Trauma Therapy: Choosing the Perfect Therapist for You

12 minutes Written by Megan Cornish

Trauma can be absolutely debilitating. When you experience trauma, the experience isn’t just something that “happened” to you, but it becomes something that is continuously “happening” to you. Your mind and body become stuck in the traumatic event, and without help, they aren’t able to move back into a sense of safety in the present moment.

For people who have gone through distressing events and are looking for support, understanding the basics of trauma and its treatment options is key. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at trauma, its symptoms, and effective treatment methods.

To help you understand the various types of trauma, we’ll examine what a trauma-causing event might look like. Then, we’ll delve into common symptoms associated with traumatization such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, isolation, flashbacks, and nightmares.

Next, we’ll cover evidence-based treatment methods that have been found effective like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure. Finally, we’ll give you tips on finding a therapist who’s right for you.

Types of Trauma

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM, is a guide used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders. In its latest version, the DSM-5, a new category titled “Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders,” addresses trauma issues.

The category includes diagnoses such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder, and Adjustment Disorders. These diagnoses aim to capture the range of experiences that can cause psychological responses to traumatic or stressful events. Even though there are limited events that can officially result in PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder diagnosis, the third diagnosis, Adjustment Disorder, can cover any stressful event.

It’s important to note that the term “trauma” can mean different things in different situations. Mental health professionals use the term in a clinical sense to refer to a specific set of very serious circumstances, such as car accidents or sexual abuse. However, in everyday language, the term “trauma” has come to be used more broadly to describe any difficult or painful experience. 

In this blog post, we’ll be using the term “trauma” in its more broad sense, to encompass any distressing or overwhelming experience that can have a lasting impact on a person’s well-being. We recognize that in this definition, trauma is subjective and can manifest in a variety of ways. Our goal is to provide helpful insights and strategies for anyone who may be struggling with the effects of trauma or stressful events in their lives.

Depending on what type of trauma you’re facing, you’re going to need different treatments and support in order to recover. There are three different kinds of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex—which can be distinguished this way:

Acute Trauma

Trauma that is acute is the result of a single, isolated event—for example, a car accident, natural disaster, or violent attack. This type of trauma can cause immediate and intense psychological and emotional reactions, including shock, disbelief, and fear. 

Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma occurs when an individual is exposed to multiple traumatic events over a prolonged period, such as in cases of ongoing abuse, repeated assaults, or living in a war zone. In chronic trauma, the individual’s exposure to trauma is persistent and often involves a significant degree of helplessness, entrapment, or powerlessness.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma refers to the exposure to multiple, severe, and often interpersonal traumas, usually beginning in early childhood. This type of trauma is often experienced within the context of an ongoing relationship or significant attachment, such as with a caregiver or parent. 

Regardless of the type of trauma experienced, it is crucial for survivors to seek professional help from therapists or counselors who specialize in trauma treatment. By doing so, they can begin their journey towards healing and recovery. 

Key Takeaway: 

Trauma encompasses distressing or overwhelming experiences that impact an individual’s well-being and can be classified as acute, chronic, or complex. Each type of trauma requires tailored treatments and support for recovery. Seeking professional help from therapists or counselors specializing in trauma treatment is crucial for healing and recovery.

Symptoms of Traumatization

An important first step to managing trauma is recognizing the common symptoms associated with traumatization and how they manifest differently for everyone. Knowing these signs can help you get the help you need.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Feeling anxious can be a normal reaction to certain situations, however when it becomes extreme or continuous, it might be a symptom of trauma. Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, intrusive thoughts, fear, or nervousness that interferes with daily life activities. Sudden bouts of intense fear, accompanied by physical sensations such as accelerated heart rate, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, and shaking can occur in panic attacks.

Depression and Isolation

Trauma survivors often experience feelings of sadness or hopelessness that persist over time—a condition known as depression. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have difficulty concentrating on tasks at hand. Additionally, individuals dealing with trauma might isolate themselves from friends and family due to feelings of shame or guilt related to their experiences. Here are some classic signs of depression:

  • Mood changes: Persistent low mood or irritability.
  • Lack of energy: Fatigue even after getting enough sleep.
  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping.)
  • Appetite changes: Overeating leading to weight gain; loss of appetite leading to weight loss.
  • Feelings of worthlessness: Negative thoughts about oneself and one’s abilities.

Flashbacks, Intrusive Memories, “Triggers”, and Nightmares

Flashbacks, intrusive memories, triggers and nightmares are a key feature of trauma, and must occur for a diagnosis of PTSD to be given.

  • Flashbacks are vivid, involuntary memories of traumatic events that can feel as if they are happening in the present moment. They may be triggered by sensory cues or seemingly unrelated situations, causing intense emotional distress for the individual experiencing them. 
  • Intrusive memories, on the other hand, can take many forms, such as sudden and unwanted images, thoughts, or feelings related to the traumatic event. 
  • “Triggers” are the slang term for what the DSM calls an “intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.” They are environmental or internal cues that activate traumatic memories or emotional states related to the traumatic event. 
  • Nightmares related to trauma often involve themes of helplessness, danger, or loss of control and can lead to sleep disturbances over time.

If you or someone close to you displays any of the above signs, it may be time to seek professional help from a trauma specialist. With the right treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), individuals can learn effective coping strategies for managing their trauma symptoms and work towards healing from their experiences.

