What is Trauma Therapy? Thumbnail

Trauma therapy aids in assisting patients that are coping with and recovering from traumatic experiences. Find out here how trauma treatment can help you heal.

Recent studies suggest that 70% of the general population in the US report having experienced some type of trauma. Trauma affects every person individually, and each person’s reaction to trauma will be unique.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is the response to a severely distressing or disturbing event that impairs an individual's ability to cope. It can trigger feelings of helplessness, damage their sense of self, and reduce their ability to feel fully.

Below are some common sources of trauma, although it is not all-inclusive.

  • Abuse (physical/mental/sexual/neglect)
  • Domestic Violence
  • Crime
  • Combat/War
  • Natural Disasters
  • Medical Trauma
  • Occupational Trauma (police, EMT)
  • Traumatic Grief
  • Community Violence
  • Bullying/Cyberbullying
  • Racial Trauma
  • Terrorism/Refugee Trauma

Trauma impacts each person differently. After a traumatic event, some individuals may experience a range of distressing symptoms. Common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Intrusive memories/nightmare/flashbacks
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, or shame
  • Avoidance
  • Anxiety or emotional outbursts
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Physical distress (heart pounding, stomachache, sweating, flushing)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • “Spacing out”

*This list does not include all symptoms of trauma, as trauma affects everyone differently.

For some individuals, these symptoms last longer and have a greater negative impact in their functioning and mood. In these situations, working with a trained therapist to address and reduce these distressing symptoms can be useful.

Various types of trauma exist, including acute, chronic, and complex trauma.

  • Acute trauma occurs when a single event causes distress or puts a person's life at risk. Examples of acute trauma include a natural disaster or a car accident.
  • Chronic trauma occurs when a person repeatedly experiences a dangerous or stressful event. Chronic trauma can result from ongoing domestic violence, child abuse, or bullying.
  • Complex trauma occurs when a person experiences multiple distressing events that may or may not be related.

While there are different types of trauma, all forms can display similar symptoms and significantly impact a person’s life. As prolonged trauma responses do not typically resolve on their own, getting treatment, like talk therapy, is often necessary.

What is Trauma Therapy?

The goal of trauma therapy is to reduce stress reactions caused by trauma to help individuals to function on a day-to-day basis with minimized distress. Trauma therapy does not help you to “forget” a traumatic event - although that may seem desirable, it is not practical.

Instead, it is designed to help you develop skills to manage your trauma triggers and intrusive memories so you can function without excessive distress.

If you feel that you would like to seek out therapy for a traumatic experience, it is highly recommended to seek out a provider who is experienced in treating trauma reactions and in evidenced based trauma therapy treatments.

Some providers even specialize in a particular type of trauma, although working with a provider with a particular type of experience is not necessary to successfully treat trauma. It is also important to note that there are multiple approaches to treating trauma, so if you do not feel that you connect with the first therapist you see, it is ok to keep looking!

When you participate in an initial therapy evaluation, the therapist will likely ask you questions about all aspects of your life – this is not to be nosey, it is to understand your life and how the trauma/s you experienced is affecting you.

Do not feel obligated to recount the details of your trauma to a therapist during the first session. While it is important to provide a brief explanation of the trauma so the therapist can understand what is going on, you are not expected to share more than you are comfortable with.

In addition to asking questions, a provider may administer an assessment to capture additional information about your symptoms. It is important to note that these assessments help the therapist to gather information in a different way to improve their understanding of your symptoms so they can develop successful treatment recommendations.

The general objective of trauma therapy is to teach you a variety of coping skills to handle memories and triggers of the trauma so that you can use those skills to manage trauma-related symptoms. All coping skills do not work for all individuals, so do not be discouraged if you try strategies that do not work.

It is important to provide your therapist feedback on the coping skills that are successful or unsuccessful so they can further tailor their recommendations according to what works best for you. If you struggle to discuss trauma verbally, that’s ok – there are many nonverbal ways to process trauma including writing/journaling, art, music, etc.

Trauma therapy (can be challenging!) .

