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Therapist shares 8 signs of trauma

What is trauma? And, what does it look like? Trauma can be one of the most difficult psychological events to overcome for an individual. It could happen when someone experiences any specific event that was profoundly distressful and upsetting. Unlike popular belief, trauma does not automatically lead a person to develop post-traumatic stress disorders and the symptoms that go along with it. However, if the signs of trauma are left untreated, our therapists have found that the development of post-traumatic stress disorder is more likely.

When a client experiences trauma, they are unlikely to express this experience with anyone else. Therefore, a proper diagnosis should be left to a professional to verify. But, how can we help if we are unsure of our trauma symptoms, or we know of someone that may have experienced trauma? Signs of trauma are subtle but can be easily detected if you know what to look for. Our trauma therapists affirm that these symptoms can be broken down into behavioral, physical, and emotional signs. Here are some essential items to watch for:

1. Nightmares and Changes in Sleep Patterns

Sleep disturbances that are consistent are significant symptoms to watch for in someone that may have potentially experienced trauma. Regular sleeping patterns can be disrupted with frequent insomnia or nightmares when trauma has been encountered. These sleep challenges can be prevalent and may include difficulties with falling asleep and staying asleep. Our therapist can confirm that when these sleep disturbances become a regular part of someone’s sleep routines, the individual may become more fatigued during the day which can lead to other physical and emotional symptoms.

2. Intrusive Memories

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Many of our clients who have experienced trauma have reported that the most challenging part of the trauma is how quickly they can relive the trauma. Any sights, sounds, smells, or memories can cause distressing and intrusive thoughts that reminds one of the traumatic events. Despite any attempts to stop these thoughts, without the professional help of a therapist, the memories can repeat on its own in their minds. This can make it difficult to concentrate on regular day-to-day responsibilities.

3. Physical Symptoms

There are a host of physical symptoms that come with having experienced a traumatic event. Most of these symptoms can cause physical pain, while others can inhibit a person’s everyday functioning. According to Houston’s therapists, the following symptoms are, and not limited to, some common physical signs of trauma: muscle tension, aches, dizziness, heart palpitations and chest pains, numbness, chills and tremors, and uncontrollable sweating.

4. Significant Changes in Appetite and Digestive Problems

Another sign of trauma, according to our expert therapists, changes in appetite and stomach problems. Changes in appetite can vary depending on the trauma experienced; an individual can increase their appetite to abnormal proportions, or completely lose their appetite for food. Trauma can also elicit symptoms related to an upset stomach. In the extremes, the client can experience nausea and diarrhea.

Read: Big T vs Little T Trauma

5. Extremely Negative Emotions

Extreme emotional instability is also a sure-tell sign of trauma where the person may express anger or rage, irritability, and other outbursts that are uncharacteristic of their typical behaviors. Therapists often observe emotional mood swings that are difficult to control for the individual. Their sense of fear, guilt, and shame are out of proportions, which can lead to depressed moods, a sense of hopelessness, and a general loss of interest in anything. Self-blame for having experienced the trauma in the first place is prevalent, causing the person to dive deeper into their negative emotions overall.

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6. Isolation

As per the above, trauma can cause a person to self-blame and feel shame over what happened to them. As such, therapists have the difficult task of helping our clients realize that isolation is the opposite of adequate progress. The overwhelming sadness and hopelessness, as well as feeling disconnected and numb towards others make it very easy to withdraw from others. Especially when the urge to detach from others out of anxieties and fear becomes overwhelming.

7. Behavior Changes

Significant changes in behavior, such as being aggressive or easily irritated is also widespread amongst trauma victims. Therapists understand that the edginess and agitation is a part of a defense mechanism to avoid having to address the real emotions and turmoil for the traumatic experience. A gentle and friendly person can seemingly turn into a hostile person overnight as a result of having experienced trauma.

