According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident or natural disaster.” A person may experience trauma from many different kinds of events that feels emotionally or physically threatening or harmful to them. What is traumatic to one person may not be to another.
Many feelings arise from traumatic events such as shock, hypervigilance, increased anxiety, depression, and feeling triggered by outside stimuli that often feels “out of nowhere”. Sometimes a person will feel as though their ability to survive is threatened and will feel too scared to leave their home or they may stay up all night in case something bad happens. These responses can lead to feeling helpless, which can be improved greatly with therapy.
There are many modes of therapy that can support the person working through traumatic experiences. It is important to ask about these types of therapy when seeking a clinician that is right for you. When a clinician is chosen, creating connection and a trustworthy relationship with that person is the key to continued success. Often those who have experienced a traumatic experience report feeling unsafe. When connection and trustworthiness is established, increased feelings of safety can be achieved allowing for an improved therapeutic process.
Types of therapeutic modalities that can benefit may include but are not limited to:
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR therapy is a phased, and focused approach to treating symptoms related to traumatic experiences by reconnecting the client to the images, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations in a safe manner. This process allows the brain to move toward more adaptive ways of thinking so that daily functioning is not impaired. This form of psychotherapy was developed by Francine Shapiro starting in 1988. In order for a clinician to utilize EMDR, they must go through extensive training.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a common type of talk therapy that is considered a psychosocial intervention that focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive thoughts that are often distorted and can result in unhealthy behaviors.
Expressive arts such as music and art therapy
Trauma is a sensory experience and is primarily stored in the sensory networks of the brain and the body that can result in extreme dysregulation. Often trauma triggers include, but are not limited to, sounds, smells, touch, things seen, and even how something tastes. Music and art therapy provide sensory experiences that can allow for the brain and body to process and utilize its sensory system in a more adaptive manner.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that aims to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others.
Children communicate through play and can become emotionally engaged and better regulated when engaged. Often play will be repetitive and predictable from the clinician’s perspective. The process may also feel slow from the guardian and the clinician’s perspective. However, it is important to trust the process due to the child’s ability to learn how to regulate, express language, be creative, experience abstract thought and prosocial behaviors.
All of these forms of therapy improve emotional regulation and the development of personal coping strategies that improve overall health and well-being. It is also important to note the therapeutic process can be very slow and depends on the person being treated. The best thing to do is build a trusting relationship with your clinician and trust the therapeutic process. We’re here to help.
Amber Cook, LMFT, MT-BC, is a clinic therapist with Tanager Place.