At one point or another, we have all feared for our safety or for the safety of others. Like the split-second adrenaline that rushes through your body when the plane you are flying in suddenly bounces erratically 30,000 feet in the air from a pocket of turbulence. Or when you hear brakes screeching and watch two cars barely miss colliding in an intersection.
For some of us, we have experienced situations that did harm us.
Maybe you are a survivor of physical or sexual violence. Or growing up, you witnessed your parents scream and fight and hit each other. Or maybe you were involved in a car accident that killed someone.
When we experience situations in life that could potentially harm us or others, we often experience disturbing after-effects. Trauma is any situation(s) that is deeply distressing to a person and has lasting negative effects on the person’s ability to cope. Traumatic experiences often result in physical and/or emotional harm to the survivors.
There are many types of events or situations that could be characterized as trauma. But, there are 5 main categories of trauma, according to the diagnostic criteria for PTSD:
Ongoing symptoms that negatively impact a person’s functioning after a traumatic experience may be the sign that a person has developed posttraumatic stress disorder. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop after the experience of a traumatic event. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
Effects of Trauma
Did the traumatic experience leave you feeling scared it was going to happen again? Maybe you have disturbing dreams about what happened or find yourself constantly scanning your surroundings to look for anything that reminds you of the experience. These can be normal reactions to trauma. However, if you find that these reactions persist and start to interfere with your daily life functioning, you should reach out to a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms.
Best Therapy for PTSD
The first step to treatment is to talk with a mental healthcare provider to set up an evaluation. You will want to make sure that the therapist is trained in trauma informed care. Trauma informed care is a treatment approach that guides and directs therapists to understand the impact of trauma on a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. It encourages support and treatment of the whole person, rather than focusing on only treating certain symptoms or behaviors.
The 4 Rs of Trauma Informed Care
Trauma informed care is implemented in many different ways. However, there are four key elements:
Realize: Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery.
Recognize: Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved within the system of care.
Respond: Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
Resist Re-traumatization: Resist re-traumatization of the client, as well as for other supports in their life.
Trauma therapy is a specific approach to tradition therapy in which the therapist recognizes and understands how traumatic experiences impacts a person’s well-being. The most important part of trauma therapy is for the therapist to create a safe, confidential therapeutic relationship with the client. It’s important that you find a therapist with whom you trust and feel comfortable opening up to about your experiences and emotions.
Psychotherapy is the process of treating mental health and substance use disorders through the use of therapeutic techniques. During this process, a trained psychotherapist, or counselor, helps the client understand and work through problems such as particular symptoms or a source of life stress, including trauma.
Depending on the therapist’s training and background, and the presenting problem of the client, there are a wide variety of techniques and strategies that can be used. Psychotherapy can occur in different formats, including individual therapy, couples therapy, family, therapy, or group therapy. Next, you will learn about the most common types of psychotherapy used to treat trauma.
CBT was developed through a combination of two other psychotherapy approaches:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps clients understand how their thoughts and feelings affect their behaviors. This approach helps clients identify and change the thoughts that contribute to distressful emotions and modify problematic behaviors that result from these thoughts.
For example, a person has thoughts of being embarrassed in front of a group of people. These thoughts contribute to the person feeling anxious and frightened. Then, the person stays at home to avoid being around groups of people.
CBT for PTSD works to change a person’s thoughts and behaviors that developed in response to a traumatic experience and are fueling symptoms of PTSD.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for children and adolescents impacted by trauma and their parents or caregivers. This type of CBT aims to help children and adolescents recover after trauma. It is a structured, time-limited psychotherapy that improves a range of trauma-related symptoms in 8-25 sessions.
The components of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy include targeting emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems of the child and improving adult-child interactions. Trauma-Focused CBT helps adult caregivers and parents discuss how they have been impacted by their child’s traumatic experience. To learn more about TF-CBT, you can visit https://tfcbt.org.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD. CPT is a relatively short treatment approach, usually occurring over the course of 12 sessions, with sessions occurring once or twice per week. The goal of CPT is to help clients learn how to challenge and modify unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma. The client is able to Create a new understanding and conceptualization of the traumatic event in order to decrease or eliminate the negative effects on their life.
In the beginning of CPT, the therapy provides psychoeducation to the client about PTSD, thoughts, and emotions. The client becomes more aware of their thoughts and emotions and can recognize thoughts they have of the trauma that are actually making their symptoms of PTSD worse. The therapist has the client write a statement about their understanding of why the traumatic event happened and how it has affected their beliefs about themselves, others, and the world.
About halfway through the 12 sessions, the client begins processing the trauma in more depth, including writing a detailed account of the worst traumatic experience and reading it to the therapist. This strategy helps the therapist to identify and discuss any negative or unhelpful thoughts the client has about the trauma.
Finally, the client learns new skills to identify and address unhealthy thinking patterns and replace with healthy thinking patterns. The therapist encourages the client to use the skills outside of sessions and continue after therapy is complete.
Cognitive Restructuring is another type of cognitive behavioral therapy. CR is also a short-term therapy, typically lasting only 12 to 16 sessions. While it is similar to CPT, CR is a non-exposure-based treatment for PTSD, meaning that clients do not have to “re-live” their traumatic experiences during therapy. Instead, CR is effective at helping reduce PTSD symptoms by helping clients identify upsetting thoughts and beliefs and learn new ways of thinking to better cope with their situation. CR has three main parts of treatment including: breathing retraining, education about PTSD and trauma, and cognitive restructuring.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, commonly referred to as EMDR, is a psychotherapy treatment for PTSD. It was originally created to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR therapy covers the client’s past, present, and future over the course of an eight-phase treatment approach. Focus is given to past traumatic memories and events and on current situations that cause distress. Then, the client develops the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions.
The therapist targets the client’s eye movements; the therapist has the client hold parts of distressing memory in mind while they use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. This creates internal associations for the client to begin to process the memory and disturbed feelings. Clients gain insight on their situations and their emotional distress resolves as they start to change their behaviors. You can read more about EMDR by visiting https://www.emdr.com.
Exposure therapy is a type of psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. There are two types, imaginal exposure, and in vivo exposure.
If you have any questions about this content or you would like to know more about trauma, please reach out to Safe Haven Counseling. We are happy to assist you.