Trauma Therapy: The Comprehensive Guide

Nov 10, 2023

Trauma often results from an overwhelming and distressing experience that exceeds a person’s ability to cope with it effectively. It can have a lasting impact on their mental health and emotional and physical well-being. The effects of trauma can lead to flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and emotional numbness. While some people can cope with trauma over time, dealing with it can become extremely difficult.

Therefore, seeking trauma therapy is not just important; it is a transformative step toward reclaiming your life, finding inner strength, and a chance to break free from the shackles of your past.


Understanding Trauma

Trauma is a psychological and emotional response to distressing events in the past. It causes significant harm, either physically or psychologically, and is detrimental to your well-being.


Causes of Trauma:

A range of negative experiences can cause trauma. In terms of mental trauma, some of the causes include but not limited to are:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • War experiences
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents
  • The sudden loss of a loved one
  • Medical trauma or chronic illness
  • Neglect
  • Witnessing violence or harm to others
  • Childhood adversity or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)


Symptoms of Trauma:

Trauma symptoms can manifest as emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioural symptoms. The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person, and you don’t need to experience all of them. They may occur individually or together. That’s why it’s important to consider trauma therapy, which can help you recognize these symptoms and work towards healing and recovery.

Some of the common symptoms of trauma are:

  • Emotional Symptoms:
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Fear and panic
    • Emotional dysregulation
    • Anger
    • Emotional detachment
    • Nightmares
    • Flashback to traumatic events
  • Cognitive Symptoms:
    • Intrusive thoughts
    • Memory disturbances
    • Dissociation
    • Negative self-perceptions
  • Physical Symptoms:
    • Sleep problems
    • Increased heart rate
    • Fatigue
    • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Behavioural Symptoms:
    • Avoidance of people, places, or situations related to the trauma
    • Substance abuse
    • Withdrawal from social interactions
    • Self-harming behaviours
    • Engaging in risky behaviours


What Happens When Trauma is Triggered?

When triggered, trauma can become overwhelming and unbearable. Traumatic and distressing thoughts suddenly flood your mind, making you feel like you are reliving the experience. You may even exhibit symptoms such as detachment from your surroundings, sleeplessness, anxiety or anger.

It would be best if you recognized triggers and their effects, as they can impact you in ways you might not realize. Seeking professional trauma therapy can help you understand the root causes of trauma and its impact and provide coping strategies for when it’s triggered.


What is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy, also known as trauma-informed therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that offers specialized care to those who have experienced traumatic events or suffered from the effects of trauma. This type of psychotherapy provides specialized care to help you address the emotional and mental health consequences of trauma through evidence-based therapeutic approaches. A trauma psychologist or therapist enables you to process, navigate, and address the root cause of your trauma while also providing the necessary tools for your healing and recovery.

Trauma psychotherapy helps with the following types of trauma:

  • Acute Trauma
    Acute trauma is a type of trauma that occurs as a result of a single event that happens over a short period. This kind of trauma can happen after an accident, natural disaster, physical assault, or witnessing a violent event.
  • Chronic Trauma
    Chronic trauma results from prolonged exposure to distressing events, such as domestic violence and poverty. Its cumulative effect can significantly impact an individual’s well-being.
  • Complex Trauma
    Childhood complex trauma involves prolonged and multiple traumatic experiences, often within the caregiving system, including physical or sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse or exposure to violence.
  • Vicarious Trauma
    Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma or compassion fatigue, affects people indirectly exposed to others’ trauma. It affects professionals in helping roles, like therapists, first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, and journalists.


What is the Success Rate of Trauma Therapy?

Research indicates that a significant percentage of patients, ranging from 77% to 100%, experience a reduction in their symptoms when they participate in personalized trauma therapy sessions. This level of improvement is comparable to the outcomes observed in studies involving trauma patients who relied on medications to manage their symptoms.


Benefits of Trauma Therapy

Traumatic events can significantly harm your personal life and relationships, as well as have adverse effects on your work, social interactions, and school performance. You may not even realize how much trauma has affected you until you undergo trauma therapy. Therefore, seeking counselling for trauma is essential to help you heal.

