What Is Trauma Therapy And How Does It Work?

In the U.S., about 70% of adults have experienced some sort of traumatic event at least once. That’s the equivalent of 223.4 million people. Trauma is an incredibly intense emotional response to an experience that threatens your health, physical or emotional. Trauma can impact several aspects of life, resulting in lasting changes. Everyone’s response to trauma can feel different, so the support you need may not be the same as someone else, and your needs can change over time. In this article, we talk about trauma therapy, how it works, and what to expect in your first trauma therapy session. 

What Is Trauma Therapy? 

When we talk about trauma, it can mean situations that feel traumatic and the effects of those experiences. Traumatic events can happen to anyone at any age, and they can cause lasting harm to both physical and mental health. These types of events could come out of the blue or happen over time, like:

  • Illnesses or medical trauma 
  • Assault
  • Abuse
  • Combat
  • Early childhood trauma or neglect 
  • Bullying 
  • Witnessing trauma 
  • Natural disasters 
  • Domestic violence 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs after someone goes through a disturbing or frightening event. It can happen immediately or weeks, months, or even years later. It’s thought that roughly one in eleven people will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event always feels long-term negative changes or has PTSD. Still, we know that trauma can impact a person’s emotional, mental, physical, and social life. 

The effects of trauma on a person are complex. Trauma can present itself in several ways depending on how you’re affected. Signs of trauma and PTSD include: 

  • Mood swings 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Frightened easily 
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions 
  • Avoidance
  • Intrusive memories 
  • Negative changes in thinking
  • Confusion 
  • Nightmares 

Trauma therapy refers to specific forms of talk therapy that are aimed at treating the effects of trauma. You may also hear “trauma-informed care” or “trauma-informed therapist.” When therapy providers use the terms “trauma-informed” or “trauma-focused,” it means that the therapists should have an expert-level understanding of trauma and the effects of trauma on mental health. They will be sensitive to the situation and know how to support those who have experienced trauma. Trauma therapy recognizes the vast impact that trauma has on a person.  

Are There Different Types Of Trauma Therapy?

There are several types of trauma therapy that use evidence-based strategies. All trauma therapies revolve around the goal of helping an individual to process trauma and move forward in life, but the process can look different depending on the type of therapy and your individual situation. 

Types of trauma therapy include: 

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – a type of treatment that uses rhythmic left-to-right stimulation of the brain to help to desensitize an individual to their trauma by recalling and reliving the experience in a safe, clinical setting. 
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) – is a type of trauma treatment that’s specifically focused on trauma in children and adults. It provides psychoeducation about your own trauma, symptom management, and developing coping skills. 
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) – a type of PTSD treatment, PE is a form of exposure therapy where the therapist exposes the client to a trauma cue and works to desensitize them over time. 
  • Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) – is a type of exposure therapy that uses technology to decrease the stress response to certain situations or memories that make you feel scared or anxious. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – also used for depression and anxiety, CBT works to identify and change the negative perception that someone has about themselves and the world. 

Trauma-focused therapies focus on understanding the link between trauma and psychological, emotional, and behavioral responses. At the same time, trauma therapy helps you to learn coping skills and strategies to process the memories and emotions associated with a traumatic experience. 

What Are The Goals Of Trauma Therapy?

Trauma-focused therapy aims to help individuals process their trauma, facilitate healing, and allow them to start moving forward. A trauma therapist will help someone affected by trauma to manage the harmful psychological or emotional effects of a traumatic event. The impact of trauma can be cognitive, physical, behavioral, and psychological. One person’s response following trauma can look entirely different from another. 

For some individuals experiencing trauma, it can feel like they can’t move forward, but trauma therapy focuses on setting new goals for the future that allow them to regain personal control of their life. 

While sharing the details of your trauma with your therapist is painful and can bring up emotions, the aim of therapy is to reframe negative perceptions and develop coping strategies for dealing with painful memories. 

The goals of trauma therapy can include the following: 

  • Identify triggers 
  • Understand what happened to you 
  • Develop positive behaviors 
  • Ease symptoms of PTSD 
  • Overcome addiction caused by the effects of a trauma 
  • Regain self-esteem and control 
  • Improve day-to-day functioning 
  • Build trust 

Trauma therapy is a very individual experience, and the goals you have are personal to you. You could be dealing with nightmares, flashbacks, guilt, shame, grief, or any emotion. Speak to your therapist about the goals that you would like to work toward. Trauma-informed therapy aims to treat the response to trauma so that you can find relief and start to process what’s happened to you. 

What To Expect In A Trauma Therapy Session 

Whether you’ve experienced a traumatic event, or supporting a loved one, knowing what to expect in your first trauma therapy session can be helpful. 

Like most therapy sessions, you can expect your therapist to ask you questions. They will want to get to know you, your unique situation, experiences, goals, history, current symptoms, and background. No matter your reason for going to trauma therapy, you will be in a safe, judgment-free zone. Whatever emotion you’re feeling is right in the moment. You can express yourself and how you feel. You can cry or express sadness or even frustration. Letting your emotions out and talking about how you feel is part of the process. 

Remember that you set the pace in trauma therapy; move at your own speed. Therapy for trauma typically lasts between 60 to 90 minutes and will require several sessions. As everyone’s trauma is different, the specific course of treatment can vary depending on the severity of the trauma and the individual’s needs. Talking about your trauma is upsetting, and it’s difficult to dig deeper. But trust your therapist and the process, and try to keep going. 
If you’re looking for trauma therapy near you, we can help you find the right trauma and PTSD therapist for you. Our trauma specialists can help you process your experience and emotions, working with you to improve daily functioning and, ultimately, help you move forward in your life. Book an appointment today or contact the team at Thriving Center of Psychology. We have offices in most major cities, including NYC, LA, Boston, Chicago, and Miami.

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