What Is Trauma Treatment Actually Like?
There are three phases to working through post-traumatic disorders:
- Stabilizing the person seeking treatment
- Working through the traumatic experience
- Returning to daily life and routine
The ultimate purpose of treatment is to help free an individual from the bonds of an experienced trauma and to help him or her begin to live in the here and now, based on a feeling of control and personal responsibility. In order to achieve this, several treatment methods have evolved, each suited to different individual’s personalities and the unique situation that each person is in. On this page we will give an overview of the methods found to have been most effective in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and supported by current evidence based research.
METIV’s therapists are trained in a combination of psychodynamic therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic experiencing, and EMDR. Each therapist tailors their treatment to clients’ needs. Feel free to ask us about any of these treatments, and to share your interests and/or concerns.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
As the name implies, this method deals with the person’s thoughts, emotions and beliefs as well as with his or her behavior patterns. The method is based on two main techniques:
- Cognitive Therapy — This method focuses on thoughts, emotions and beliefs, as well as the behaviors that they cause. We all have automatic thought patterns that we are usually unaware of. These patterns may interfere with our ability to see reality clearly and thus cause distress. For example: many people hurt in traffic accidents are afraid of driving their car again, because of the feeling that “it will surely happen to me again.” When we analyze this feeling, it becomes clear that in the event that the driver is careful, the chances of getting in another serious accident are not high. Cognitive therapy identifies these maladaptive thought patterns, analyzes them and offers alternative ways of thinking that are more realistic and positive. In this example, the person hurt in an accident recognizes the improbability of the scenario he or she has created and is able to construct a more realistic estimate of the risk involved in driving.
- Exposure Therapy — The second technique employed in CBT is exposure. Brave and direct confrontation occurs through exposure to material related to the traumatic event. The person visualizes the event, talks about it and exposes him- or herself, gradually to stimuli that are reminiscent of the trauma. This is repeated several times under the therapist’s supervision and in safe surroundings. Initially this will bring up strong emotions, but at a certain stage the person will become ‘accustomed’ to these thoughts and they lose a degree of their power. At this point, the traumatic memory, which was so horrific at the start of treatment, becomes a regular memory. We are all familiar with this phenomenon in our daily lives, when we need to take a test or have an interview. Initially we may be anxious and afraid, but over time — the more often we have these experiences — we discover that we can deal with this experience without fear.The difference between the exposure method and the phenomenon of recurring memories that exist in post-traumatic disorders is the degree of control. In therapy during exposure the client is the one who initiates recalling the painful event. In this way control replaces helplessness in the memory itself.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is increasingly being implemented to treat children with post-traumatic symptomatology. For additional information, click here.
EMDR — Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining
Many people when remembering a traumatic event feel as though it is happening again before their eyes. They feel as if they are continuously trapped in that moment and are unable to break free. EMDR uses bi-lateral eye movements (or other bi-lateral stimulation such as tapping) to help heal trauma. The client is asked to think of a picture, emotion or thought relating to the trauma, and at the same time watch the therapist’s finger, which is moving back and forth before the client’s eyes. It is difficult to know what factor is responsible for the efficiency of this method, but it seems that the eye movements simulate information processing that occurs naturally during sleep, and is related to memory processing responsible for the way individuals handle trauma. This well researched method has proven both effective and efficient for dealing with traumatic memories.
(More information: EMDR Institute)
SE (Somatic Experiencing)
Animals in nature live under the constant threat of predators, yet do not experience the disordered traumatic responses typical to humans. Animals likely use internal mechanisms in order to monitor and release high levels of arousal caused by behaviors such as escaping from a predator or hunter. These mechanisms provide a natural immunity to trauma and allow the animal to return to a state of equilibrium. According to this approach, humans are also born with such mechanisms but are inhibited by various thought processes. This situation prohibits the full release of survival energies after a traumatic event and so prevents a return to equilibrium. The energy remains in the body and the person is “stuck” in survival mode. The unavoidable result is the development of post-traumatic symptoms some of which are expressed by reliving the traumatic experience.
The Somatic Experiencing method focuses on the development of a new and deeper awareness of the body’s feelings. By using this awareness, building physical resources and concentrating on the body’s more delicate physical sensations, a person can reconnect to their internal immune system and release, in a gradual and controlled manner, the energies that have built up inside. This process provides significant relief from post-traumatic symptoms and a better overall feeling of well-being within a relatively short period.
(More information: Foundation for Human Enrichment)
No single medication has yet been discovered that can deal with all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are several medications that deal with specific symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, anxiety or sleep disturbances. Treatment with medication can often go hand in hand with other types of psychotherapy for most effective treatment, but is typically not recommended as a stand-alone treatment.
Group therapy provides support and encouragement for people who have gone through similar experiences. Trauma survivors sometimes feel as though society cannot understand what they have gone through; simply by being around people who have gone through similar experiences can be comforting and ease feelings of loneliness. There are groups that deal directly with trauma. In these groups each individual processes his or her personal story with the group. Other groups don’t deal with trauma directly, but focus on giving their members support and ways of coping with the aftermath of trauma.
Stress Management Techniques
Many individuals report continuous feelings of stress in the aftermath of trauma. For some of us this is expressed by overwhelming anxiety, and for others by outbursts of anger or irritability that are not easily explained. Stress may be expressed physically as well. For example, aching muscles, chronic fatigue, a fast pulse and increased feelings of alertness can all result from stress. Treatments that focus on stress management include learning methods such as relaxation or guided imagery so as to improve one’s ability to handle pressure and overwhelming physical sensations. The purpose of these techniques is to regain equilibrium in daily life, and to allow both the body and the soul to regain strength. Generally, stress management techniques may be helpful but are not sufficient in helping a trauma survivor process a traumatic event and overcome his or her post-traumatic symptoms. These techniques are therefore often used as an adjunct to some of the more specific trauma therapies listed on this page.