What Is Trauma Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
Updated February 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Trauma is an intense emotional response to a disturbing experience that impacts or threatens your mental health, physical body, or life. The response may initially lead to shock and denial, with long-term reactions such as flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, or physical symptoms such as headaches. If you have experienced a traumatic event, you are not alone. Online therapy, support groups, and other treatment programs are available to help you find constructive ways to manage the emotions associated with trauma. This article will explore how trauma can affect you, different therapy options, and how you can find treatment.

Trauma Can Affect Your Life In Many Ways

How Trauma Affects The Brain

A traumatic experience activates the body's stress response, which involves the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex of the brain. These areas of the brain can experience lasting changes in those who experience traumatic stress. For example, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses to stress.

The prefrontal cortex is associated with decision-making, planning, social behavior, and self-expression. Following a traumatic event, people with PTSD often show decreased prefrontal cortex functioning. In addition, they might develop increased function in the amygdala, which is related to processing threatening stimuli and fear-related behavior. 

These changes may lead to a range of reactions. For example, suppose you remember your traumatic event, and your amygdala becomes overactive. In this case, your brain may become hypervigilant and on high alert to ensure you're safe from danger. This response is natural when someone has experienced trauma and is one example of the effects that might result from traumatic stress.

What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma-focused therapy is provided by a mental health professional who specializes in treating individuals who have experienced trauma. This therapy addresses the needs and symptoms common in those who deal with traumatic stress, which may impact your mood, sleep, or ability to cope healthily.

A trauma-informed therapist assists affected individuals in managing trauma resulting from a traumatic event. A traumatic event can include anything an individual perceives as a threat to their mental well-being, physical body, or life.  

However, note that “trauma therapy” does not refer to one specific treatment type. Instead, therapists may use a range of treatments for various trauma-related conditions.

Many therapists will assess the individual patient to decide which type(s) of therapy may provide the most effective treatment. 

When searching for a trauma-informed therapist, don't be afraid to ask what types of therapy they specialize in, how they will create your trauma-focused treatment plan, and what to expect from the course of treatment. 

Trauma-Informed Therapy Can Help 

If you've undergone a traumatic event or think you might have signs of traumatic stress, trauma-informed therapy may help you begin to process your experiences. Talking about your pain and exploring disturbing events in your past can help you address memories and live an empowering, fulfilled life. 

There are many kinds of therapy, but trauma-focused treatment focuses on helping people who have experienced frightening events, psychological harm, and subsequent personality changes or physical symptoms.

With the help of a therapist who specializes in trauma, you can take steps to heal and move forward with your life. You might prefer to find a trauma therapist in your local area or seek the help of one online.

Internet-based treatment for PTSD and other trauma responses can effectively manage distress and related conditions like depression and anxiety. 

Benefits And Goals Of Trauma-Informed Therapy

Trauma Can Affect Your Life In Many Ways

Trauma-informed professionals, including social workers, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, can help you work through symptoms of traumatic stress, such as: 

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories (e.g., flashbacks, involuntary memories, or distressing dreams)

  • Avoidance coping (e.g., avoiding memories, places, or activities associated with the traumatic event)

  • Cognition and mood changes (e.g., ongoing fear, self-blame, guilt, shame, or feeling detached)

  • Arousal and reactivity changes (e.g., angry outbursts, irritability, or trouble concentrating)

Working with an informed therapist may help you become aware of your trauma symptoms, triggers, and reactions. You can also work with your therapist to identify a list of goals for your treatment, which can help you track your progress. 

Here are examples of common goals in trauma-informed therapy:

  • To successfully accept the reality of the traumatic event that occurred in the past.

  • To eliminate or ease the symptoms of trauma.

  • To shift your focus from the past traumatic event to what's happening in the present. 

  • To boost day-to-day functioning. 

  • To understand potential intergenerational traumas.

  • To regain personal power and self-esteem. 

  • To overcome addictions caused by traumatic stress.

  • To learn the skills needed to help prevent deterioration or relapse.

If your goals differ from those listed above, talk to your therapist about including them. Trauma-informed therapy is an individual experience, and you have the right to work toward any personal goals that you believe might help you heal. Whether you're working through flashbacks, guilt, fear, or another trauma response, trauma-oriented therapy aims to use psychotherapy methods to treat these responses and provide relief.

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

At BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed online therapist who specializes in helping those who have experienced traumatic events. You can speak with a professional based on your needs and preferences and schedule flexible online sessions via phone, video, or in-app messaging. Since web-based therapy can take place anywhere you feel comfortable and have a reliable internet connection, you may feel more comfortable talking about what you’re facing using this method. 

The Efficacy Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be an effective tool for overcoming traumatic experiences. One study assessed the efficacy of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy on youth belonging to underserved groups. Researchers found that the telehealth intervention “demonstrated clinically meaningful symptom change posttreatment,” including a caregiver-reported reduction in posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. These findings effectively show the comparability of web-based treatments to in-person interventions for managing trauma-related symptoms and mental health disorders.

Below are reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people with similar experiences. 

Counselor Reviews

“Grant pulled me out of the worst depression I ever had. Having been a survivor of complex trauma, I thought I had the tools necessary to continue my resilience, but I didn’t. I look forward to our sessions, and I always feel accomplished after. Thank you Grant!”

Grant Rubendunst, LMHC

“When I started therapy I explained to Jodie that there were specific practical steps that I needed to address, as well as unpicking of traumas. She has been skilled at allowing me to balance both, without feeling capsized by either one. She is positive and professional, caring and empowering. Highly recommend.”

Jodie Spradlin, LMSW

Takeaway

A licensed trauma-informed therapist can help you determine suitable treatment methods for your trauma symptoms, and they will not ask you to pursue treatments that you're uncomfortable with. Instead, your therapist can provide support as you talk through your trauma, learn about yourself, and explore means of treatment that help you begin to move forward. If you’re dealing with shame related to your traumatic experiences, online therapy may provide a safe environment in which you can be more open and honest.

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