What Does Trauma Do To Your Brain?

Floating brain with a purple background. What happens to the brain with trauma? Read this blog to find out more from a New Jersey trauma therapist. Contact us to learn more about trauma therapy in New Jersey.

It is highly likely that at some point in your life, you will encounter trauma either first-hand or vicariously (Fisher, 2023). In fact, about 90% of all adults will experience trauma at least once in their lifespan (Kilpatrick et al, 2013). While you may know what trauma is, do you know what happens to your brain when you are traumatized?

By Dr. Lisa Marcelino, LMFT, CCTP

What Happens To The Brain with Trauma?

Understanding what happens to your brain can help you to heal from trauma. If you can visualize and understand what has happened to your brain, you can then also visualize its healing process (Rosenthal, 2015). Healing involves understanding what has occurred and then rewiring and retraining your brain. Dealing with traumatic experiences is not just about dealing with the past and what has happened. It is also about becoming fully present in the moment and being able to visualize a future for yourself.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, three main parts of the brain respond (Bremner, 2022; Fisher, 2023). The parts of the brain affected by the experience are the:

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Amygdala
  • Hippocampus

Traumatic stress is associated with lasting changes in these brain areas (Bremner, 2022). What does that mean? Put simply, when a trauma is experienced, the brain rewires itself to deal with the trauma (Bremner, 2022; Fisher, 2023). Therefore, the brains of people who have experienced are actually different. Scientists can actually see physical differences in their brains’ appearances and functioning (Jeong et al., 2021).

Those who have been traumatized are often in a prolonged state of hypervigilance and their memories are suppressed. These individuals often have an overstimulated amygdala and an underactive hippocampus. The physical changes in the brain often lead to mental health struggles and illness (Jeong, 2021). This could include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression (Bremner, 2022).

Person sitting at desk in front of computer with headphones. Are you struggling with work because you’ve experienced trauma? What does trauma do to your body? Read this blog by a New Jersey trauma therapist to learn more.

What does trauma do to your body?

According to Fisher (2023) and Van der Kolk (2015), PTSD can manifest itself through an individual experiencing:

  • Panic
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Startle responses
  • Preoccupation with the traumatic event

According to Jeong (2021), studies have shown that individuals who have been traumatized often have issues with:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Executive functioning
  • Cognitive functioning, specifically attention

Where is trauma stored in the body?

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that witnesses the traumatic event (Fisher, 2023). It’s the part of the brain that helps us make choices. When a trauma is experienced, a person may enter into a fight, flight, or freeze state. This can result in the shutting down of the prefrontal cortex (Fisher, 2023). This explains why it’s difficult to make decisions in the heat of the moment.

The hippocampus is the brain’s “filing cabinet” which organizes, contextualizes, and sequences events. This part of the brain can be damaged by chemicals in the brain that get released during the body’s stress response to trauma. When the functioning of the hippocampus is impaired, it can keep traumatic memories especially vivid in our minds (Van der Kolk, 2015).

The amygdala holds our implicit and emotional memories (Fisher, 2023). It’s the part of the brain that detects fear and recognizes threats in our environment. After a traumatic event, the amygdala may be so hypervigilant that it perceives threats nearly everywhere. Implicit memory is memory that is stored unconsciously and isn’t stored purposely. Implicit memories cannot consciously be brought into awareness (Fisher, 2023). This is why many survivors of trauma have memories from the trauma stored in their brains that they’re not even aware of.

How does the brain protect itself from traumatic experiences?

When one or more parts of the brain are affected by a traumatic event, this can affect a trauma survivor’s functioning. Oftentimes times this explains why a trauma survivor may have trouble remembering events in order. They may also have difficulty vocalizing what happened to them. Our memories are scattered throughout our brains, and therefore it takes good calibration of all parts to have us function at our very best. When someone is affected by trauma, their brain’s calibration is off. This causes deficits in their functioning (Fisher, 2023; Rosenthal, 2015).

Plastic brain sitting on the table. Does trauma permanently affect the brain? How does the brain protect itself from traumatic experiences? Working with a trauma therapist in New Jersey can help you answer these questions. Read more about the brain and trauma therapy in New Jersey here.

Does trauma permanently affect the brain?

The good news for trauma survivors is that the effects of trauma on the brain can be reversed (Rosenthal, 2015). Individuals who have survived traumatic events can work toward reprogramming their body and mind. They can learn to respond differently to triggers. How, you might ask? The answer is therapy with a qualified licensed professional who specializes in trauma.

