4 Ways Trauma Therapy Can Help You Cope With Your Past

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated April 19, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

When it comes to dealing with traumatic experiences, it can be difficult to move forward. Many of the effects and symptoms of trauma – like anxiety or guilt – are potentially long-lasting, which can leave you feeling stuck and unable to heal. The good news? You don’t have to face trauma recovery alone. With the use of trauma therapy, therapists have been able to help numerous patients cope with their past.

What Is Trauma?

Psychological trauma can be described as an altered or damaged state of mind due to an especially distressing event or circumstance. While some people believe trauma is only limited to horrific experiences like rape or loss, trauma actually comes in many forms. If an event leaves you unable to cope and an altered quality of life, you have experienced trauma.

Sometimes trauma is the result of a single traumatic event, where other times, it is caused by prolonged exposure to multiple traumatic events. Everyone processes trauma differently and at different rates. Trauma can manifest in many different ways, both physical and emotional: migraines, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are possible trauma results.

What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy – more broadly known as trauma-focused therapy – is a type of therapy based on in-depth research, aiming to help you understand and cope with trauma and its effects. Trauma therapy is tailored to those who have suffered from a traumatic experience, and its core goals include facing your trauma, changing negative associations, and minimizing your trauma symptoms. Trauma therapy can be especially beneficial to those suffering from post-traumatic symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and specific phobias.

Trauma-focused therapy is evidence-based, meaning documented scientific studies have proved its effectiveness; because of the delicate nature of trauma and its effects, many trauma therapists and counselors who implement trauma-focused therapy work exclusively with sufferers of trauma. Treatments based on trauma-focused therapy often have fewer sessions, making them more accessible and cost-effective options.

Types Of Trauma Therapy

Trauma-focused therapy encompasses several different therapeutic techniques. Each technique shares common goals of trauma-informed therapy. They focus on improved quality of life and reduction or elimination of symptoms. A few common types of trauma-focused therapy are:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT for short, is one of the most widely used and endorsed forms of trauma therapy. This trauma treatment uses your past trauma as a sort of tool to aid you in changing how you cognitively process things. This particular trauma-focused therapy has been especially effective in treating young children with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as adults and adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma.

There are multiple forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive processing therapy is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves psychotherapy. Cognitive processing therapy is usually about 12 sessions long and tailored to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Your CBT therapist will teach you how to effectively replace negative thoughts, use relaxation techniques, and improve poor behavioral patterns. The use of CBT allows you to be incredibly involved in your healing process. It’s typical with this type of treatment to be assigned homework after each session.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing Therapy – The eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy process are designed to relieve some of the discomfort and anguish associated with a traumatic event. A typical EMDR session will consist of you reiterating a traumatic experience from your past. This is done in small doses so as not to overwhelm you. While you recall your trauma, your therapist will keep your eyes focused on an external stimulus such as their moving finger.

It’s believed that EMDR is so effective because the contrast between mental and physical stimuli promotes newer, less negative associations with information and past trauma. The World Health Organization has even recommended EMDT therapy to treat stress disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

Exposure Therapy – As the name implies, exposure therapy is a form of therapy that revolves around being exposed to your trauma. In exposure therapy, you’re not always required to confront your trauma physically; Exposure therapy can be imaginal, and even implement virtual reality to help patients ‘recreate’ traumas that would be particularly difficult to do in reality (I.e., flying in a plane or being in combat). During exposure therapy, your therapist will take notes about your experiences to determine when and how exposure will begin. You will also practice coping mechanisms to relieve the anxiety and traumatic stress associated with exposure to your trauma. This makes exposure therapy a useful PTSD therapy form and an effective tool for experienced childhood trauma.

Prolonged exposure therapy involves more sessions than regular exposure therapy and approaches the exposure factor more gradually than regular exposure therapy. As with regular exposure therapy, prolonged exposure therapy is a form of PTSD treatment.

Is Trauma Therapy Right For Me?

With such a wide range of options to choose from, it can be challenging to determine whether trauma therapy is right for you. You can use the information on common trauma therapy practices to aid you in your decision-making. For example, trauma-focused therapy sometimes requires you to remember your trauma. You may not be ready to recall or relive your experience of trauma, and understandably so. Certain types of trauma therapy, like behavioral therapy, may not work well if you are severely depressed and demotivated. While trauma-focused therapy has been known to be an effective anxiety therapy and PTSD therapy, you shouldn’t feel pressured into believing it’s the only option for you. Remember that you can always explore other therapy options that better suit you and your healing process stage. Most therapists can shift their techniques if you feel uncomfortable or unmotivated.

Keeping those precautions in mind, trauma-focused therapy has been proven to improve the lives of those who have experienced trauma. It’s also important to remember that the world of trauma-focused therapy is always growing and improving. Some of the newest and more technological forms of trauma-focused therapy have already been scientifically proven to improve life quality. Therapists can now use virtual reality to expose you to stimuli. Because there are so many methods of trauma-focused therapy, it’s possible that one of them can help you overcome your trauma.

