What is a traumatic experience?
A traumatic experience is an event in which an individual experiences, or witnesses, an actual or threatened serious injury or death. It is normal for people to experience emotional and physical aftershocks or stress reactions following a traumatic event. Sometimes these aftershocks appear immediately after the event. However, sometimes it takes a few hours, days or even weeks before stress reactions appear. An individual's response may include intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Depending on the severity of the event, the signs and symptoms of these reactions may last a few days, several weeks or months, or longer. The way an individual copes with crisis depends on his or her own history and prior experiences. Sometimes traumatic events are so painful that professional assistance may be necessary in order to cope with them.
What is a crisis intervention?
Crisis intervention offers immediate, intensive and brief professional assistance to people who have had a traumatic experience. The purpose is to help individuals cope and return to a previous level of physical or emotional functioning without being at risk of endangering themselves or others. This short-term professional support attempts to deal with the immediate crisis or problem. Prompt and focused interventions help prevent the development of a serious long-term disability. Crisis intervention also encourages the development of new coping skills to help the individual function more effectively.
Types of crises
People filter threatening experiences through their own unique ways of thinking and feeling. Depending on the trauma and one's "filter," some people may have less of a reaction while others may develop more severe symptoms. A number of crises may occur that can affect different groups of people, such as students, employees, or society as a whole. At one end of the continuum these crises could include a strike, assault, physical injury, accident, death, suicide, robbery, homicide or rape. Other events that affect a broader spectrum of people include fire, natural disasters, riots, terrorism, and racial incidents. Crisis intervention offers the immediate help that an individual in crisis needs in order to reestablish equilibrium.
People at risk for secondary traumatization are those other than the actual victims who are affected by the traumatic event. This may include friends, family and acquaintances of the victim, or people who have simply heard about the trauma or crisis. People who help trauma and crisis victims are sometimes at risk for secondary trauma as well. This may be because of consistent exposure to human suffering and possibly feeling responsible for the safety of the victim.
Symptoms and reactions
People whose normal lives are disturbed by a traumatic event find that their sense of security and safety is shattered. They also find that their responses to life and other people are either greatly exaggerated or no longer exist. The following are some of the symptoms one may encounter:
Intense emotion and reactivity: People may feel intense anxiety, pain, fear, shame, grief, horror, anger and shock. They may also have difficulty relaxing or falling asleep.
Numbness: When people are overwhelmed, they may experience shock and protect themselves through detachment, denial and disbelief. They may feel isolated and disconnected from people or even from their own normal feelings.
Depression: People may have difficulty concentrating or remembering. They may also experience diminished interest in everyday activities and have crying spells. A sense of despair and hopelessness may be very evident.
Flashbacks: People often re-experience the traumatic event over and over again. The feeling of not having any control is heightened. They may feel tortured by the invading thoughts and memories.
Nightmares: These are like flashbacks but they occur in dreams. As a result, people may have difficulty sleeping. Re-experiencing the trauma intensifies feelings of panic and helplessness.
Triggering events and people: Often, people will attempt to avoid anything associated with the trauma. However, events that remind them of the trauma may trigger feelings initially triggered by the trauma itself.
Possible physical reactions:
How to better cope
How to help family members and friends cope