The American Psychiatric Association says that 3.5 percent of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 1 in 11 people will experience it in their lifetime. Women are two times more likely than men to experience it. These are big numbers and will for sure grow even bigger given the past year and a half, yet not many people openly talk about their experiences with trauma. Now is the time to normalize this struggle—especially if we want to heal from it and deal with it in healthy and open ways without dealing with the stigma.
If you’re curious about how trauma therapy works, here are some ways counselors help and the strategies they employ to assist clients in their journey to healing.
Therapists and counselors use an approach called trauma-focused therapy, which is all about acknowledging and emphasizing how a traumatic experience or two impacts a person’s behavioral, mental, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. This type of strategy recognizes that at the root of a traumatized person’s behavioral responses is a painful or horrifying experience. They don’t often have the tools to respond any other way. The approach is known for resisting re-traumatization and is all about providing clients with a safe space to come to terms with their experiences, how to address the reality of their concerns, and the tools to develop healthier ways of coping.
Here are some more practical ways this is achieved:
- Safety is re-established, and the client is slowly taught that the threats that hurt them in the past no longer exist in the present.
- Triggers are identified, which means clients are armed with the tools they need to understand what pushes their trauma button and how they can respond in healthier ways.
- Healthy coping skills are enforced, which entails letting go of destructive habits like turning to drugs or alcohol and engaging in harmful relationships.
- The goal is to decrease traumatic stress symptoms and a sense of wholeness and integration to be established in the clients.
- Clients are provided with accessible and practical ways to help themselves, which is why counseling practices often partner with services like Threshold Billing to ensure that the clients are always advocated for, even in terms of their insurance and medical bills.
There is a wide array of strategies and activities used in trauma-focused therapy and process. These activities will vary based on the client’s trauma experience, age, cultural context, and location. Counselors and therapists often use different creative approaches to help address emotions, painful memories, and problematic behaviors and habits that can be traced back to the client’s traumatic past. All these activities are conducted safely and sensitively, recognizing that every client’s experience is different and will depend on their pace and ability to respond.
There are also plenty of treatments that can be associated with healing trauma. These treatments can also be called interventions because they work to help the clients resolve their distressing feelings by facing memories they have long avoided, resist their pent-up fight-or-flight responses, learn how to regulate their bodies and emotions, and how to trust people again. While for some, counseling and therapy sessions are enough, others need more types of intervention like the following:
- Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is helping the clients relive their past traumatic experiences in short and small doses while the physician or therapist directs their eye movements. This treatment works because it helps the patient divert their attention while recalling distressing events, which exposes them to painful memories, all while conditioning their minds and bodies not to have a strong response. As time goes on, the treatment works to help lessen the negative impact of the memories or thoughts on the patient.
- Somatic experiencing prioritizes bodily sensations rather than mental processes. It’s a technique that focuses on helping the body release pent-up trauma-related physical responses through crying, shaking, and other types of physical release.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is all about helping the client process their feelings and thoughts through talking and regular sessions.
Now that we’re emerging from the pandemic, many of us have lost people we love and many things we hold dear. Loss and grief can be a precursor to trauma, so if you’re struggling, know that help is available and it’s OK to ask for it. Talk with your primary care provider if you think you might be experiencing some symptoms, and let them direct you to the help that you need