It will not always be a pleasant experience, even when you have a good relationship with your provider. However, engaging in trauma therapy may be crucial for managing distress associated with your trauma and learning to function successfully as a partner, parent, employee, family member, friend, etc. If trauma is affecting your life, it is worth considering trauma therapy to improve your overall functioning and well-being.

With the emergence of the pandemic, teletherapy has become increasingly popular and available. Trauma therapy can be conducted via telehealth in many instances, which is very helpful for individuals who live in areas with few mental health providers, with individuals who have busy schedules and/or no transportation, or individuals who are still limiting exposure to others due to the ongoing pandemic.

The Benefits of Trauma Therapy

Traumatic experiences can dramatically alter your life. The way you function may change, and your symptoms may arise unexpectedly. There may be times when you don't feel like yourself anymore. Fortunately, there are many powerful and life-changing benefits of trauma therapy.

Understand your trauma: Trauma therapy helps you work through and understand why certain emotions, thoughts, and behaviors occur. By understanding your experiences, you may feel more empowered in your life and be reminded that you're not alone in your struggles.

Acknowledgement: An essential part of online trauma therapy is acknowledging what you have experienced. A trauma-informed therapist can create a safe environment for you to share your story without judgment.

Restore safety: Surviving trauma often leaves one feeling violated, something that can threaten a person's sense of safety. However, with trauma-focused therapy, individuals can re-establish their sense of safety and feel more confident to take on life's challenges.

Learn new coping skills: Trauma changes your perception of yourself and the world around you. It is common for survivors to experience triggers emotionally, physically, mentally, and even in their relationships. Triggering experiences and memories can often overwhelm us unexpectedly. With trauma-focused therapies, individuals can develop healthier coping skills for when they feel overwhelmed.

Rebuild your sense of self: Trauma can lead to low self-esteem, shame, and depression that affect your sense of self. Online trauma therapy can help you feel empowered, allowing you to shape your life again and find meaning after trauma. You will have the opportunity to process your experiences and reframe how you view yourself and your trauma over time.

Decrease traumatic stress symptoms: Trauma can lead to a variety of mental and physical symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, insomnia, and muscle pain. Working consistently with a counselor or therapist can help you decrease the intensity or frequency of these symptoms over time.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s normal to experience sadness, anger, and disbelief after a traumatic event, and many people find it difficult to move forward. If you've experienced trauma and feel it's impacting your daily life, professional therapy can help you heal and get back on track.

So, how do you know when to seek treatment? The following signs may indicate it’s time to seek professional help.

You’re developing physical symptoms: Unresolved trauma can lead to symptoms such as chronic headaches, insomnia, muscle pain, digestive issues, or changes in weight. When trauma begins to affect your physical health, it's time to consult a mental health professional.

Your coping methods aren’t helping: Despite your best efforts to cope with symptoms, such as talking to friends and family, your well-being isn't improving or getting worse. If you feel like things are spiraling out of control, it may be time to seek therapy.

You constantly feel sad, angry, or numb: When trauma persists, life may seem overwhelming and you may lose interest in activities you used to enjoy. If your feelings remain, even as time passes, getting therapy can help you feel better and move forward with peace of mind.

You’re developing negative patterns: Left untreated, unresolved trauma can affect your relationships, job performance, and ability to take care of yourself. Some people may even turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. If you or a loved one is developing unhealthy behaviors due to trauma, getting help is critical.

Talk Therapy with CHE

Trauma recovery is never easy, but the sooner you begin, the easier it will be, and the sooner you will prevent further problems. CHE Behavioral Health Services offers compassionate, effective care for trauma and trauma-related conditions. With online trauma therapy, individuals can rediscover their sense of self and move forward with greater meaning in life.

If you are interested in scheduling an evaluation for teletherapy, please reach out to CHE 888-515-3834.

Melinda Warth, M.A. is a Quality Assurance Associate at CHE Behavioral Health services. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and has provided therapy to individuals of all ages who have experienced trauma, and has participated in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy training.