Although it can be initially challenging to talk about, your symptoms can lessen over time with regular trauma therapy sessions. The other benefits of therapy for trauma include:

  • Emotional Healing
    Trauma therapy can help you achieve emotional healing by providing a safe environment for you to discuss and work through your emotions. This can lead to a reduction in symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and anger and help you feel better overall.
  • Improved Coping Skills
    Trauma therapy integrates evidence-based trauma therapy techniques that equip you with coping skills and strategies so that you can handle the triggers and manage overwhelming emotions and thoughts.
  • Prevention of Long-Term Consequences
    Trauma therapy can help mitigate the long-term consequences of unaddressed trauma, potentially reducing the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic mental health issues, and ongoing emotional distress.
  • Better Daily Functioning
    Trauma therapy allows you to focus on work and improve relationships without
    the burden of unresolved trauma.
  • Post-Traumatic Growth
    Post-traumatic growth is more like a result of trauma therapy that allows you to regain control of your traumatic experiences, recognize your strength and appreciate life on a deeper level.


Common Types of Trauma Therapy

Psychologists use a variety of trauma-focused therapies to help individuals dealing with trauma or PTSD. These therapies are designed to address the emotional and psychological effects of trauma and assist in the healing process.

Different therapeutic approaches may be used alone or in combination, and therapy may evolve to meet your changing needs and progress. However, the specific therapy for you will be determined through an individualized assessment process. The types of trauma therapy used include:

  1. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
  2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  3. Exposure Therapy
  4. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  5. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
  6. Psychodynamic Therapy
  7. Narrative Therapy
  8. Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)


1. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly practical and effective in treating trauma and other mental health issues. This therapy approach empowers you to identify and transform negative thought patterns and behaviours associated with your traumatic experiences, thereby reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

With CBT, you learn to change these unhelpful patterns. It shows you how these negative thoughts can lead to avoiding things, feeling small, and behaving in ways that make your problems even worse.


2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves guided eye movements or other types of bilateral stimulation. It helps you heal from traumatic memories and distressing life experiences. This therapy primarily targets memory, aiming to modify how it is stored in your brain and ultimately reduce problematic symptoms. Most psychologists use the EMDR approach to treat PTSD that results from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.


3. Exposure Therapy

Exposure Therapy is specifically designed for individuals with phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This therapy exposes individuals to the source of their trauma in a controlled manner. The idea behind exposure therapy is that by gradually facing what you’re afraid of, you can learn to cope with it better and reduce the distress it causes.


4. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is designed to help individuals who have experienced trauma. This structured therapy focuses on how thoughts and beliefs related to the traumatic event can affect your emotions and actions. Through CPT, individuals develop the skills to identify and transform unhelpful thoughts into more positive and constructive ones. This can lead to improved well-being and a better quality of life after a traumatic experience.


5. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

Prolonged Exposure Therapy helps with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or survivors of a specific type of trauma, such as sexual assault. This trauma therapy helps by gradually and carefully exposing you to memories of the traumatic event. This exposure enables you to reduce the urge to avoid things that remind you of the trauma and lessen the distressing thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma. It’s a way to face and process those memories in a controlled manner, which can be very effective in treating the trauma.


6. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a talk therapy that delves deep into traumatic events. This therapy posits that early life experiences, including traumatic events, can shape a person’s emotional and psychological well-being.

In the context of trauma, psychodynamic therapy aims to uncover how these traumatic experiences may still be affecting your current thoughts, behaviours, and relationships. This therapy focuses on identifying the subconscious influences that trauma may have on your psyche, enabling you to gain insight and ultimately heal from the trauma.


7. Narrative Therapy

Often, after a traumatic event, we develop certain narratives or interpretations about what happened, and these can shape our feelings, behaviours, and how we see ourselves. Narrative therapy helps you reframe and reconstruct these personal stories. By doing so, you can gain a new perspective on your trauma, which can be incredibly liberating and healing. This trauma therapy shifts the narrative from seeing yourself not solely as a victim of trauma to someone resilient and capable of transformation and healing.


8. Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a specialized form of CBT designed to assist young individuals who have experienced traumatic events. TF-CBT integrates cognitive and behavioural techniques with age-appropriate activities, helping them develop healthier ways to cope with their emotions and thoughts. This therapy helps them understand how trauma has affected them and provides practical skills to manage distressing symptoms.


Additional Techniques and Approaches for Trauma Treatment

Additional techniques and approaches are available to complement the previously mentioned trauma therapy. The choice of practice depends on the individual’s unique circumstances and the trauma therapist’s expertise.


1. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based approach that combines cognitive-behavioural techniques with mindfulness practices to help individuals manage emotional dysregulation often associated with trauma. It provides you with the tools to navigate emotional challenges that often arise after experiencing trauma, ultimately promoting emotional well-being and healing.


