Traumatic events can have a long-lasting impact, affecting nearly every part of your daily life. The effects of trauma are both emotional and physical, and they can range from a sense of psychological numbness to gastrointestinal issues and even increased heart rate.
The good news is that healing from traumatic events is possible. To choose the right kind of trauma-focused therapy, you’ll first need to understand the options and determine how tailored they are to your particular needs.
Understanding Trauma: What Is It + Main Causes
The simple definition of trauma is the response a person has to an event that’s considered highly stressful. Surviving a natural disaster, for example, can be considered a traumatic event that can have a long-term impact on one’s quality of life. The same may apply to losing a loved one or living in a war zone.
Not everyone who experiences a stressful or emotionally challenging situation will develop trauma. Some people may experience short-term symptoms of trauma. Others, however, will find many aspects of their life affected by trauma-induced responses and may even develop posttraumatic stress disorder.
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As already mentioned, trauma can cause numerous symptoms that are both emotional and physiological. A few of the most common ones include:
- Denial and fear
- Unresolved anger
- A sense of sadness, confusion, hopelessness
- Anxiety and depression
- Headaches and migraines
- Sleep disturbances
- Racing heart (palpitations)
- Gastrointestinal problems
According to research, anywhere between 60 and 75 percent of people in the US have gone through traumatic events. Common traumatic experiences are:
- Bullying and harassment
- Domestic violence
- Any kind of abuse, including emotional
- The loss of a loved one
- Going through serious illness (or observing the struggles of someone you love)
- Being attacked or assaulted
- Going through a natural disaster
- Witnessing violence against someone
As you can see, being an active participant in a stressful event or even observing one can have an impact both on your mind and body. Children are most vulnerable because they’re less likely to anticipate a dangerous situation, and they also lack the skills/awareness required to protect themselves.
Types of Trauma Therapy
Many people who cope with the stress of past trauma on a daily basis refrain from seeking trauma-focused treatments. That’s because they often play down or don’t recognize the impact that past events have on present-day reality.
Fortunately, complex trauma can be approached in several ways to help you process your trauma memories and heal. Some of the most effective treatment options include:
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Some people who go through traumatic events like physical abuse or sexual abuse don’t want to talk about their traumatic experiences. EMDR is typically the best therapeutic choice for these individuals, in part because it doesn’t have to involve discussing the past.
Through EMDR, a trauma-informed therapist aims to help the patient process and “release” traumatic memories using active eye movement or other types of bilateral physical stimulation. Whenever you’re being asked to think about a specific traumatic episode while eye movement is provoked, the brain engages in reprocessing and trauma symptoms are ultimately reduced or eliminated.
Originally, EMDR was developed asa treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eventually, researchers discovered it could also be used to address a bigger range of mental problems, including anxiety and depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is mainly used whenever children and adolescents are dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
The aim of the therapeutic approach is to help the patient recognize unhelpful beliefs or even false ones (for example – blaming themselves and feeling responsible for the abuse they experienced at the hands of a loved one or a trusted caregiver).
Once these false beliefs are pinpointed, TF-CBT aims to provide coping skills and self-soothing techniques.
The people who’ll get the best results from TF-CBT include:
- Children and adolescents who have a history of abuse or another traumatic event
- People who experience PTSD as a result of the traumatic event
- People who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders stemming from trauma
- Caregivers and parents who want to help their children recover
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Just like EMDR, CPT was developed to address PTSD.
The aim of this type of therapy is to help trauma survivorschange their thinking patterns and beliefs that are unhelpful or damaging. Usually, these are the thought patterns that make a person feel stuck in their trauma responses.
In the end, the client finds new ways to think about the traumatic event and overcome the symptoms linked to the psychological trauma. Problematic and irrational thoughts are addressed to shed more light on the past and speed up recovery.
CPT has proven to be effective among PTSD sufferers and people who have gone through traumatic events. It’s a good treatment option for all ages and backgrounds.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
A modified version of CBT, DBT puts the main emphasis on living in the moment. Mindfulness, acceptance, breathing exercises, and self-soothing are all a part of the therapeutic approach.
Through this type of treatment, individuals learn how to engage in better emotional regulation. DBT involves a sharper cognitive process to identify destructive thoughts and learn how to replace them with healthier ones.
Evidence suggests that DBT could help with conditions like PTSD, substance abuseissues, suicidal behavior, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, major depressive disorder, and others.
Choosing the Type of Trauma Therapy That’s Best for You
These are just some of the options that a skilled trauma therapist will employ. Through the years, a number of other approaches have also been developed. These alternatives include hypnotherapy, accelerated resolution therapy, art and music therapy, internal family system therapy, inner child work, and others.
You’ll probably find it difficult to choose the right coping strategy on your own. That’s why it’s vital to consult an experienced professional who specializes in addressing trauma symptoms.
Many mental health professionals will use more than one technique to help patients change their thinking patterns and acquire better coping skills. To do so, however, they’ll need to discuss with the person looking to manage their trauma-related symptoms and get a better idea about their past and how it’s affecting their daily life.
Don’t hesitate to contact a therapist and discuss your mental health symptoms. Some of the most important questions to ask before choosing your therapist should focus on their training, experience with trauma treatments, and preferred approaches. Make sure the communication feels easy and safe, and decide if you can trust the mental health professional. By doing so, you’re establishing the foundations required for successfully treating trauma symptoms.