John hasn’t been able to sleep for the past 6 months. Sure, he’s able to close his eyes and drift off for a few minutes, but he quickly awakens each night—due to the traffic whizzing by outside, the deafening sound of his ceiling fan, or the footsteps he thinks he hears outside of his door. He feels threatened by these noises, as he only expects the worst each time: his psyche assumes that a car is pulling up to attack him, an enemy’s helicopter is overhead, or someone is preparing to bash down his bedroom door.
Determined to improve his quality of life, John decides to work with a trauma therapist. After a few sessions, John feels better, just from talking about what happened to him while serving in the military. He feels his mind and body relax. His therapist continues to encourage him to detail the events he witnessed and in turn confront his trauma. After several months of sessions, John can sleep again. His trauma doesn’t keep him up or awake him in the middle of the night any longer.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is a seriously distressing or disturbing experience that often has negative psychological effects on an individual. Traumatic events include physical or sexual assault, emotional abuse, natural disasters, experiencing the loss of a loved one, car or plane accidents, getting bullied, and military combat.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), PTSD is characterized by certain symptoms that develop after this exposure. And while symptom presentation can vary, the following emotional and behavioral symptoms are common:
- Recurrent distressing memories and/or dreams of the traumatic event
- Flashbacks where the individual feels as if they’re experiencing the trauma again
- Intense psychological distress when exposed to triggers that resemble the traumatic event or remind the individual of the traumatic event
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Lack of interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
- Feelings of detachment from others or everyday life
- Inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness and fulfillment
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
Who Should Seek Trauma Therapy?
Trauma therapy helps those who have been exposed to a traumatic event and those who may be dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. Trauma therapists help their clients to face the negative experience, cope with the harmful effects, and learn to better manage their symptoms.
While trauma therapists may differ in their approach to therapy, they are focused on helping their clients heal. This means analyzing a client’s particular presentation, exposure to trauma, and specific goals for therapy. Once they conduct their analysis, they can then tailor treatment to best help an individual.
How Does It Work?
As mentioned above, trauma therapy isn’t one specific approach to therapy—instead, many different therapies can be used to help you deal with trauma and manage the harmful symptoms that come with it. Now, it’s important you consider what you want to get out of therapy, so as to understand what type of counseling might work best for you. Think about what your triggers are and what symptoms you are experiencing. Also, consider your therapy goals: are you hoping to learn coping strategies? Do you need help coming to terms with what has happened to you? The following are common goals for trauma therapy:
- Accepting the traumatic event has occurred
- Reducing or coping with troubling symptoms
- Reclaiming confidence and rebuilding strength
- Improving everyday functioning
- Learning skills that prevent relapse
- Becoming more future-oriented
These are broad summaries of goals often seen in trauma therapy. You likely have unique goals based on your personal experience, of which you should make your therapist aware of. If you really aren’t sure and need further guidance in determining your goals/needs in therapy, your counselor will assist you!
Common Approaches to Trauma Therapy
There are a few forms of therapy commonly used to treat victims of trauma. These include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR):
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT): TFCBT is essentially cognitive behavioral therapy tailored for people who have had traumatic experiences. This is a form of short-term talk therapy that helps clients confront and manage their thoughts related to the trauma. Typically, clients will finish their work in 8-25 sessions; however, sometimes additional therapy is necessary after conclusion of TFCBT to help address and manage additional problems that have resulted from the trauma.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: In psychodynamic therapy, you will discuss your symptoms and detail the trauma you have experienced. This form of therapy depends on a strong client-therapist relationship, as it is rooted in unveiling internal conflicts that are harming the client. It also places a heavy focus on the effect of relationships: specifically, how they affect our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is designed to help people process the trauma they have experienced in more productive ways. The main goal is to remove the blockage that is preventing the client from moving forward. This is accomplished through external stimulus (such as eye movement or hand-tapping), which directs your attention outward and is administered by the therapist while you talk about the event, the distress it has caused you, and a more promising future.
The above might prove helpful in your treatment journey, or another form of therapy might be necessary. Additionally, sometimes it takes more than one type of therapy to heal from trauma. Regardless of what type of therapy you explore, your therapist will provide you with guidance and support.
Quick Facts About Trauma
- It’s estimated that 70% of US adults have experienced a traumatic event at some point in their lives.
- Up to 20% of these individuals go on to develop PTSD.
- More than 13 million people or an estimated 5% of Americans have PTSD at any given time.
- Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.
- An estimated 1 out of 10 women will get PTSD at some point in their lives.
- More than 6 in 10 kids in the US have been exposed to violence within the last year.
- Nearly 1 in 10 was actually injured within the last year.
- Research shows that prolonged trauma could disrupt brain chemistry.
- People with PTSD have among the highest rates of healthcare service use.
Schedule a Trauma Therapy Session Today
Trauma therapy benefits those who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event from military combat to physical assault, emotional abuse, the loss of a loved one, or a natural disaster. If you are struggling post-trauma and need professional assistance, trauma therapy can help.
If you are interested in trauma therapy, schedule an appointment at Thriveworks. Our counselors and therapists are skilled, caring providers with extensive training and experience in the mental health field. Most importantly, they can help you heal. Book a session today by visiting our main counseling page, or, if you’re interested in online counseling, check out those opportunities here.
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