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Dr. Deborah Lee

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Deborah Lee is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist. Deborah has been nationally recognised by the HSJ as one of the Top 50 Inspirational Women in Healthcare. Her expertise lies with...

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Who are you and what is your background?

Hello, my name is Dr. Deborah Lee, and I'm a consultant clinical psychologist. I've specialized in the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and complex PTSD for 33 years, and throughout that time I've worked in various NHS Specialist trauma centers, developing and pioneering treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. I've pioneered the development of compassion-focused therapy for PTSD, and I've got a particular interest in shame and self-criticism as it manifests through the experiences of trauma.

What is trauma?

So trauma is an experience, it's an overwhelming experience, and it makes us traumatized. So we experience trauma as a response, an emotional response to events. These events aren't sort of normal everyday events or perhaps events that we might expect throughout the course of life, such as a divorce or a relationship breakup, or losing a job or losing a loved one. These are things we call life events or moving house. Trauma is an experience, is something that's more unusual, more overwhelming, that threatens our physical life, threatens our psychological life, and provokes an intense emotional reaction, which overwhelms our coping.

Is trauma and PTSD the same thing?

So trauma and PTSD are not the same thing. We can think about trauma as an experience that we undergo as such that we experience, we are traumatized. Whereas PTSD is a formal psychiatric diagnosis and it describes a very specific cluster of symptoms. And these clusters can be described in four distinct patterns. The first hallmark cluster of symptoms with PTSD are re-experiencing symptoms. So we re-experience through nightmares, flashbacks, intrusions, and bodily sensations the original traumatic experience. The next cluster is avoidance. So we avoid things that remind us of the event, people, places, conversations that might trigger our emotional response. We avoid our own minds, our own bodies, perhaps through drinking too much, drugs, keeping ourselves very busy, all sorts of things like that. And then we've got the cluster of symptoms that relate to hyperarousal. So we become very aroused, hypervigilant. Our attention, our concentration is affected by trauma. And then sometimes we have a numbing response, a hyperarousal where we feel numb, disconnected, depersonalized, and it's sometimes dissociated from our emotional world. So trauma is something we experience, whereas PTSD is a symptom cluster that emerges because we have experienced trauma, but they're quite different.

How do I know if I have experienced trauma?

What are the common types of trauma that individuals experience?