Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that can affect your mental and emotional well-being. Therapy for trauma can help. The right type of trauma therapy can help heal the psychological wounds that stem from your trauma. Not every form of therapy is as effective for treating trauma, though.
Trauma therapy is a specific type of counseling. It aims to reduce the symptoms of conditions that result from extreme trauma, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, read on to learn more about how trauma therapies can help.
What Is Trauma Therapy?
Trauma therapy is a type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) designed to help someone learn to cope with a traumatic experience. It can help them understand and process their experiences, develop coping skills, and heal emotional wounds.
Almost everyone will witness or experience some type of trauma in their lifetime. It may be a bad car accident, a natural disaster, physical abuse, sexual assault, or witnessing violence. Any type of trauma can have a lasting impact.
“There are different types of trauma therapy designed to help clients. Trauma therapy is the practice of working with clients to help them cope with behaviors and other symptomologies that can cause distress due to past/current traumatic events. There is no right or wrong way to address trauma. It’s about finding the right professional a potential client can trust and open up to. Being forthright can help in finding a professional qualified to work with trauma-related cases.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
While many people recover from these events without any long-term effects, others may struggle for months or years afterward. This is where one of the types of trauma treatment and therapy comes in. A trained therapist can support and guide you. They’ll create a safe space so you can express what happened and share how it’s affected you and impacted your life.
Your therapist will help you explore different coping methods, so you no longer feel overwhelmed or debilitated by your experience.
What’s the difference between trauma therapy and regular therapy?
Trauma-focused therapy can look and feel different from some other types of therapy. There are various types of trauma therapy services you might consider.
The Different Types of Trauma Therapy
When it comes to trauma therapies, there are broadly two types: talking therapies and body-based therapies. Both treatment styles can be effective. The best type for you will depend on individual needs, goals, and preferences.
- Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD, aim to help you understand and process your trauma.
- Body-based therapies can include somatic experiencing therapy (SE) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). They’ll also focus on helping you heal from trauma.
Some people find that talking through their experiences helps them understand and make sense of what happened. Others prefer a more hands-on approach that focuses on healing the body.
There’s no wrong answer when choosing a type of therapy. Ultimately, whatever makes you feel most comfortable is going to work best for you. If you’re unsure where to start when selecting a trauma therapist or treatment plan, you can always begin with your primary care physician. They can offer recommendations based on different types of trauma so you can get started.
In psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy), you meet with a mental health professional regularly to discuss your trauma and work through the healing process. Talk therapy relies heavily on the bond between you and your therapist. Trust will be critical as you open up and share your traumatic experience.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
One of the types of CBT is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, or TF-CBT. Children and adolescents can both benefit from TF-CBT. Using this form of trauma-informed therapy can be very helpful in correcting inaccurate beliefs and altering unhealthy behavior patterns.
Prolonged exposure (PE)
PE aims to expose you to the source of your fear in a safe environment. You’ll slowly increase exposure as sessions continue until your trigger no longer frightens you.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
This type of trauma therapy aims to improve the regulation of emotions. Many people who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts have benefited from dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. This form of treatment has been found effective in treating several mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). DBT therapy techniques focus on teaching you new skills so you can change unhealthy behaviors related to your trauma.
One of the great benefits of group therapy is it reminds you that you’re not alone. Ultimately, group-setting formats can offer you a sense of safety and belonging. As group members find they can share their stories in a supportive environment, they feel more comfortable expressing their stories and helping each other through their trauma.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
The purpose of EMDR therapy is to help you release emotions that were blocked by your trauma. This is accomplished through rhythmic left-right (bilateral) stimulation on both sides of the body.
How Do I Know If I Need Trauma Therapy?
If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, it’s normal to feel upset, confused, or scared. Common reactions to trauma can include difficulty sleeping or concentrating, uncontrollable crying, and feeling jumpy or irritable. However, while these can be normal reactions, prolonged symptoms might signify something more is happening.
For most people, symptoms go away on their own within a few weeks or months. For others, though, the effects of trauma can last much longer. If your symptoms don’t improve over time — or if they get worse — it might be a good idea to seek out professional help from a therapist who specializes in trauma-focused therapy.
