Single traumatic events
Traumatic events are very common; it has been reported that 60.7% of men and 51% of women will experience a potentially traumatic event in their lifetime (Kessler et al., 1995; Breslau et al, 1998). Events can be experienced as traumatic when they are unexpected, extreme and life-threatening, such as in the case of a violent physical attack, a severe road traffic accident, the sudden death of a loved one, or a natural or man-made disaster.
Following a traumatic event, it is not uncommon to experience a number of symptoms, including severe anxiety, dissociation, sleep disturbances and flashbacks. For many people (45 – 80%), these symptoms will resolve without intervention within 9 months of the traumatic event (NICE, 2005). Around 33% of people, however, will remain symptomatic and will go on to develop a chronic condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD are severe and can lead to debilitating problems such as anxiety disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, relationship problems and difficulties in maintaining employment (Javidi & Yadollahie, 2011).
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms following a traumatic event or multiple traumatic events, you may want to explore the possibility of EMDR to resolve your symptoms. You do not need to wait to see if the symptoms will resolve by themselves. It is worth seeking help early, with the aim of accelerating your recovery and before unhelpful coping strategies become habitual. However, EMDR can resolve trauma symptoms even many years after the precipitating event(s).
"Small t" traumas
Big T traumas are those events (eg rape and war), that involve physical harm and/or a threat to life or physical safety. Big T trauma is trauma in its most severe form, often leading to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Small t traumas are life events that are more common experiences, which are distressing, but which may not generally be thought of as traumatic. The term small t trauma does not imply, however, that the emotional impact of such an event is insignificant – the emotional wounds can be as debilitating and as enduring as those from Big T trauma.
All of us have experienced a number small t traumas in life: being teased or bullied at school, losing friends by moving from school to school during childhood, a teacher shouting at us in front of the whole class, the death of a pet, losing a job, or divorce.
These traumas strongly influence the way you view the world and shape how you cope in life. For example, the small t trauma of being teased or excluded by peers can leave you with low self-esteem and the belief that you are not good enough – despite the fact that you may see no connection between the two.
Breslau, N., Kessler, R. C., Chilcoat, H. D., Schultz, L. R., Davis, G. C., & Andreski, P. (1998). Trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in the community: the 1996 Detroit Area Survey of Trauma. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55(7), 626-632.
Javidi, H., & Yadollahie, M.Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 3, 9.
Kessler, R. C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C. B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12), 1048-1060.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence. (2005). PTSD clinical guidelines. United Kingdom : NHS.