How does therapy help with trauma?
Trauma is the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening event. Sufferers may develop emotional disturbances such as extreme anxiety, anger, sadness, survivor’s guilt, or Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. They may experience ongoing problems with sleep or physical pain, encounter turbulence in their personal and professional relationships, and feel a diminished sense of self-worth due to the overwhelming amount of stress. Trauma physically changes the brain and survivors may find their nervous systems stuck in fight-flight-freeze responses, unable to find joy in the present moment.
The most crucial goals of trauma therapy are typically:
- To face the reality of the trauma without getting stuck
- To reduce or eliminate trauma symptoms
- To improve daily functioning
- To reclaim your personal power
- To overcome addictions associated with traumatic stress
- To gain skills that instill resilience
How is this accomplished?
The first step is to develop a safe environment of trust, mutual respect and collaboration. The client always has the freedom to choose the pace of the therapy, as it is imperative to the treatment process and the client’s well-being.
Research evidence supports the fact that traumatized clients often find relief of symptoms by “telling and re-telling the story about the trauma.” Additionally, somatic psychotherapy is utilized to the extent that the therapist may ask the client to bring awareness to certain areas of the body where the client seems to be unknowingly holding tension or strong negative emotions. This type of awareness may also help foster change and reduce physical symptomatology associated with the trauma.
Negative beliefs formed about the self in relation to the traumatic event are also explored for their impact on the client’s ability to heal, as well as their validity. Experience has taught me that it is quite difficult to “talk someone out” of their negative beliefs about themselves, so I like to use Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) to help alleviate suffering associated with diminished self-worth.
I find that once clients get some relief, they are then better able to connect how their thinking affects their mood and behavior. At this point, clients are more willing to make necessary behavior changes and redefine themselves in association with the traumatic event. Processing traumatic events often elicits existential questions regarding finding personal meaning of event/life, one’s purpose, etc. Re-connection to one’s authentic higher self is the likely result of existential exploration.