Key Takeaway: 

Survivors of trauma can often experience feelings of unease, sadness, detachment, shifts in disposition, exhaustion and sleeping issues. Flashbacks, intrusive memories, and nightmares can also be common. Seeking help from a mental health therapist who specializes in trauma therapy is important for individuals to learn effective coping strategies and work towards healing from their experiences.

Types of Trauma Therapy

Therapies such as CBT, EMDR and DBT are proven to assist individuals in managing or resolving their trauma-related symptoms. Each type works differently and can be effective in helping individuals manage their trauma-related symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a widely-used form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns related to traumatic experiences. By addressing these thoughts, CBT helps patients develop healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety, depression, or other emotional responses triggered by the traumatic event. By employing CBT, individuals can learn to manage their emotional responses triggered by a traumatic event.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a unique therapeutic technique designed specifically for treating trauma-related disorders like PTSD. EMDR involves having the patient recall distressing or painful memories while performing specific eye movements guided by the therapist. The goal is to reduce the intensity of emotions associated with these memories over time so that they no longer cause significant distress or impairment in daily life.

Prolonged Exposure

Prolonged Exposure (PE) is an evidence-based treatment for trauma-related disorders like PTSD, focusing on gradually confronting and processing traumatic memories. The approach incorporates psychoeducation, breathing retraining, in vivo exposure, imaginal exposure, and cognitive processing. PE helps patients reduce the intensity of negative emotions, gain control over their reactions, and break the cycle of avoidance.

Key Takeaway: 

This section provides an overview of different types of trauma therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns related to traumatic experiences, EMDR involves guided eye movements to reduce the intensity of emotions associated with distressing memories, while Prolonged Exposure focuses on gradually confronting and processing traumatic memories.

Finding the Right Therapist for You

Finding a therapist that you connect and feel comfortable with is key to the success of your treatment experience. In this section, we will discuss how to find the right trauma therapist by figuring out your goals for treatment, researching different therapists in your area or online, and asking the right questions to make sure you feel comfortable with your choice.

Consider Your Needs and Goals for Treatment

Before beginning to look for a trauma specialist, you need to decide what you want to accomplish through therapy. Common goals include:

  • Developing coping strategies for managing symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • Processing traumatic memories and reducing their impact on daily life
  • Improving relationships with family members or partners affected by trauma-related issues
  • Gaining insight into patterns of behavior that contribute to ongoing distress

Knowing what you want out of therapy will help you select a therapist who can help you with those specific goals.

Research Different Therapists in Your Area or Online

The next step is finding potential therapists who specialize in treating trauma-related issues. Mental Health Match’s directory of licensed professionals is a helpful resource that offers both in-person and online services. Many of the therapists on Mental Health Match offer therapy tailored specifically towards individuals dealing with PTSD, relationship difficulties due directly related traumas like abuse/neglect during childhood years, and other trauma related issues (Mental Health Match Directory.)

You can browse profiles based on whatever factors feel important to you, including gender identity, race, ethnicity, location proximity, accessibility options (e.g., teletherapy availability) among others. Mental Health Match allows users the ability to select someone they believe will best fit their unique circumstances.

Ask Questions to Ensure You Feel Comfortable with Your Choice of Therapist

Once you have identified potential therapists, it’s important to ask questions and gather information about their approach to trauma therapy. This can help you make sure that you will feel safe, comfortable, and confident in your choice of therapist. Some questions you might consider asking include:

  • What is your experience working with clients who have experienced similar traumas?
  • Which types of trauma treatment do you specialize in (e.g., CBT, EMDR, etc)?
  • How do you create a safe and supportive environment for clients during sessions?
  • What is the typical length and frequency of treatment for someone dealing with my specific issues?

Taking the time to find a therapist who understands your needs and goals can make all the difference when embarking on your journey towards healing from trauma.

Key Takeaway: 

Discovering the correct trauma therapist necessitates reflecting on your therapy needs and objectives, researching potential therapists in-person or online, and inquiring questions to guarantee you are content with your selection. Mental Health Match’s directory can be a helpful resource for finding licensed professionals who specialize in treating trauma-related issues. Asking potential therapists about their experience working with similar traumas and their approach to creating a safe environment during sessions can help ensure a successful therapeutic experience.

Frequently Asked Questions Trauma Therapy

What therapy approach is best for trauma?

The most effective therapy approach for trauma varies depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. Some common approaches include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure. It is essential to work with a qualified therapist who can tailor their treatment methods to your specific situation.

How effective is therapy for trauma?

Trauma-focused therapies have been proven to be highly effective in treating symptoms of traumatization, such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and nightmares. However, the effectiveness of therapy depends on factors like the severity of trauma experienced, client engagement in treatment, and the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist. Research about PTSD has shown that early intervention can lead to better outcomes.

What is the importance of trauma therapy?

Trauma therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals process traumatic experiences by addressing emotional pain caused by events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope. Through various therapeutic techniques tailored specifically towards dealing with traumatic memories or triggers, trauma-informed care aims at promoting healing from past traumas while improving overall mental health.

Conclusion

The journey to recovery from trauma can be difficult, but with the right therapist and treatment plan tailored to your needs, you can find healing. Trauma therapy can provide you a way to process and move past your traumatic and stressful experiences.

Take control of your mental health today by finding a therapist or counselor to help you work through trauma and take a step towards a brighter future.

Avatar Megan Cornish

Written by Megan Cornish

Megan Cornish is a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Megan Cornish Marketing. She works with mental health companies on content and copy, making sure everything is engaging and clinically sound.