Is Trauma-Focused Therapy Right For Me?

By Toni Hoy|Updated September 7, 2022

Trauma-focused therapy is an informed therapy centered on helping those who have experienced trauma. This trauma-informed approach to mental health care embraces an understanding of the emotional, neurological, psychological, social, and biological effects of trauma. Through trauma-focused therapy, people who have experienced trauma can find effective ways to heal. The diagnostic and statistical manual lists several trauma-related conditions, such as PTSD and some personality disorders. However, even if you don’t have a diagnosis from private practice, if you have had an adverse childhood experience or experienced a traumatic event, you may find trauma work with a trained therapist extremely healing.

What Is Trauma?

The definition of trauma can vary for different people. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) defines trauma as: “Exposure to actual or threatened events involving death, serious injury, or sexual violation in one (or more) of the following ways:

  • Directly experiencing the events.
  • Witnessing the events in person as they occur to others.
  • Learning that the events occurred to a close family member or friend.
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to adverse details of the events."

Trauma can occur from a stressful event or a stressful series of events. Trauma can result from a one-time situation or an ongoing stressor. It is generally a pervasive problem that can leave long-term effects on a person’s functioning and/or emotional, physical, or social well-being. A person who experiences trauma may lose their sense of security, feel helpless, and experience mental health concerns and relationship challenges.

Trauma can occur for many reasons. It can come about after physical danger or harm, being close to physical danger or harm, emotional harm, or from witnessing or perhaps even hearing of frightening physical or emotional threats or other traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences may include (but aren’t limited to) childhood neglect; sudden separation from a loved one; poverty; violence in the community; war; terrorism; living with someone who experiences unmanaged substance misuse or mental health disorders; and experiences of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse.

Trauma Can Feel Like A Constant Weight You Carry Around - Don't Let It

If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced relationship abuse or domestic violence, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free and confidential and offers support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text “START” to 88788 or use the live chat option on the website at The Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse.

Another resource is the Crisis Text Line, which can connect anyone in crisis with a crisis counselor; text “HELLO” to 741741 from the U.S. anytime, day or night.

What Are The Effects Of Trauma?

The effects of trauma can be immediate and long term. Effects may include shock and denial, unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, feeling “wrong,” an inability to feel comfortable, and relationship challenges, as well as physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches. Those who have experienced trauma may also feel confusion, exhaustion, anxiety, sadness, anger, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal, numbness, and more. They may misuse drugs or alcohol and develop other unhealthy coping skills. They may also have difficulty with jobs, school, relationships, and other responsibilities and life events.

People who have had traumatic experiences as children or adults can also be very resilient, though, and develop a sense of perseverance and strength in ability in the face of challenges. They can learn coping strategies and healthy ways to manage and move beyond distress and understand their emotions. Healing from trauma and living a fulfilling life can be a reality if you are able to engage in therapeutic practices and work hard.

Remember, trauma-informed therapy can feel scary to someone with a trauma history. Not all therapists are trained in trauma-informed care, so it’s essential to find trauma-informed therapists who have had the necessary training to help the client. If trauma therapy is done incorrectly, it could feel re-traumatizing, even from the first session. Your trauma-informed therapists should not assume that clients are ready for something without first asking their consent to speak about what happened. Not everyone will want or need to open up about the deep details of the event to find healing. Medical reviewers have found that trauma healing can still be helpful without reliving the event.

What Are The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): Childhood trauma is often referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). An adverse childhood experience can have serious, long-term effects on the developing brains of children. Research has shown that the more a child is exposed to stress and trauma, the greater their risk for chronic health conditions and risky behaviors may be.

Brain development: When the brain is developing during a child’s early years, trauma can negatively impact areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions, such as emotional regulation and short-term memory. During times of stress, the body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Repeated or prolonged exposure to these hormones can be associated with poor brain development in early childhood. Exactly how the stress from trauma affects the development of the brain or DNA is not yet fully understood. For the well-being of a child who has experienced trauma, it can be important to know that there may be some protective factors to help limit negative effects. Having a loving caregiver who helps a child feel safe is an example of a protective factor.

