How Does Trauma Therapy Work?

Author Tracy Smith
Updated on December 6, 2020

Trauma can encompass many different situations including abuse, neglect, accident, loss, or natural events. 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.

Trauma Therapy

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

A situation is not classified as traumatic if a person can effectively cope so that it is not 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 to process their traumatic experience by helping them to identify triggers, to understand their reactions, and to acquire coping mechanisms to help them to manage thoughts and feelings.

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

Despite the fact that just about any treatment approach can be used to treat trauma, there are three specific types of therapies that have proven to be the most efficacious, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT), 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 to address thoughts related to a traumatic event and to educate about trauma overall and its wide impact. A person is instructed about relaxation methods and coping techniques to help them with symptom management. TFCBT 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 therapy has strong roots in psychoanalysis and mostly pertains to the underlying, unconscious mind. Psychodynamic therapy helps a person to connect and process unconscious thoughts with the goal of gaining insight into their symptoms and into the larger traumatic event. Free association techniques are used and defense mechanisms are identified to help a person to resolve inner conflicts.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) seeks to help people to 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, an individual 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, to understand symptoms related to trauma, and to acquire important coping skills to help them to move forward.

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.