How Does Trauma Therapy Work?

Trauma Therapy

Up to 70% of adults will experience a traumatic event in their lives. 20% of those adults will go on to develop a trauma-related response or mental health disorder from these adverse events. The memories and emotions that stem from a traumatic event can be debilitating. They can trigger alcohol or drug abuse, and the distressing symptoms of a mental health disorder. Although trauma and trauma-related disorders and emotional problems can be debilitating, there is hope for victims. Many different types of therapy can treat the distressing symptoms of trauma-related disorders. Trauma therapy is one such technique that is highly beneficial for trauma victims.

What is trauma therapy?

Trauma therapy is just that – a form of talk therapy aimed at treating the emotional and mental health consequences of trauma. In clinical terms, a traumatic event is one in which a person’s life was threatened, or they witnessed another person’s life being threatened. Experiencing the death of another person can also trigger trauma-related problems for vulnerable individuals. It is unclear how and why people react to trauma differently. A combination of genetics, temperament, and repeated exposure to traumatic events can all play a role.

Some people can move on from a traumatic event and not experience adverse reactions to it for years after the fact. Others may be more susceptible to psychological wounds. If a person can cope with a severe threat, they are not traumatized. When someone has issues coping after the danger has passed, they are suffering from trauma. Women are more likely than men to experience trauma-related psychological wounds. Up to 20% of combat veterans will struggle with the symptoms of PTSD and psychological trauma.

Trauma therapy refers to specific types of therapy geared toward treating the effects of trauma. Also called trauma-informed care, it’s more of an umbrella term that calls upon mental health clinicians and other professionals to be mindful of a person’s life experiences when providing treatment. Trauma-informed approaches provide guidelines for giving the best care possible to patients with trauma histories, which includes screening patients for trauma, training professionals in the best approaches for treating trauma and working with other organizations. These organizations can include schools and workplaces to ensure they are equipped to utilize guidelines from trauma-informed care. Trauma therapies, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, fall under the umbrella of trauma-informed therapy.

There are several different types of effective trauma therapies that patients can utilize:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
  • Critical incident stress debriefing

Before a patient attends a trauma therapy session or any type of treatment for their emotional issues, it’s critical for them to understand their goals and objectives for the therapy. With help from a team of doctors, counselors, or social workers, patients can decide on what type of trauma therapy will be the most beneficial for their particular needs and goals. When it comes to effectively treating mental health conditions and emotional issues, highly customized, tailored approaches will give patients the best chances of recovery. Trauma therapy is patient-focused and centers around specific goals the patient has for their improvement.

What are the success rates of trauma therapy?

Studies have found that between 77% and 100% of patients who attend regular, customized trauma therapy sessions will see a reduction in their symptoms. This is on-par with studies on trauma patients who used medications to treat their symptoms.

What does trauma therapy treat?

While trauma therapy can treat general symptoms of trauma, people who seek this type of therapy may have a specific diagnosis that has led them to seek treatment. Perhaps the most common condition that is treated with trauma therapy is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which falls under the category of “Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). There are several disorders under this category, but all of them include experiencing a traumatic or stressful event as part of their diagnostic criteria.

Given that 3.6 percent of American adults experience PTSD in a given year, and 6.8 percent are diagnosed at some point during their lives, this disorder is commonly associated with therapy for trauma. The symptoms for PTSD, according to diagnostic criteria, are as follows:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event, such as actual or threatened death, severe injury, or violence, either by experiencing it oneself, witnessing it happen to another person, learning that a traumatic event has happened to a loved one, or being exposed to it through work as a law enforcement official or first responder 
  • Experiencing at least one intrusive symptom, such as unwanted memories or recurring dreams of the event, flashbacks related to the event, and intense psychological or physiological reactions when exposed to reminders of the event
  • Avoiding memories, thoughts, people, or locations linked to the traumatic event
  • A negative impact on thoughts and emotions following the event, which can be manifested in the form of at least two of the following: loss of memory pertaining to the event, pessimistic view of self and the world, distorted thoughts leading a person to blame themselves for the event, ongoing negative mood, lack of interest in usual activities, disengagement from other people, and inability to feel positive emotions like happiness 
  • At least two symptoms of changes in emotional arousal and reactivity, such as irritability, outbursts of anger, reckless behavior, hypervigilance, being easily startled, difficulty concentrating and disrupted sleep 

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must display symptoms for a month or more, and symptoms must cause significant distress or difficulty with daily functioning. Unfortunately, over one-third of adults with PTSD experience serious impairment, making therapy for trauma important for individuals with this condition.

Those with other disorders related to trauma, such as reactive attachment disorder, acute stress disorder, and adjustment disorders may also benefit from learning, “What is trauma therapy?” as this method of treatment is relevant for them. 

A person who does not meet full diagnostic criteria for PTSD or another condition in that realm, but still experiences significant distress and shows some symptoms of trauma, may be diagnosed with “other specified trauma and stressor-related disorder.” Trauma therapy may be utilized for this condition as well. 

If you or a loved one are suffering from trauma-related symptoms, it’s critical to reach out for help. Psychological wounds rarely heal on their own, but with time and guidance from a caring and experienced therapist, trauma-related symptoms can be alleviated for good. Please contact the counselors and clinicians at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health to explore your treatment options.

Updated 5/30/21

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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