2. Creative Therapy

Creative Therapy involves art therapy, music therapy, or dance therapy, offering a creative outlet to process your trauma and find a sense of emotional relief. Creative therapy recognizes that not everyone can express themselves verbally, allowing you to convey your emotions, thoughts, and memories through artistic or musical means.


3. Somatic Therapy

Somatic Therapy recognizes that trauma isn’t just stored in the mind but can also manifest in the body. Somatic therapy encompasses mindfulness, yoga, and body-centred practices, all designed to guide you in understanding and addressing the physical aspects of your trauma. By practising mindfulness, you can become more aware of physical sensations and tension in your body, and this self-awareness can help you release pent-up physical stress.


4. Group Therapy

Group therapy is a form of treatment that offers a supportive environment where individuals who have experienced similar traumatic events can gather to share their experiences in a safe and empathetic atmosphere. This process enables you to openly discuss your story while listening to the experiences of others, which can be incredibly validating and reassuring, as it helps you realize that you are not alone in your journey. Moreover, you can learn coping strategies and techniques to manage the emotional challenges frequently associated with trauma.


5. Medication with Trauma Therapy

Medication is often used alongside trauma therapy for managing symptoms and stabilization. However, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before deciding to use medication. Medication may not always be necessary or appropriate, and its usage should be carefully monitored and adjusted as required to best support the individual’s recovery process. In most cases, a combination of trauma therapy and medication can be a comprehensive and effective approach to managing the impact of trauma, especially PTSD.

There are two types of medications used for treating symptoms of trauma:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)


6. Holistic Approaches to Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy that takes a holistic approach considers the person as a whole and not only addresses the psychological effects of trauma but also focuses on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. These approaches aim to facilitate healing, promote resilience, and improve overall well-being across all areas of an individual’s life.

Some of the holistic approaches to trauma therapy include:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Nutrition and Physical Wellness
  • Ecotherapy
  • Spiritual and Mind-Body Practices
  • Energy Healing (Acupuncture, Acupressure, Reiki)


How Does Trauma Therapy Work?

Trauma therapy works by providing you with a safe and structured environment to explore and process your traumatic experiences. It typically involves a set of steps to address the emotional and psychological impact of trauma:

  • Trauma Assessment and Diagnosis
    The first step in trauma therapy is a thorough assessment and diagnosis of trauma-related symptoms. The trauma psychologist understands the type of trauma, its severity, and its impact on your life. This understanding enables the therapist to make an accurate diagnosis and customize the therapy to your specific needs and experiences.
  • Trauma-Informed Care
    Once the type of trauma is diagnosed, the next step is to provide trauma-informed care. It is one of the core principles of trauma therapy. It means that therapy is delivered with a deep understanding of the effects of trauma and focuses on creating a safe and empowering therapeutic environment. It acknowledges the importance of your safety, trust, choice, collaboration, and empowerment in the therapeutic process.
  • Trauma Triggers and Coping Strategies
    The purpose of trauma therapy is to help you identify and manage your trauma triggers. These triggers can be situations, thoughts or feelings that remind you of the traumatic event that provokes distress. To address this, coping strategies are developed to help you deal with these triggers in a healthier way.
  • The Role of Support Systems
    Trauma therapy also emphasizes the importance of support systems in healing from trauma. Involving friends, family, or support groups adds emotional, social, and practical support to you. These networks can provide comfort, encouragement, and understanding, thereby enhancing the overall effectiveness of trauma therapy.


How is Trauma Therapy Different from Traditional Therapy?

Trauma therapy is a specific type of therapy that deals with the psychological and emotional impacts of traumatic experiences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma, or acute stress reactions. On the other hand, traditional therapy encompasses a wider range of therapeutic approaches. It is suitable for a broad spectrum of mental health concerns, which may or may not include trauma-informed care.


Getting Started with Trauma Therapy

You can receive trauma therapy from licensed mental health professionals such as psychologists or licensed counsellors. Before starting trauma therapy, you must be mentally and emotionally prepared and have realistic expectations about the process.


Who Provides Trauma Therapy?

Licensed mental health professionals, such as clinical psychologists and licensed professional counsellors with specialized training and experience in trauma treatment, provide trauma therapy. It’s important to choose a therapist with expertise in trauma care.


What Happens in Trauma Therapy?

In trauma-focused therapy, you will work with a mental health professional to address the emotional and psychological effects of trauma. The therapist will use their therapeutic techniques to help you process traumatic experiences, reduce trauma-related symptoms, and promote healing and resilience.


