How Does Trauma Therapy Work?

Author Tracy Smith
Updated on May 6, 2024

Trauma therapy refers to the various psychotherapy treatments for helping individuals manage the intense emotional response triggered by experiences of extreme fear, stress, or danger. Such responses can include irritability, guilt, shame, flashbacks, emotional distress, difficulty sleeping, and many more. For those who have experienced trauma, support groups and counseling, such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, are some options that can help cope with emotions and symptoms.

Traumatic event

Trauma can encompass many different situations including abuse, neglect, accident, loss, or natural disasters. One’s reaction to trauma is subjective and based largely on personal experience. What might be traumatic to one person may not be at all distressing to another. This has to do largely with an individual’s unique experiences, personalities, and mechanisms for coping.

A traumatic event has two important components to it: the first is the trauma and the second is one’s reaction to it. Trauma can be defined as any type of situation or event that threatens one’s physical and emotional well-being.

A situation is not classified as traumatic unless the person cannot effectively cope to the extent that it is deemed as threatening. Trauma therapy is a type of treatment that assists people in overcoming traumatic episodes. It is geared to help when one’s capacity to cope is besieged by terror and dread.

Trauma Therapy Treatment Types

There are a variety of therapy modalities and interventions that can be used alone or in conjunction with one another in treating trauma victims. Trauma therapy helps a person process their traumatic experience by helping them to identify triggers, understand their reactions, and acquire coping mechanisms to help them manage thoughts and feelings.

Trauma therapy helps individuals to come to grips with the fact that the trauma took place and works to help them move past it. It seeks to help people to lessen or remove symptoms and to shift their attention from the past into the present. The goal is to help people regain a sense of power, acquire new mechanisms of coping, and eliminate negative behaviors about traumatic stressors.

Even though just about any treatment approach can be used to treat trauma, three specific types of therapies have proven to be the most effective, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).


Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically used for people struggling with trauma. This therapy is specifically targeted to help individuals address thoughts related to a traumatic event and to generally educate them about trauma and its impact. The patient is instructed about relaxation methods and coping techniques to help them with symptom management. TF-CBT helps the sufferer to process thoughts and feelings related to their experience via a trauma narrative, which is a mechanism to help them tell their story.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy has strong roots in psychoanalysis and mostly pertains to the underlying, unconscious mind. It helps the patient to connect and process unconscious thoughts to gain insight into their symptoms and the larger traumatic event. Free association techniques are used and defense mechanisms are identified to help the person resolve inner conflicts.


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) seeks to help people process trauma in more favorable ways. This type of therapy attempts to obliterate blockages in the mind so that a person can work towards optimal mental health. An outside stimulus is utilized to prompt attention externally while one processes the trauma. In the latter part of the session, the patient is instructed to retain an aspect of their story while tracking movements with their eyes.

Whatever therapeutic modality is used, trauma therapy helps a person to work through traumatic events, understand symptoms related to trauma, and acquire important coping skills to help them move forward.

In Summary

Trauma therapy can be a crucial step in the healing process for individuals who have experienced trauma. It involves a range of evidence-based approaches, such as CBT, EMDR, and psychodynamic therapy, that aim to help individuals process and integrate their traumatic experiences in a safe and supportive environment. By addressing the root causes of trauma, trauma therapy can help individuals improve their mental health and overall well-being. While the journey toward healing may be challenging, trauma therapy offers a path toward a future of inner peace and wellness.


Author Tracy Smith

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for a Community YMCA. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents.

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