How Trauma Therapy Can Help You Cope

Trauma-focused therapy can provide the tools needed to take control of a traumatic past for the right person. That’s why we at ReGain have compiled a list of benefits that we believe trauma therapy may provide. Trauma-focused therapy can help you to:

Recognize And Validate Your Trauma   

Denial is a natural part of the copying process after experiencing trauma. Denying that you had a traumatic experience is actually a defense mechanism that prevents you from processing all of your emotions at once. However, denying your trauma for an extended period of time can lead to a myriad of problems. The longer you deny your trauma, the longer you may go without seeking help, which can lead to addiction and other struggles.

One of the core goals of trauma-focused therapy is to help you work through your trauma, not around it. Your trauma therapist will create a comfortable and safe environment in which you can accept and come to terms with your trauma, allowing you to safely process all the emotions that you may have been holding back for quite some time.

Because of stereotypes and stigmas attached to trauma and traumatic stress disorders, many people who have had traumatic experiences don’t know or believe they have experienced trauma. Trauma therapists won’t judge you or tell you your trauma isn’t real. Instead, your trauma therapist will reassure you that your feelings are valid and help you confront your trauma for what it really is.

Learn Coping Mechanisms

Unfortunately, the traumatic experience(s) you’ve had can’t be undone. However, the effects of your trauma, otherwise known as trauma symptoms, can be managed effectively. Trauma-based therapies implement different procedures to help you learn to cope with your trauma symptoms. For example, exposure therapy sessions sometimes begin and end with breathing practices, which can quell anxiety and improve cognitive function.

Some forms of trauma, such as childhood trauma, require a team effort. Counselors and therapists who use trauma-informed therapy in their practice will teach coping mechanisms to families and teachers of children who have experienced trauma. Someone who has suffered childhood trauma must have a strong support system. By helping both families and the young victims of childhood trauma cope, therapists can help lighten the load for everyone involved.

Breathing exercises, physical activity, and meditation are all coping mechanisms commonly referred to in trauma therapy. Some techniques may work better for you than others; If you feel you’re not improving with one coping technique, let your therapist know so they can explore another.

Build Confidence

Trauma can take a lot of things from you. One of those things is your confidence. There are many reasons why you may be feeling self-conscious after having a traumatic experience, regardless of how recent or distant the trauma was. Some feel insecure or not good enough, which is oftentimes the result of childhood trauma. When you experience trauma in the home as a child, your sense of security may be compromised – possibly leading you to question yourself and feel insecure. Trust issues are another common result of trauma, and understandably so. It’s normal to feel scared or uncertain, and being detached or ‘closed off’ can actually serve as a defense mechanism. Many trauma sufferers implement isolation to prevent past traumas from happening again.

Whether you’re feeling alienated, insecure, or have a poor self-image, trauma-focused therapy can be a great way to get your confidence back. Cognitive-behavioral therapy prioritizes taking negative thoughts about yourself and replacing them with positive, more accurate thoughts. EMDR therapy uses bilateral movement to pinpoint what negative thoughts stem from your trauma, assess them, and then replace them with positive thoughts via that same bilateral movement.

All types of trauma-focused therapy work to help build your self-confidence. Still, it’s also worth mentioning that a healthy relationship with your trauma therapist is also a wonderful way to build trust and self-confidence. When you find the trauma therapist that’s right for you, you’ll find that you naturally build healthy attachments and positive thoughts that your past traumas may have negatively altered.

Live In The Present

Of all the core goals of trauma therapy, perhaps the most important is living a healthy and positive life in the present. All trauma-focused therapies aim to:

  • Acknowledge and accept your trauma
  • Work through your trauma, so it’s no longer crippling
  • Learn important coping mechanisms and cognitive skills for long-term improvement
  • Minimize or eliminate trauma-related symptoms
  • Give you tools that allow you to thrive in the present and not drown in your past.

If you find yourself avoiding situations that remind you of a traumatic experience, you may be experiencing symptoms of trauma. Symptoms like hypervigilance, trust issues, and anxiousness may mean that you’re carrying that past traumatic experience everywhere you go, stifling your progress towards a healthier and more productive lifestyle. Trauma-focused therapy, through well-researched and well-documented techniques, can make all the difference.

Trauma therapy isn’t right for everyone, and it does require effort on your part. Trauma therapies regularly assign ‘homework,’ a term used for practice performed outside of your sessions, making it a very hands-on form of therapy.

There is an undeniable truth for every person who has experienced a traumatic event: you deserve to be happy and feel good. Even if your traumatic experience was years ago, it’s never too late to seek a helping hand. Reach out to a therapist and find out if trauma therapy is the right option for you.

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