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The Trauma Experience: How can Trauma Therapy reduce our Physical Trauma Reactions?

Updated: Jan 20

DR. ESSLIN TERRIGHENA explains how Trauma Therapy can reduce our physical trauma responses.

Trauma therapy tackles trauma and its effects on our mental health on four levels: emotions, cognitions, body, and behaviours.

Our survival response during a traumatic experience is largely physical: We experience a fight-flight-(freeze-fawn) activation in which hormonal processes are triggered to optimize our bodies for survival. We share this with other mammals. An antelope that is chased by a lion will experience the same physiological and emotional activation, and break into flight to get away from the predator. If they can escape, and the danger is removed, eventually their physiological system returns to a balanced baseline.

However, as humans, when we get stuck in our survival mode as a result of trauma, innocuous triggers may activate this threat response and it may become increasingly difficult to rebound to baseline as there is no real danger present, and thus no real danger can be removed. This can be confusing for the brain and create additional anxiety about when the next trigger might come. Physical trauma responses can feel overwhelming for us as things like anxiety and panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares can make us feel out of control. We cannot think our way out of these issues, and at times common strategies like breathing, grounding, and mindfulness techniques do not adequately prevent a full survival mode activation.

Trauma therapy can help us to understand our triggers and physiological responses with greater clarity, taking away some of the fear around what is happening. Moreover, there are trauma-specific techniques, such as EMDR and Somatic Treatments, that can release stored physical distress from our bodies. They do so by allowing the physical responses to arise while we are fully conscious, and our brain areas in communication with each other. As a result, physical symptoms that occurred during the traumatic experience and their corresponding triggers can be appropriately integrated into context. In other words: This is a response to threat in the past, but in the present we are safe. Enhancing a sense of safety is a key element of trauma therapy.

Together, these steps can reduce the intensity of physiological responses to trauma-related triggers, and reduce the likelihood of physical distress, such as panic attacks, and flashbacks.

Read more about how trauma therapy can help improve your distress, negative thoughts, and unhelpful behaviours. To find out more about how trauma therapy can help you recover from past trauma, book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or

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