8. Heightened Sensitivity

Clients that have gone through trauma have also reported to their therapists that they have a heightened sensitivity to everything around them. This hypervigilance is described as intense feelings of fear, almost like a panic attack for impending doom. The anxieties felt becomes chronic, and it is tough to relax and think that it’s safe to be anywhere that reminds them of where the trauma took place. It becomes difficult to concentrate and focus, because there is always a fear that danger is lurking just around the corner, causing the person to be startled very easily.

What’s the next step?

If any or all of the above symptoms of trauma sounds familiar in your current lifestyle, or of someone you know, the most important thing is to understand that seeking support is the most crucial decision to make. Isolation, as we previously described, will only deepen the symptoms of trauma and the anxieties that accompany trauma. If you are having difficulties in any of the above areas, or a loved one is displaying any of the above symptoms, you can contact us at the Grief Recovery Center in Houston, TX for more info today.

Deciding to see a therapist is an important first step of a mental health journey. If you’ve chosen to pursue therapy, it indicates that you’re ready to work through your problems and better yourself.

The thought of healing from trauma or undergoing a personal transformation with the help of a trusted mental health professional can be exciting. But that doesn’t mean the first therapist you see will be a good fit for you. Finding the right therapist can be a bit like dating in the sense that you might have to visit several therapists before finding the right one.

For whatever reason, you might not feel a genuine connection to certain therapists. Or you might start seeing a therapist only to discover that this professional doesn’t specialize in the area suitable for your mental health history and background. In some cases, it can be difficult to determine exactly why therapy isn’t going well, but the nagging feeling that you’re not making much progress in your sessions won’t go away. 

Find out when it’s possible to work through an issue with a therapist or when it’s time to walk away.

Bad Therapist Signs

Your therapy should center your healing and recovery first and foremost. If your therapy sessions aren’t helping, you’re under no obligation to continue on a path that’s not conducive to your growth. Recognize when it’s time to find a new therapist with this overview of red flags and warning signs.

Your Therapist Is Unreliable

Mental health professionals have busy and complicated lives just like their patients do. A professional or family emergency might prompt them to reschedule appointments on occasion. Though, if your therapist frequently shows up late, reschedules, cancels, or, worse, forgets about appointments, you may want to consider seeing a different mental health provider.

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These actions show that the therapist has not prioritized you and is not committed to your care. Before you call it quits with the unreliable therapist, you can try discussing your concerns with the provider or even asking if moving your session to a different day or time would help. You’re certainly not obligated to find a solution for your therapist’s flakiness. Still, if you really like the provider and want to continue the relationship, this might be worth a try. 

Your Therapist Is Unethical 

Unethical therapists betray their patients’ trust and violate professional codes of conduct. If your therapist has touched you inappropriately or sexually propositioned you, it’s important to end all sessions immediately and report the therapist to the state licensure board or other appropriate authorities.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Therapists are forbidden from pursuing their patients sexually. They’re also forbidden from urging patients to harm themselves or others. In one notorious case, a New York City psychiatrist was arrested for convincing one of her patients to murder her ex-lover.

Often, therapists won’t do something as egregious as violating sexual boundaries with a patient or manipulating someone to commit a crime. Still, they could engage in unethical behaviors all the same. Here are some other examples of unethical professional conduct:

  • They try to get you to run errands for them or perform other personal favors.
  • They break confidentiality, gossiping to you about other patients and raising your suspicions that they do the same about you.
  • They may treat you more like a friend than a patient, wasting valuable time during sessions and slowing your progress toward healing.

Your Therapist Is Judgmental 

Therapists have opinions just like anyone else, but if you feel judged by your therapist based on your religion, sexual orientation, profession, or another reason, this provider may not be right for you.

Therapists should not force their religious and personal views onto you but help you gain insight into your life and make informed decisions. It’s difficult to make progress in therapy if you can’t be your authentic self—and a therapist who judges you because of your history of drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, financial irresponsibility, or another reason will prevent you from opening up and growing.

You sought therapy to get help for your problems. Pretending you don’t have any to avoid criticism from a judgmental provider will delay your progress.

Your Therapist Is Not Culturally Sensitive

Some therapists aren’t judgmental but hold stereotypical and even bigoted views of people who don’t share their backgrounds. If your therapist has made disparaging remarks about your sexual orientation, racial background, religion, or another aspect of your identity, this isn’t the right provider for you.

