumatic event

When people experience a trauma, they automatically attempt to survive it by using their natural, survival instincts which are body led, rather than conscious decisions made by a ‘thinking brain’.  What this means is that behaviours during a trauma will be guided by the need to fight, run away (flight) or freeze.  However, in order to engage these behaviours, the ‘thinking brain’ (controls executive functioning) shuts-down in order to allow the body to respond appropriately; as a consequence, although the trauma is survived there will be little or no memory of the event, although body sensations connected to the experience can remain.  Thus, after the traumatic event is over, people continue to experience frightening, somatic (or body) disturbances such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, cold sweating, ‘jumpiness’ or hypervigilance without knowing the reasons why, or that they are responding to events and feelings from the past.  This can then lead to symptoms as described above.  If not treated appropriately, long-term experiencing of the somatic disturbance and above symptoms can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, sense of hopelessness and the sensation of constant threat and danger, including the desire to run, fight or freeze as an instinctive response a stressful situation is experienced.