Through trauma therapy in New Jersey, you can learn how you are separate from your symptoms. You can learn why you have been dealing with neurophysiological processes that were out of your control (Rosenthal, 2015). Therapy can also help you renegotiate your sense of identity and envision who you want to be (Fisher, 2023). Knowledge is power and understanding what has happened to you is a huge first step in regaining control of your life.

If you are looking for a great book that details trauma and the brain, I recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk published in 2015. This book gives great insight into the trauma field and how it came to be what it is today. The book explains how PTSD manifests itself years after a traumatic event. It also provides information on how the brain is affected by trauma and how the body and mind are connected in a very special way.

Should you consider trauma therapy in New Jersey?

People often race to a physician’s office when they feel troubling physical symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat. Likewise, when we feel sadness, depression, anger, or anxiety, we should consider seeing a therapist. Just as the various parts of our physical bodies need periodic testing and evaluation, the mind needs to be cared for and monitored, too.

Professional support, such as therapy, can play a vital role in healing. Trauma therapy in New Jersey provides empathetic guidance, gradual exploration, and a compassionate approach to self-discovery. With these tools, you can forge a path forward. You can find acceptance, resilience, and healing from the haunting grip of trauma.

Typing on a laptop. Are you looking for PTSD therapy in New Jersey? Read this blog about trauma and the brain from our NJ trauma therapist. Online counseling in New Jersey is available.

Meet with a New Jersey Trauma Therapist

A therapeutic relationship is built on trust, empathy, and understanding. These will allow you to delve into the emotions and memories associated with your trauma. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your experiences. Trauma therapy in New Jersey can help individuals uncover the hidden layers of their trauma. By addressing the previously missed signs of trauma, individuals can lessen the impact of trauma on their lives.

As someone who has been on the healing journey, I want others to know that they’re not alone. By working with a New Jersey trauma therapist like myself, you can begin to understand and overcome the effects of your trauma.

Start PTSD Therapy in New Jersey

PTSD therapy in New Jersey is available and easy to access. We provide therapy at our Metuchen, NJ counseling practice and also provide online therapy in New Jersey. To get started with therapy:

  1. Read our FAQs about therapy.
  2. Fill out a request form on our contact page to schedule a therapy appointment.
  3. One of our compassionate team members will contact you within 1 business day (excluding holidays) for a phone consultation. The initial phone consultation is complimentary and helps us learn more about how we can help.
  4. During the initial phone consultation, our compassionate team member will ask about what you’ve been struggling with, or what you hope to achieve in therapy. We will share information about each of our therapists, including their specialties and availability.
  5. If we’re a good fit for your needs, we match you with one of our in person or online New Jersey therapists. If either of us feel we are not the right fit, we can provide the names of other providers who may be able to help.

Couples Therapy For Trauma

If someone you love has been impacted by trauma, they don’t need to seek services alone. Trauma impacts our relationships with others, especially with our intimate partners. Our trauma-informed couples therapists in New Jersey understand the impact of trauma on communication, trust, intimacy, and more.

Couples therapy in New Jersey is available to help you and your partner navigate these difficult issues. If you’ve experienced trauma, our New Jersey trauma-informed couples therapists can help your partner better understand what you need from them. If your partner has experienced trauma, you can learn how to help them heal.

Contact Us today to get started with individual therapy for trauma and/or couples therapy for trauma.

-Bremner, J.D. (2022). Traumatic stress: Effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Taylor and Francis.
-Fisher, J. (2023). Trauma treatment certification training manual: The latest advances and proven techniques to resolve deeply held trauma. PESI. Wisconsin.
-Jeong, H. J., Durham, E. L., Moore, T. M., Dupont, R. M., McDowell, M., Cardenas-Iniguez, C., … & Kaczkurkin, A. N. (2021). The association between latent trauma and brain structure in children.Translational Psychiatry, 11(1), 240.
-Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Milanak, M. E., Miller, M. W., Keyes, K. M., & Friedman, M. J. (2013). National estimates of exposure to traumatic events and PTSD prevalence using DSM-IV and DSM-5 criteria. Journal of traumatic stress, 26(5), 537–547. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.21848
-Rosenthal, M. (2015). Heal your PTSD: Dynamic strategies that work. Conari Press: Canada.
-Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, New York, Penguin Books.

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