Therapists don’t have to make overtly hostile remarks about your identities to reveal that they harbor negative views of certain groups. If they view you in stereotypical terms, they may not be able to view you as a three-dimensional human being.

If they express surprise that you’re college-educated, married with children, speak English well or any other number of stereotypical remarks related to their perceptions of your background, look for a different provider. The same advice applies if you feel that your therapist is condescending, talks down to you, or is not quite comfortable with you.

 Your Therapist Just Doesn’t Get You

Your therapist may be highly trained and well-qualified but simply doesn’t get you. Perhaps you and your therapist share different religious, racial, gender, or class backgrounds.

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For example, if you’re a gay man from a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, and your therapist is an upper-class, heterosexual woman from a Baptist family in Texas, you may not feel that she has the life experience to understand your unique struggles. If you question whether your therapist can understand your family dynamics, the challenges of a working-class upbringing, or the threats posed by anti-Semitism and homophobia, you may want to find a different provider.

But it’s also important to be realistic. While you may not find a therapist who’s your carbon copy, you can strive to find one who specializes in serving the LGBTQ+ population or the Jewish community, for instance.

Sometimes finding a therapist who shares one of your identities may be all you need to feel more of a connection during your sessions. 

Your Therapist Can’t Help You

When you first begin therapy, you may not understand your unique mental health needs or diagnoses. But over time, you may come to find that growing up in a family plagued by domestic violence has left you with complex PTSD. However, if your therapist doesn’t specialize in trauma disorders, the provider may not be the appropriate person to guide you on your healing journey. 

If you’re not sure that your therapist is qualified to help you, find out the provider’s specialties. If you have a personality disorder, and the therapist is not trained to treat such disorders, find someone who can provide specialized care. 

Your Therapist Is Pushy

Does your therapist listen to you? If you say you’re uncomfortable going into detail about a traumatic part of your life like intimate partner violence or childhood sexual abuse, does your therapist respect your wishes or pressure you to disclose this information anyway? 

How about goal-setting? Does your therapist push you to set loftier goals than you’ve established for yourself? If you say you’d like to work out for four hours a week, does the provider urge you to exercise for five? If you say you’d like to save an extra $200 per month, does the therapist suggest you save double that amount, regardless of your financial situation?

You know your circumstances and abilities better than anyone else, so if you’ve set realistic and achievable goals for yourself, it’s inappropriate for therapists to push you to meet their goals for you. If you ask for a therapist’s advice, it’s fine for the provider to make recommendations or guide you to make the best choice for yourself, but mental health professionals should not be giving you step-by-step instructions on how to live your life.

Some therapists simply talk too much. If you find that you can hardly get a word in edgewise as they drone on about their problems, their expertise, and their suggestions for your life, they may be too self-centered to be of any real help.  

Your Therapist Is Too Passive

While some therapists may be too pushy, others may be too passive. If a therapist hesitates to give you any advice at all or is afraid to give you a much-needed nudge about improving your life, your provider may not be proactive enough.

This is also the case if therapists say very little during sessions and don’t have a plan to help you work through your problems. If they have given no indication about the form of treatment they practice, and months have passed with very little structure during your therapy sessions, tell them that you’d benefit from a goal-oriented treatment protocol.

If you still feel like you’re not making any progress in therapy, it’s time to find a different provider.    

A Word From Verywell

Therapy is often a rewarding experience, but it may take several tries to find your preferred therapist. To increase your chances of finding the right one, make a list of non-negotiable qualities you want in a mental health provider. If your therapist must share your gender, religion, or ethnicity, specialize in a certain area, or live within a certain distance of your home, only meet with providers who meet these criteria.

On the other hand, be willing to broaden your search, if necessary. That could mean ending up with a therapist who specializes in an area pertinent to your diagnosis but doesn’t share your ethnicity. 

Finally, don’t hesitate to dump a therapist who’s proven to be unreliable, unethical, judgmental, or bigoted. You deserve better.