by Dr Mimi Goess Saurau, Psychologist

The impact of trauma can be long and profound. Experiencing trauma, especially in childhood, can actually change a person’s brain structure, contributing to long-term physical and behav- ioural health problems.

The initial physical reaction, often referred to as a ‘fight or flight’ response that floods the body with adrenaline causing racing heart rate, increased blood pressure and increased sweating will wear off after a short time and then give way to sadness, anger and/or guilt over the next few days.

Children and adults often develop coping mechanisms to alle- viate the pain of trauma, some of which are classified as “health risk behaviours.” These can include eating unhealthy food or overeating, using tobacco, abusing substances or engaging in risky sexual activities. When childhood traumatic stress goes untreated, these coping mechanisms can contribute to anxiety, social isolation and chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, or substance use disorders. Often, “non-compliant” behaviours, such as taking medication erratically or not attending appoint- ments, can also be linked back to patients’ history of trauma.

Treatment of trauma is effective, life-changing and sometimes lifesaving. Finding a therapist you trust is important as you will need to believe they have your best interests at heart. A strong therapeutic alliance doesn’t simply mean that you like your ther- apist, although that can be an important component. In a posi- tive therapeutic relationship, you share a connection with your therapist that helps you feel understood, validated and support- ed. While reluctance to open up about trauma is a natural in- stinct for many, talking about your experiences is an essential part of the healing process and the only way to meaningfully participate in treatment.