Trauma Therapy: Tools for Therapists
Trauma therapy is an intervention to overcome the effects, primarily psychological, of trauma. The therapy is designed to restore homeostasis and equanimity by helping the client work through the psychological, emotional and mental effects of a traumatic experience.
To understand options for trauma therapy, it is best to first understand what trauma is and how often it is expressed in everyday life. If you are a trauma survivor and feel your joy and happiness are diminished by a reminiscence of some prior event(s), getting outside help is critical in your recovery.
How Trauma Affects You
Trauma doesn’t affect everyone in the same way; a less intense experience may be processed by talking through the event with a loved one. This may involve recounting the story in detail …. often repeating it many times.
When the traumatic event has left a deep scar, quality of life is diminished by feelings of helplessness, inability to cope, feeling overcome by emotions and perhaps even by what seems to be ‘unreasonable’ fear or anxiety. These painful emotions must be processed thoroughly, as they do not go away on their own. Post-traumatic stress disorder may develop if left untreated.
Let’s separate out physical trauma, which may be caused by an event, such as a car accident or abuse or a medical procedure. Physical trauma is usually the first trauma dealt with by treating healthcare professionals. Many in the field of medicine consider this their sole purpose and underlying psychological issues may go untreated, perhaps unnoticed.
Trauma may also be caused by natural disasters (tornadoes, floods, fires), war, loss of a loved one, or living in a fearful or abusive environment. Any of these situations may bring about a life-threatening situation or lead to cumulative stress, resulting in trauma.
When to Seek Help
The following questions may help determine whether trauma is playing a role in your life. If you answer ‘yes’, consider getting professional help.
- I have fear, depression or anxiety that plague me
- I have nightmares, disturbing memories, flashbacks
- I am having trouble concentrating on my work or homework
- I am afraid to get close to or trust people, emotionally disconnected
- I use drugs and/or alcohol to block out my pain
Where to Turn?
The good news is there are more avenues of healing available than ever before. Treatment most commonly involves some form of talking therapy, though many therapists add drawing or writing to the therapeutic process. Some mental health professionals have taken special training to help trauma survivors negotiate the path to recovery.
There is a growing field of body-based therapy. One of the most highly regarded is called Somatic Experiencing (SE), developed by psychologist Dr. Peter Levine.
It is important that you feel safe with and supported by your therapist. If you are in doubt, seek another therapist.
Reflecting on your first session, it is important you come away feeling:
- The therapist listened to me attentively
- I felt respected and understood
- I was not blamed nor were my feelings diminished
- The therapist seemed compassionate and empathic
- I feel I can trust my problems with this therapist
What Might I Expect from Trauma Therapy?
One goal of trauma therapy is working with the therapist to help you regulate your Autonomic Nervous System. Whereas before therapy you may have responded to a trigger with a very reactive response, a goal of therapy would be to teach you strategies to overcome the fight/flight/freeze response. While these strategies take time to become habit, you will eventually respond in ways that are more natural and with your fresh perspective may be tinged with a sense of humor.
There are many types of therapy that help with trauma. These include talking therapy, cognitive therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), EMDR and Brainspotting.
Some therapists may suggest mindfulness meditations, deep breathing exercises, participation in social activities to support the therapeutic process. It is important to find connections, not only from a therapist, but also from friends, family. Also pets can be a wonderful complement to your healing journey with their offer of unconditional love.
Dealing with the Effects of Trauma: A Self-Help Guide (PDF) – SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center
National Institute of Mental Health – Coping with Traumatic Events
National Institute of Mental Health – Overview of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PsychGuides.com If you have been through the major life disruption of a traumatic event, or if you care for somebody who has, you might wonder how to find the best trauma counseling facility in your area for extended care. Nobody needs to face the choices at this stage of treatment without help, and you are certainly not alone. Don’t hesitate to call for help finding treatment for a trauma-related problem.