Is Trauma-Focused Therapy Right For Me?

Updated January 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Trauma-focused therapy is a 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. The diagnostic and statistical manual lists several trauma-related conditions, such as PTSD. 

What Is Trauma?

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.

  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to adverse details of the events."

Trauma can come about after experiencing physical, emotional, or psychological danger or harm. Even being close to or witnessing these sorts of experiences can lead to the development of trauma. 

Common examples of potentially traumatic experiences may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Childhood neglect

  • Sudden separation from a loved one

  • Poverty, food insecurity 

  • Violence in the community

  • Living with someone who experiences unmanaged substance use or mental health disorders 

  • Experiences of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. *

*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 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 TheHotline.org. 

Have You Experienced Trauma Or Its Effects?

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.

Regardless of its origin, trauma is generally a pervasive problem that can leave long-term effects on a person’s functioning and/or emotional, physical, or social well-being.

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

  • Physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches

  • Confusion

  • Exhaustion, fatigue

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Risky behavior, such as use of illicit substances, alcohol, or tobacco

The toll that trauma can take on an individual’s wellbeing is often significant. However, people who have had traumatic experiences can also be very resilient, though, and develop a sense of perseverance and strength in ability in the face of challenges. Healing from trauma and living a fulfilling life can be a reality.

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 control 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. 

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 control. 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?

Trauma-focused therapy is typically conducted by an expert who understands the effects of trauma and utilizes compassionate therapeutic tools to address thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that may come with it. 

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.

Exactly which techniques are used to achieve these goals can depend on the situation, the professional, and the patient. Trauma-based work might involve processing the event itself in a safe space, working to understand triggers, and boosting your own sense of self-worth, among other things.

In therapy, you may look at your own resiliency and strengths to work on ways to use them to manage the effects of trauma. Likewise, you may learn ways to view the world and your place in it more positively. A mental health professional with the right knowledge can help you learn effective strategies to manage the challenges you might encounter, confront trauma, and begin to move past it.

Online therapy makes it particularly easy to connect with a professional who understands what you’ve experienced. Because you can receive the care you deserve with just a few clicks, it can be incredibly convenient to use web-based options when pursuing trauma-focused therapy.

Research show that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional counseling for treating symptoms of mental health disorders and the effects of trauma. One study found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses, including PTSD. 

More 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:

Taking care of yourself: Self-care can be an important part of healing and managing physical and mental health concerns. Examples of self-care might include prioritizing 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. 

Trying tips to interrupt negative thoughts and anxious feelings: For instance, you might try taking a walk, talking to a friend, listening to music, watching an entertaining TV, or tackling something at home.

Avoiding self-medicating, such as misusing drugs and alcohol: Trying to numb feelings with the help of substances can harm physical and mental health in the long run, which overall may interfere with recovery.

Have You Experienced Trauma Or Its Effects?

Takeaway

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.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

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