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In this article I will discuss when you need to receive professional help in dealing with trauma.

There are numerous misconceptions around trauma. Over the last number of years people have come to believe that anyone who is exposed to trauma of any degree or nature has to receive trauma counselling.  This is not true.  We now know that people are very resilient and can and do resolve traumatic situations without professional help.  If we think logically about it, it makes sense.  When you have been traumatised, you need support from the people you love, not a stranger wanting to discuss what has happened and your reactions to the event.  That would feel intrusive and would often be inappropriate.  If you have been traumatised, depending on what the event was, one of the initial things you need is a sense of safety.  You may have material or physical needs which have to be seen to before any possible emotional response.  A psychologist or “trauma counsellor” is not going to provide this.  You need you friends and family to rally around you and to know that you are loved, accepted and protected. 

Many people will say they will manage on their own and are then told that they are avoiding dealing with the event.  It is quite possible that they are correct and that they will come to terms with the trauma on their own.  In fact, more than ninety per cent of people will overcome a single trauma, even if it is quite serious, on their own. 

We also know that people who receive professional help immediately after a trauma, can in fact develop more symptoms than someone who has not had treatment, but has received support from his or her family and friends. 

So when do you need to get help?  When we look at the area of trauma, two diagnoses are commonly made which specifically refer to the person’s reaction to the traumatic event: acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.  Other diagnoses are possible following trauma, as people can develop symptoms relating to depression or become very anxious.  Panic attacks are also possible.  These diagnoses are discussed elsewhere on this website. 

Acute stress disorder, which has very similar symptoms to posttraumatic stress disorder is currently diagnosed a few days after the traumatic event up to a month following the event.  After that posttraumatic stress disorder is diagnosed.  This is a technical matter and the only thing of possible interest is that there is some indication that if you develop acute stress disorder that you may be at greater risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder. 

What do the symptoms of these diagnoses look like?  I am not going to give a list of symptoms, it is not necessary.  In general you may find yourself constantly thinking about the event, even when you do not want to.  You may avoid any reminders of the event.  Your emotions may become blunted.  And you may find that you struggle to relax, that your sleep is affected, that you are very irritable and jumpy.  I would suggest that you consult a psychologist if after a number of weeks, following the traumatic event that you cannot function normally.  If you have the impression that the traumatic event is interfering with your ability to live, to maintain relationships, to go to places you normally would, it would be wise to consult a psychologist

When you consult a psychologist, please ask them what experience they have in dealing with trauma and what treatment methods they use.  You have the right to know.  You also need to know what support there is for the method used in the research.  I will discuss in further articles what you can expect a psychologist to do and indicate what treatment methods are giving good results.