Therapy provides a safe and confidential place for a person to talk to a professional about personal experiences, thoughts, feelings, or problems. People who go to therapy may have experienced a situation that disrupts and/or impacts their thinking, mood, feelings, or ability to relate to others. A person may also seek out therapy because they want a neutral and safe place to talk about general life experiences. Many people go to therapy: adults, youth, teens, even therapists themselves. Everyone needs a place where they feel safe and supported.
The role of the therapist is to help clients understand and cope with potentially stressful situations and learn strategies to express themselves. The therapist can also offer the individual or family tools to help them manage difficult feelings, negative thoughts, and destructive behaviours.
What is Trauma Therapy
Over 50% of people experience at least one trauma in their lives. Trauma includes a wide range of situations, such as serious injury, sexual violence, abuse and neglect, being bullied, and homelessness.
The purpose of trauma therapy is to help the client learn skills and strategies that will allow them to understand and process the emotions and memories tied to their traumatic experiences. The end goal is for the participant to develop a healthier and more adaptive perspective of the events that took place.
This form of therapy can help you if you are unable to cope with the trauma you experienced, or if the memories, thoughts, and behaviours associated with the trauma are affecting your ability to function.
Types of Trauma Therapy
From research, we know about several forms of therapy a mental health practitioner may use to help you overcome trauma-related issues and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
- Prolonged Exposure (PE): This form of therapy involves exposing you to the source of your fear, until you are not afraid of it anymore.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT involves challenging your perspective about why the traumatic event occurred and the thoughts and beliefs you’ve developed since. This form of therapy can be performed in an individual or group setting.
- Trauma -Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (TF-CBT): This form of therapy is for children and adolescents. It can help address inaccurate beliefs and unhealthy behaviour patterns.
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR): This form of treatment involves using rhythmic left-right (bilateral) stimulation to help release emotions that have been blocked by trauma.
PE and CPT are the front-line treatments for trauma as they have the most research-based evidence demonstrating their effectiveness.
Both treatments can be completed in three to four months, which is relatively brief compared to the length of time some people endure immense suffering due to experiencing trauma. Both treatments work well in-person as well as online.
An advantage of CPT is that it can be conducted with or without a description of the actual trauma, which can be helpful if you don’t remember the trauma or don’t want to talk about it.
Moreover, TF-CBT and EMDR can also help reduce PTSD symptoms, which can lead to improvements in overall functioning and quality of life.
Trauma Therapy Techniques
The techniques used to treat PTSD can vary depending on the type of therapy. Research outlines some techniques your therapist might employ.
- Imaginal exposure: This is an exposure technique where you imagine the trauma and describe it out loud to your therapist. If you have been avoiding thoughts or memories related to the trauma you faced, this technique helps you confront it.
- In vivo exposure: This is also an exposure therapy technique. It occurs outside the trauma therapy session, in real-life situations. It is intended to help you gradually approach day-to-day situations you may have been avoiding because of the trauma associated with them.
- Written account: Your therapist may ask you to write a descriptive account of the trauma you have experienced.
- Impact statement: A common CPT technique is writing an impact statement that explains why you believe the traumatic event occurred and the impact it has had on your life.
- Cognitive restructuring strategies: CPT can also involve cognitive restructuring strategies that help you change unhelpful thoughts into more healthy emotions.
These trauma therapy strategies are highly effective and well supported by research.
What Trauma Therapy Can Help With
Trauma therapy can help you cope with any kind of trauma, whether it stems from a one-time event, or an ongoing or long-lasting situation. PTSD and complex PTSD can also be treated. Examples of trauma that are targeted with this kind of therapy include:
- Death of a loved one
- Domestic abuse or violence
- Job loss
- Life-threatening circumstances
- Natural disasters
- Near death experience
- Sexual assault
- Witnessing an accident, death, or traumatic situation
Benefits of Trauma Therapy
Trauma therapy can help you address the traumatic event and process your feelings and emotions. It can give you the opportunity to face your fears in a safe space and learn coping skills that can help you function on a day-to-day basis. It will give you the tools to help manage PTSD symptoms.
Reduce Fear and Avoidance
Trauma can instil fear and cause you to avoid people, places, or things that remind you of the traumatic experience, which can make it difficult for you to function. For instance, a person who was involved in a car accident on a freeway may avoid driving on freeways or be afraid to get into a car at all.
Trauma therapy can help you confront the trauma memory and overcome your fears.
PTSD and trauma-related issues are maintained by problematic beliefs such as “I’m incapable of coping with this.” Trauma therapy can help equip you with the confidence and coping skills you need to do the things you want or need to do.
Traumatic events can disrupt your sense of safety and make it difficult for you to trust others.
With trauma therapy, someone who developed the belief that “it’s not safe to trust anyone” may learn to start thinking, “Even though I was hurt in the past, most people are good and trustworthy and it’s okay to give people a chance.”
Challenge Problematic Beliefs
PTSD therapy can help challenge problematic thought patterns you may have developed about yourself and the world around you, to help you make sense of why the traumatic event occurred. This can enable you to reduce the intensity of trauma-related emotions such as shame and guilt.
People who have experienced trauma and have repeatedly been told that their experiences, characteristics, or emotional reactions are unreasonable and unacceptable may suffer further and develop chronic difficulties. An example would be being blamed or verbally abused after disclosing a trauma.
Trauma therapy can help validate your experiences and offer the understanding and acceptance you need to start healing.
Effectiveness of Trauma Therapy
According to research, there is a substantial amount of evidence that trauma-focused therapies like PE, CPT, and CBT that address memories, thoughts, and feelings related to a traumatic event are effectively able to treat PTSD.
One study found that veterans who participated in trauma management therapy saw a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms like anger, guilt, depression, difficulty sleeping, and social isolation. These benefits were sustained even six months after the treatment was completed.
Trauma Therapy as Part of Addiction Treatment
In the absence of trauma therapy, many people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the aftereffects of trauma. When this happens, it is not enough to merely stop using the substance: you also have to address the underlying cause. This means addressing the trauma and how it has impacted your life.
At Addiction Rehab Toronto, we offer addiction treatment programs that are tailored to the needs of each individual. We offer several forms of trauma therapy, and the ones recommended for you will depend on your unique needs and circumstances.
We offer a safe, supportive environment in which to start healing from your trauma and learning healthy ways to navigate the world. By the time you are ready to leave, you will feel empowered to lead a healthy, happy, productive life, free from the effects of your trauma, and without needing drugs or alcohol.