How to Prepare for Trauma Therapy?

Preparing for trauma therapy involves finding a therapist who is qualified and specializes in treating trauma. To do so, research potential therapists, ask questions, and choose someone with whom you feel comfortable. It is also essential to approach the therapy process with an open mind and a willingness to participate in the process actively.


What to Expect in Therapy for Trauma?

During trauma therapy, you can expect to be in a safe and supportive environment with a therapist who will listen to you without judgment. You will have the space to share your experiences, emotions, and thoughts related to your trauma and work towards processing them healthily and effectively. The ultimate goal of trauma therapy is to help you heal and promote your overall well-being so that you can move forward in life with greater resilience and strength.


How to Talk about Trauma in Therapy?

Talking about trauma to just anyone can be difficult. However, during therapy, the therapist will create a very non-judgemental space so that you can feel safe and share what’s been bothering you and what has been bottled up inside you at your own pace.


How Long Does Trauma Therapy Take?

Typically, trauma therapy consists of 8 to 12 weekly sessions, lasting 50-80 minutes each, which span over 3-4 months. This duration is usually sufficient for finding relief and healing, but it can vary depending on the severity of the trauma. Your therapist will assess and monitor your progress and work with you to determine the appropriate duration, making adjustments as needed.


Self-Care and Strategies During and After Trauma Therapy

Your well-being is of utmost importance, and you must treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Remember that healing from trauma is a unique journey, and it is okay to continue therapy as long as you need it. Also, the path to recovery is not always linear, and setbacks can happen. Be gentle with yourself during this time and acknowledge the progress you have made.

Some of the self-care and strategies that you can engage in during and after trauma therapy include:

  • Surround Yourself with a Support Network:
    Stay connected with people who understand you. Sharing your feelings can provide relief and some comfort, reassuring you that you’re not alone on this journey.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation:
    Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques like journaling, meditation, and yoga to cultivate a sense of calm, reduce stress, and manage emotional triggers.
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle:
    Your emotional and physical well-being are interconnected. Ensure you are eating well and taking care of your physical fitness to manage stress and cope with the emotional challenges that may arise during and after therapy.
  • Self-Reflection:
    Your journey has had its share of difficult moments, but you also have demonstrated the courage to confront your trauma. Reflect on your progress and celebrate even the slightest milestones, as they are markers of your strength.
  • Engage in Activities:
    Engaging in activities that give you a boost of serotonin is incredibly healing and a way to nurture your well-being during and after trauma therapy. Consider hobbies, interests, or pastimes that have brought happiness to your life, and make space for them in your daily life.


Trauma Therapy at Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre

Trauma Therapy with Thrive Counselling Centre

Dealing with trauma responses on your own can be a complicated and challenging process. However, life doesn’t necessarily have to be a struggle. Our trauma-informed counsellors are here to remind you that safety is your right and that there is a meaningful and connected life waiting for you. We offer a unique combination of modern trauma recovery methods and timeless spiritual paths, creating a sincere and hopeful environment for you to manage your trauma and move toward healing.

We offer mental health therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, along with specialised techniques. Contact us today for a free consultation to address your trauma.


Trauma Therapy FAQs:

Who needs trauma counselling?

People who have gone through traumatic events or are dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of trauma need trauma counselling. They can be survivors of traumatic events, people with PTSD, first responders who have worked with trauma survivors, or those seeking emotional healing.


How long does trauma therapy last?

Trauma therapy typically consists of 8 to 12 sessions, with each session lasting approximately 50 to 80 minutes.


What are the 4 C’s of trauma?

The 4 C’s of trauma are Calm, Contain, Care, and Cope.
Calm refers to techniques that can be used to achieve a state of relaxation and reduce emotional distress. Containment provides a safe space for individuals to express their thoughts and emotions related to trauma. Care is essential in offering compassionate and supportive care to trauma survivors. Coping strategies are also taught to individuals to help them manage the emotional and psychological challenges that trauma can bring.


What is EMDR trauma therapy?

EMDR trauma therapy is an effective way of processing traumatic experiences that have become “stuck” in the mind. When someone undergoes a traumatic experience, their brain may struggle to process it in the same way as a non-traumatic experience, resulting in fragmented memories. EMDR therapy utilizes a series of structured protocols to help reprocess these traumatic memories.


What is the best therapy for childhood trauma in adults?

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Narrative Therapy are among the best therapies for childhood trauma in adults.

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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