Trauma therapy targets the memories and issues surrounding a traumatic event in someone's life. Trauma is an emotional reaction to a threatening situation beyond a person’s control. You might think of trauma only as something extraordinary, but it’s a common occurrence that comes in all shapes and sizes. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, shares that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
Trauma affects people differently, and while some may brush it off, a traumatic event often leaves a mark on one’s mental health. In fact, trauma can develop into serious mental illnesses such as post traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) if left ignored. Someone who suffers from PTSD is stuck feeling on the edge, reliving the event, and avoiding anything that may remind you of the traumatic experience.
It can be hard to think about seeking treatment for trauma. You may not feel ready to tackle the issue, or think it is not bad enough for treatment, but you deserve to rightfully process the incident and move on.
Therapy is not one size fits all. Trauma therapy is a blanket term for a variety of very different treatments. Some of those treatments are well established for mental illnesses in general, such as group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, and exposure therapy. But therapists carefully adapted these existing treatments to treat trauma.
Trauma therapy is for any survivor of a traumatic experience. In our society, we think of trauma as the reaction to particular events, such as soldiers returning from battle, child abuse survivors, or rape. Trauma, however, comes in many different ways.
It also includes events such as natural disasters, physical violence, verbal abuse, the death of a loved one, and accidents. Witnessing a traumatic event can also affect someone profoundly, even if you were not the target. There should not be a comparison between such delicate issues. Sexual abuse and war zone experiences are extremely tough to process. But that doesn't mean that an accident such as falling from the roof while cleaning the rain gutters cannot be seen as a traumatic event. One must not invalidate their trauma for not being as extreme as others.
If left untreated, trauma can develop into various mental illnesses depending on how the memory still haunts you. If avoided, trauma can progress into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To cope, people could turn to drugs and develop unhealthy habits.
Often, to traumas related to being abused (physically, sexually, or verbally), the person finds it hard to trust anyone leading to isolation and further developing depression. There’s also the process of victimization which can get the person stuck on not allowing them to move on. When we experience trauma, our bodies physically react to the danger. Sometimes, we can get stuck in a danger zone mode creating anxiety and panic attacks as we keep reliving the incident.
A therapy that aligns with your needs can help relieve symptoms from trauma. Any kind of treatment can be better than no treatment at all. But certain types of treatment specifically developed to heal trauma are called trauma-informed approaches.
Prolonged Exposure (PE)
In PE, the patient confronts the trauma head on, which stems from the idea that the adverse effects of trauma come from avoidance. Usually, it consists of 10-15 sessions lasting 90 minutes. During the first three sessions, the patient tells the story, and the therapist explains the process rationale and the homework to be done after each session. The therapist also teaches breathing techniques and prepares the patient for exposure.
After, the sessions consist of the process of recalling traumatic memories with a discussion afterward. Identifying the experience happens via in vivo exposure, in which the patient engages in activities and behaviors they avoid because of trauma. An imaginal exposure in which the patient revisits the event by describing it in detail to the therapist. Both exposure methods aim to show the patient their potential to cope with the traumatic experience.
Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR therapy’s creator, Dr. Francine Shapiro, found that people’s eye movements changed according to different types of thoughts. She then concluded that specific eye movements could reduce the severity of trauma-related thoughts.
During EMDR, the patient follows with their eyes the therapist’s hand movements inducing eye movements that will help the brain reprocess traumatic thoughts. The therapy has 8 phases. Phases 1 and 2 work as a preparation for the therapeutic process. Phases 3 through 8 are the processes that will repeat in each section.
Trauma Group Therapy (TGT)
TGT usually gathers up to 20 people with a specific shared trauma–such as sexual abuse survivors or domestic violence survivors– with a therapist facilitating. It can be very healing as it builds a support system. After a traumatic event, it can be tough to trust someone. Interacting with people who have lived through similar experiences can potentially be more manageable, alleviating the isolation trauma can instigate in someone’s life. It breaks down stigmas by normalizing the experience.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (PP)
PP is a long-term therapy in which the unconscious is at the heart of it. The therapist directs attention to how the trauma unconsciously affects existing mental functions. It embraces both past and present.
As therapy progresses, unconscious processes make themselves apparent. The patient and therapist stay attentive to catch it. The patient and therapist build a strong connection with open communication. It focuses more on understanding the trauma's dynamics instead of problem-solving.
Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
A TF-CBT therapist educates patients about common reactions to trauma and its effects on their lives. It also teaches coping skills such as feelings identification and how to process negative thoughts and behaviors into positive ones. The therapist works through traumatic memories to recondition the patient's responses to their triggers.
For example, we can challenge the statement “my life is ruined forever” and change it into “my life doesn’t feel right at the moment.” Acknowledging the impermanence of how you feel presently can inspire hope. The more you do it, catching the negative thoughts becomes a habit, and, with time, you’ll transform the way you think.
TF-CBT is a popular treatment for children and teens, and usually, a non-offender caretaker is part of the process using aspects of family therapy. That allows the caretaker to become a better aid to the child/teen.
The success of any therapy depends on the patient's openness and the therapist's abilities. The person must go willingly and be ready to dig through harrowing experiences to process and heal from their trauma. If one doesn’t feel prepared for the process, the best thing to do is tell the therapist to open a discussion about what’s holding you back.
At this point, many studies focus on the different types of trauma therapy. For example, Clinical Psychology Review published a meta-analysis of 13 studies on PE, revealing that 86% of PE patients fared better than the subjects that did not participate in therapy. There are similar analyses of studies about EMDR, TF-CBT, PP, and TGT, highlighting enough evidence to support the efficacy of each type of trauma therapy.
At SUN Behavioral Columbus, we offer inpatient treatments, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient programs with a variety of therapies available. After assessing the situation, our professional team will create an individualized program to fit your needs and lifestyle.
The first step can be as simple as scheduling a no-cost teleconsultation online with us at SUN Behavioral Columbus. Or call at (614) 350-6607 to speak with a master’s level degree counselor or registered nurse and find out the next step. We are open 24/7 and ready to help you begin your healing journey.
It works by exploring the traumatic event instead of avoiding it. The therapist will teach you wellness techniques to ensure you are prepared to revisit complex and traumatic events. With a variety of approaches, trauma therapy can be long or short-term; individual or in a group setting; more intense or less intrusive.
Trauma may develop into PTSD when the person avoids dealing with the residual symptoms of a traumatic event. It is not known why some people develop PTSD while others don’t.
The capable team at SUN Columbus has been serving our community for years. Reach out to begin your journey to recovery.