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Devon Kaat

Lit/Comp 10
Mr. Ausman
2/24/16

Abnormal Responses to Trauma


A case study founded by John Burton, M.D for the John Hopkins Medical Institute described
one of his patients symptoms following a collection of traumatic events stating,
...In September 2000, (a 90 year old womans) husband dies as a result of respiratory
arrest. Her only relative is a nephew who talks with her about once a month Her home is
broken into and our patient is raped and robbed. She is taken to a local hospital Here, she
is distressed, delusional, and is reported to be very emotionally distraught.
In this example, the patient is diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), one of the
many human responses to extreme trauma. She developed this as a result of the grief from the
death of her husband followed by the abrupt trauma of the rape and robbery. Cases like this one go
to show that it is very important to study trauma and grief in order to help those who suffer from it.
Grief, also known as bereavement, is known to elicit a multitude of unique responses. Some
are considered normal, and some fall into the category of abnormal. PTSD is one of the many
examples of abnormal responses to traumatic events. Trauma in a persons life or individual
experience follows the physiological pattern called General Adaptation Syndrome. General
Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), developed by Hans Selye, is a profile of how organisms respond to
stress. (Shelly Taylor for Health Psychology)
Selye described GAS to take place in three distinct steps. The first stage, called the Alarm
stage is characterized by the initial shock and lack of resistance, followed immediately by extreme
resistance to the stressor. The second stage, Resistance stage, is defined by the psychological and
physical response to cope with the stressor for as long as possible. If the stressor continues for
longer than the resistance stage can hold up, Exhaustion stage occurs. During and after exhaustion,
the body and mind collapse which results in almost immediate symptoms.
Our minds react to stress in the attempt to overcome; however, if the stress becomes
physically or mentally unbearable, things such as PTSD (In Burtons case study) occur. Directly

stemming from Selyes proposed GAS pattern, is Adjustment Disorder. Adjustment disorder is a
mental reaction as result of unbearable trauma to a specific person. It is associated with chronic
depression or anxiety from continuous trauma.
Abrupt changes in an individuals environment or lifestyle followed by continuous application
of that change, result in some of the most severe reactions. For example, people who are
accustomed to living at home, with family or friends, in a relatively comfortable environment are far
more likely to have a more acute reaction to trauma than someone who has lived with the steady
pattern of unpleasant events their entire life. This can be seen in the case of many soldiers who,
after being moved to a violent environment instead of their accustomed relative comfortability,
experience PTSD, Adjustment Disorder, various delusions, or a variety of other psychological or
physical syndromes.
According to many psychologists, the way we react to the world around us directly stems
from experiences coming from our childhood. If a child, being raised in a positive environment, were
to experience some sort of tragedy that would be foreign to them, positive connections can be torn
down. This obstruction in development and emotion can result in problems that last a lifetime. One of
these problems is ASPD. A child after certain kinds of tragedy can lose trust and control of their
emotions. This reaction is embodied in Anti-Social Personality disorder. People suffering from the
disorder show lack of emotion, sympathy, and regard for other human rights. This can affect the child
(and other people) for the rest of their life.
Many responses to trauma can be healed. The expression, Time heals all wounds, is a
popular saying that essentially reassures no matter what kind of trauma happens, it will go away with
time. This expression is only partially correct. Many times, psychological wounds seem to go away
entirely, but just like physical wounds leave scars, so do wounds of the mind.
Chronically developed fears/phobias are one major example of this. Perhaps a young boy is
on his way to piano lessons in the car with his mother and a collision with a second vehicle happens.
This child would most likely be able to drive cars later on in his life, but he would also be sure to
drive carefully and wear his seatbelt more often than he would have if he hadnt been in his accident.

In some cases however, a child could, because of the trauma develop a severe, related aversion to
driving, vehicles, or perhaps even piano lessons!
This common response, whether ordinary or abnormal, is widely thought be a result from a
process called Classical Conditioning. In Classical Conditioning, a person makes connections to
experiences in their life to elicit responses as a result of those connections in similar situations. In
John Burtons case of the 90 year old woman, she developed a fear of being alone in her new home
which most likely stemmed from her traumatic experiences in her old home.
The human mind is a fascinating component of life. It allows us to think, theorize, invent, and
improve, but holds as well the power to destroy and to break down. Every human being on earth
goes through traumatic events and suffers responses in accordance to how their mind was innately
built and how they were conditioned and developed as a child. There are options for treatment,
however. Looking back to Burtons case, the woman was eventually convinced to take a neuroleptic
medication to help reduce her stress, manic tendencies, and hallucinations. Our office nurse and
staff called her daily to guide her through the process of taking her medicines. She slowly but
steadily improved and became stabilized. (John Burton, M.D, PTSD case study).
Psychology is defined as the scientific study of the mind and behavior. It seeks to explain
why people think and act the way they do. As with any science, studying its extremes allows for an
easier understanding of normality, and also ways to treat and heal. It is very important to examine
the abnormal responses to stress in order to further our understanding of how to help people through
and after shock and trauma.