Adults who experienced trauma as children: Trauma experienced in childhood can have lasting effects. The brains of adults who experienced trauma in childhood may be primed to deal to with consistent stress. These adults may find it is particularly challenging to respond to life’s experiences. They may be more likely to live with depression, anxiety, and problems with emotional regulation. This can affect physical, emotional, and mental well-being, functioning at school and work, and relationships.

What Is Trauma-Focused Therapy And How Can It Help?

Understanding trauma-focused therapy: Trauma-focused therapy can bring together an expert understanding of the effects of trauma with compassionate therapeutic tools to address thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that may result from trauma. Trauma therapy aims to be safe and supportive so that a sense of safety can be restored. Avoiding re-traumatization is a priority in trauma-focused therapy. A therapist and client can work together to understand the traumatic experience in a safe way, often without retelling details of painful traumatic experiences until the client feels safe and ready to do so.

In therapy, you may look at your own resiliency and strengths and work on ways to use them to manage the effects of trauma. You may learn ways to view the world and your place in it more positively. You may work on self-regulation. You may learn effective behaviors and thoughts to help you cope with health concerns—both physical and emotional—that can result from trauma. You may focus on how to manage the physical and mental effects of frequently being on high alert or experiencing toxic stress.

Trauma-informed care: Trauma-informed care, sometimes called trauma-informed therapy, is a broader approach to treating individuals that seeks to understand a person’s entire situation—past and present—when providing them with care. It may include trauma-focused therapy but is often a more holistic approach. Trauma-informed care can help those who have experienced trauma to develop and maintain a healthy connection with their trauma-informed therapist or mental health care providers, which can improve outcomes.

Strategies For Managing The Effects Of Trauma

If trauma is affecting you and your life, consider seeking help from a trauma-informed therapist or another healthcare provider trained in trauma-informed care. Also, know that there are effective ways to heal and move forward. Strategies for coping and support include:

Connecting with a licensed mental health professional: Therapy with a trauma informed therapist or other licensed mental health professional who is experienced in trauma-related concerns and treatment can be very helpful to get you on a path towards healing.

Following your treatment plan: Your healthcare providers can help you develop an individualized treatment plan. A medical doctor trained in the trauma informed approach may prescribe medication that can be effective for managing symptoms of depression and anxiety, for instance. A therapist can help you with a plan for recovery. It’s important to stick with your treatment plan. If you have concerns or questions about it, please talk to your healthcare providers. They are there to support you and can help you find what works best for you.

Some clients find that in-person therapy doesn’t work best for trauma healing. If you’re interested in online therapy, insurance plans like Kaiser Permanente Insurance even cover telehealth therapy. Many online portals also offer lower rates than in-person therapists.

 Taking care of yourself: Self-care can be an important part of healing and managing physical and mental health concerns. Self-care includes restful, regular sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, and relaxation.

 Staying connected with supportive people: Spending time with people who are caring and supportive can help with healing and comfort. You don’t have to talk about trauma or treatment with them. You can simply enjoy time with them, which can be very helpful.

 Trying tips to interrupt negative thoughts and anxious feelings: For instance, you might try taking a walk, talking to a friend, listening to music, trying a hobby, watching an entertaining TV show or movie, or tackling something at home that will make you feel better or in control, like cooking a nourishing meal or even decluttering.

 Avoiding self-medicating, such as misusing drugs and alcohol: Trying to numb feelings or escape with drugs and alcohol can harm physical and mental health and interfere with recovery.

Trauma Can Feel Like A Constant Weight You Carry Around - Don't Let It

Is Trauma-Focused Therapy Right For Me?

If you have experienced trauma in your life, trauma informed therapy can help you learn to decrease the symptoms and develop healthy coping skills in a safe, supportive environment. A trauma informed approach can help learn to think in more compassionate and positive ways about yourself, others, and the world. A therapist can help you learn skills to address your symptoms and to manage them if they arise again. If you are experiencing issues that can stem from trauma, such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse, or relationship concerns, a therapist can help you manage the conditions.

You can begin your journey to mental wellness with BetterHelp. A recent analysis looked at how effective online trauma-focused therapy was for military members, veterans, and public safety personnel. Looking at 38 studies, the authors found that online trauma-focused therapy was just as effective as face-to-face therapy. Through BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed mental health professional who can work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. Hope and healing can be realities for you. Compassionate, safe, professional care is available to help you recover and lead a healthy, positive life.

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