There’s no one answer to when someone should seek help for trauma. It depends on how long symptoms have been occurring and how much they interfere with daily functioning.
“It’s usually hard to tell if trauma therapy is necessary or if other types of therapy are needed. If a client feels that their daily functioning is suffering or that they’re struggling with extreme emotions, it’s usually a sign that seeking help may be necessary. If the client isn’t sure about trauma therapy, start by identifying the current symptoms of mental health distress and discuss it with a professional.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
If you’re still experiencing intense feelings related to a traumatic event several weeks or months after something happened, it’s time to get some help. Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or if you find yourself trauma dumping are all reasons to consider seeing a therapist.
Signs you might benefit from trauma therapy include:
- Avoiding things that remind you of the event (avoidance)
- Feeling numb and/or disconnected from others (numbing)
- Having difficulty functioning in daily life (dysfunction)
If these things sound familiar, know you’re not alone. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to need extra support after experiencing something traumatizing.
“Through a thorough assessment, it can usually be deduced that trauma therapy may be necessary. The first step is asking for help.”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
How long does trauma therapy last?
The length of treatment required to heal from trauma will vary. It can depend on how severe the trauma was and if there are other mental health factors to deal with. The right mental health care provider and the correct type of treatment are important so you can get the most appropriate level of care.
Techniques Used in Trauma Therapy
Depending on the type of therapy, trauma can be treated differently. Here are some things your therapist might do.
- Imaginal exposure: The imaginary exposure technique lets you recall your trauma and describe it to a therapist. This technique helps you confront memories or thoughts associated with your trauma. It can be useful, especially if you’ve been avoiding thoughts or memories of the past.
- Cognitive restructuring strategies: Cognitive restructuring strategies can help you change unhelpful thoughts about past trauma into more useful ones.
- In vivo exposure: An exposure therapy technique that uses in-vivo exposure (also known as exposure therapy). During this form of therapy, you engage in real-life situations outside of therapy. The goal is to gradually acclimate to everyday triggers you might have been avoiding because of your past.
- Written account: Creating a written account of your trauma might be an assignment your therapist gives you.
- Impact statement: Writing an impact statement is a technique used in cognitive processing therapy (CPT). It allows you to explain why you believe a traumatic event occurred and how it affected you.
How Effective is Trauma Therapy?
It’s estimated that 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at some point. That means trauma is incredibly prevalent, yet we know it’s often left unaddressed. If you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, know that you’re not alone. Also, know that help is available. Trauma therapy can be an extremely effective treatment.
Specific trauma therapy can benefit anyone who’s dealing with trauma from their past. This could include ongoing trauma symptoms due to generational trauma, or isolated events like military combat, natural disasters, car accidents, or sexual assault or abuse. Some research suggests that prolonged exposure (PE) therapy benefits a whopping 86% of people who use it.
“Once the right fit has been established, trauma therapy can be beneficial and effective to the client. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all type of therapy, trauma or otherwise. Communicating when something isn’t working during sessions is a key factor in ensuring therapy stays effective. Therapy does take time, so patience is also necessary. Finding the right modality of therapy will also be key (online or in person).”– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Start Trauma Therapy with Talkspace
During therapy for trauma sessions, a therapist will work with you to process your trauma. Together, you’ll explore emotions or beliefs that are impacting your ability to heal and move on. You’ll also focus on coping skills and strategies to use when dealing with triggers (like certain sights or smells) that might cause flashbacks or intrusive thoughts.
Talkspace online therapy provides a safe space for you to talk about your experiences and start working towards healing & recovery. Our mental health professionals are skilled, trained, and available. There’s no shame in seeking help. If you’re struggling to cope with any type of past or current trauma, consider reaching out to a therapist today.
Learn how to deal with trauma with Talkspace.
- How to manage trauma – thenationalcouncil.org. How to Manage Trauma. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Trauma-infographic.pdf. Accessed November 22, 2022.
- Watkins LE, Sprang KR, Rothbaum BO. Treating PTSD: A review of evidence-based psychotherapy interventions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2018;12. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00258. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6224348/. Accessed November 22, 2022.
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