6.7 Trauma

Trauma is a word that is used frequently these days.  It describes conflict/war, it is shared in media, it describes some childhoods, it is discussed in the marginalization of vulnerable groups.  You may have used trauma to describe difficult situations you have experienced.  Is trauma the same thing as loss? Trauma is more complex.

A traumatic experience can be something that happens to us, for example an accident or a loss.  A traumatic experience can cause trauma.  Is trauma something that happens each time a difficult situation arises in your life?  No.  The Canadian Association of Mental Health[1] describes trauma as “the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships”.[2] Trauma as an initial or latent experience can happen at any time at any place.

Food For Thought

  • Reflect on a time (at least one year ago) that you experienced a difficult situation.  Perhaps it was the loss of a pet, or the challenge of not being able to see your friends or family for an important celebration during a COVID lockdown.
  • What were some of the emotions you felt?
  • What strategies did you use to cope?
  • How are you coping now?

We live in a world where difficult, sad, frustrating, upsetting, devastating acts occur in our lives.  Some of these acts may be considered traumatic.  Another voice on trauma, one of the world’s most renowned experts, Dr. Gabor Mate[3] considers trauma as “the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds”.[4]

Listen / Podcast

Dr. Gabor Maté on Trauma, Addiction, and Healing  a Mindspace Podcast.

In this episode of the Mindspace podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Gabor Maté, retired physician, author, and world renowned educator. Dr. Maté has more than 20 years experience in family practice and palliative care. He has worked for more than a decade at the Portland Hotel in downtown East Side Vancouver with patients who suffer from mental illness and addiction.

Did this help you understand trauma?  Holmes[5] suggests trauma must include “stigmatization, marginalization, or oppression because of gender, sex, race, class, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, culture, spirituality, ability/disability”.[6]  This means that trauma is complex and must be understood as not necessarily having just one experience.  Other researchers looking at trauma, mental health, and coping suggest “trauma has been found to contribute to a range of mental health conditions”.[7] and for some, coping with trauma means using substances.[8]  When trauma affects people’s coping mechanisms they may not be able to appropriately respond to any stressors, much less recover.[9]  Watch this video[10] on how substance use and trauma are related.

 

Activities

  1. Brainstorm a list of groups that have been heavily impacted by trauma.
  2. What do you notice about these groups?
  3. Brainstorm as many ways as you can think how trauma manifests physically and mentally.

There has been a concerted effort in the past twenty years to study trauma and identify the links between trauma and substance use to improve service provision.  Trauma informed care recognizes the prevalence of trauma, how it manifests and impacts people and focuses on supporting the needs of an individual while minimizing the risk of re-traumatisation, and maximizing choice and empowerment (Cleary, 2020).[11]  When trauma and a substance use disorder are connected, it is imperative that a trauma-informed approach is used.  Listen to this short podcast by Dr. David Trealeven and Anjuli Sherin on embracing a trauma-informed approach using mindfulness.[12]

Listen / Podcast

Resilience, Mindfulness, and Healing Trauma. The Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Podcast hosted by David Treleaven.

In this episode, David speaks with Anjuli Sherin, author of the book Joyous Resilience: A Path to Individual Healing and Collective Thriving in an Inequitable World.

Activities

  1. What are two ways you can introduce a trauma-informed lens in your work?
  2. Where can you find evidence-based information on trauma and substance use

Trauma is an important factor to be aware of.  You may consider engaging in trauma-informed training to ensure you are working with your clients safely and appropriately.


  1. The Canadian Association of Mental Health. (2021). Trauma. https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/trauma
  2. Ibid, (para.1).
  3. Mate, G. (2021). The wisdom of trauma. https://drgabormate.com/the-wisdom-of-trauma/
  4. Ibid, para. 6.
  5. Holmes, C. (2021). Bridging the gap in women’s substance use services: A trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and anti-oppressive approach. http://repository.cityu.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.11803/1465/ChristineHolmesCapstone.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y\
  6. Ibid, p. 24.
  7. Cleary, M., West, S., Kornhaber, R., Visentin, D., Neil, A., Haik, J., & McLean, L. (2020). Moving the lenses of trauma — Trauma-informed care in the burns care setting. Burns, 46(6), 1365-1372. https://doi-org.libproxy.stfx.ca/10.1016/j.burns.2020.01.01
  8. Saddichha, S., Werker, G., Schuetz, C., & Krausz, M. (2015). Stimulants and cannabis use among a marginalized population in British Columbia, Canada. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 59(13), 1487-1498.  https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0306624X14541661
  9. Cleary, M., West, S., Kornhaber, R., Visentin, D., Neil, A., Haik, J., & McLean, L. (2020). Moving the lenses of trauma — Trauma-informed care in the burns care setting. Burns, 46(6), 1365-1372. https://doi-org.libproxy.stfx.ca/10.1016/j.burns.2020.01.01
  10. Crash Course. (2014, Sept. 22). Trauma and addiction: Crash course psychology #31. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=343ORgL3kIc
  11. Cleary, M., West, S., Kornhaber, R., Visentin, D., Neil, A., Haik, J., & McLean, L. (2020). Moving the lenses of trauma — Trauma-informed care in the burns care setting. Burns, 46(6), 1365-1372. https://doi-org.libproxy.stfx.ca/10.1016/j.burns.2020.01.01
  12. Trealeven, D. (2021). Resilience, mindfulness, and healing traumahttps://davidtreleaven.com/tsm-podcast-episode-22-anjuli-sherin/

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