Have you struggled with a traumatic event in your past? Does your traumatic experience(s) seem to be holding you back from getting what you want out of life? When you have a feeling that just doesn’t sit well, it’s almost impossible to go through your day without that feeling interrupting. It’s almost as if a grey cloud is hovering above you and following you around. You start to feel bad about yourself, super sad, and unmotivated to do anything.
You tend to be your own worst enemy.
You may let your thoughts talk yourself out of doing something you’ve been wanting to do. Or, you may start arguments you don’t mean to start and later feel sorry for.
You’re not sure what is going on and you know you haven’t been yourself for a while but you’re motivated for a change.
Gain insights into your patterns.
Your mood can shift for various reasons. You’ve had a tough few months at your job, your relationship is struggling, or maybe you’re just not where you want to be. Mood changes often come with behavior changes. These can be so subtle you barely notice them. A change in temperament, canceling your gym membership, or staying in on the weekends are just a few examples of things people start to do when they experience mood issues. You tell yourself you had a bad day at work, or you can work out at home – that the cost isn’t worth it anymore, or all of the places you used to go out to are boring now.
You rationalize your behavior changes, which keeps you stuck and unmotivated.
What you really need is to understand the underlying issue – Trauma.
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. It can happen in a split second or over a long period of time. You may have experienced a car crash or had something happen to you at work. Or, maybe, you’re just getting out of an abusive relationship, or have had long-term issues within your relationship with your mother or father stemming from childhood trauma. Whatever the experience was that you register as trauma, therapy can help.
The fact is, that your body and mind hold onto trauma in a way that can be detrimental to your livelihood and overall well-being. It may change your overall mood, how your body fights off illness or stores physical tension and pain, how well you sleep, or your appetite.
You’re not alone. At The Better You Institute, our experienced mental health professionals are here to help the ones struggling with the painful emotions and thoughts that follow traumatic events.
Trauma-focused therapy is a form of counseling used to treat those affected by a significant event or difficult situation that a person has gone through in their lifetime.
Have You Experienced a Traumatic Event?
Many people think that trauma can only be caused by experiencing extreme traumatic events such as natural disasters or violent crimes. However, there are many other types of traumas. For example, whenever you experience a sudden, unexpected event that overwhelms your ability to function in the way you’d like, the event will likely have long-lasting effects. Or there may be smaller events that happen over an extended period that leave you less capable of functioning in the world the way you’d like to.
Types of Traumatic Experiences
Trauma can occur as a consequence of being a victim or witness of:
- Physical assaults (mugging, sexual assault, domestic violence)
- Emotional abuse
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters (fire, flood, tsunami)
- Life-threatening sickness, illness, or injury
- Childhood neglect or abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)
- Combat zones or attacks
- Unintended pregnancy
- Kidnapping, hostage situations, and terrorism
- The sudden death of a family member or loved one
In some cases, physical or emotional trauma can result in PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, Acute Stress Disorder, Sexual functioning issues, or issues due to the brain’s stress response system over functioning.
Trauma can also be caused by events that add up over time, resulting in a person who has distorted functioning in the world
- Getting talked over in your family system when telling a story
- Not having your caretakers show up to your high school events
- Your parents being late for everything
- Never hearing “I love you” by caretakers
- Receiving little to no physical touch (hugging, cuddling, holding hands) when growing up
- Never being allowed to take risks (over parented)
- Being allowed to take too many risks (under parented)
- Wondering how you are going to eat
- Never having hardships/ caretakers always taking care of difficult things
- Lack of modeling of financially healthy decisions
- Little to no space for self-expression
- Not being able to quit
- Not being held accountable
- Being held to certain standards with no reward for reaching said standards
- Not having enough positive reinforcement and praise
- Having too much positive reinforcement and praise
- Negative messaging surrounding interests
- Negative messaging surrounding life status – “your diabetes medication is so expensive,” “you’re always the more difficult one, aren’t you,” “If you just like your brother/sister, then you’d .”
These traumas may not cause diagnosable PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, etc., but they will cause issues in your ability to have healthy interactions as an adult. For example, you may find yourself being more passive in social circles, leaving you feeling steamrolled. You may find yourself getting into relationships you know aren’t good for you, but you stay in them anyway because you’re desperately seeking love. In contrast, you may find yourself not wanting any relationships and feeling like you’re better off on your own.
Unfortunately, while growing up, you may have received what seems like small messages, but these add up over time. Before you know it, you’re an adult with a storybook of how the world looks and who you supposedly are. However, this story is distorted. For example, it has you pinned as a small, meek person where everyone else towers over you. Or your account has you falsely feeling like you know everything, but when you face adversity, you find yourself with no tools or skills to get through it—leaving you helpless and devastated.
When you explore these traumatic messages that you received growing up, you will see what ideas about yourself and the world work for you and which ones hinder you. To live a whole life, you want to strike a balance between confidence and humility.
Some Statistics on Trauma (as of December 2021)
Did you know that nearly 70 percent of Americans will experience at least one traumatic event in their life that impacts them in a traumatic way? And about 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point during their life.
Furthermore, there is evidence that maltreated children are highly likely to develop PTSD. For example, researchers found that 78% to 90% of abused children will develop PTSD, about half within six months after the abuse and 60% within 12 months.
Additionally, about 10% of cancer patients develop PTSD within 4-8 months after diagnosis.
What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after you’ve been through a traumatic event. Trauma occurs after experiencing a traumatic event that causes you to feel intense fear, helplessness, overwhelmed, numbness, disassociated, or horror.
In PTSD, memories of the traumatic event remain vivid and intrusive through thoughts or dreams. Sometimes, a person may experience flashbacks, vivid memories of the traumatic event coming to the forefront of their brain.
Signs and Symptoms of Trauma
After the traumatic event, trauma symptoms usually start to show up within the first few weeks, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until months or years later when a trigger is present.
Trauma comes with many signs and symptoms that can be physical, emotional, or psychological.
Physical symptoms caused by trauma:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension (headache, backache)
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Fatigue, exhaustion, and feeling drained
- Sexual dysfunction
- Decreased/increased libido
- Increased/decreased appetite
- Constant outward emotions (crying, angry outbursts, unstoppable laughing)
- Panic attacks
- Memory Loss
- Focus issues
- Feeling numb
- Thought rumination
Emotional symptoms caused by trauma:
- Abrupt and unpredictable mood changes
- Intense fear, horror, anger, guilt, and shame
- Displaced emotions (nervous laughter, defensive/guarded, extreme anger/sadness over something small, no emotional reaction over something big)
- Loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy
- Disbelief (no longer trusting others, feeling like you’re to blame for the event)
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Enmeshment/co-dependent with others
- Reliving the event (nightmares, flashbacks, memories)
- Over/under trusting others (poor boundaries)
- Acting out in school
- Projecting emotions onto others
- Taking more risks
Mental health issues caused by trauma.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Addictions (alcohol, tobacco, hard drugs, pills)
We all experience trauma differently. For example, some people will experience strong physical symptoms when recalling a traumatic event, while others may feel emotionally numb or have nightmares.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Many mental health professionals and therapists are now offering different treatment options for trauma.
Therapy Models That Work for Trauma
If you have gone through a traumatic experience and want to feel better, different trauma treatment options can help you heal. However, many experts believe that psychotherapy is the most effective way to approach and heal from trauma and its symptoms.
We will review the five major types of trauma therapy to help you overcome trauma and treat your symptoms.
1- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that focuses on identifying the problematic thinking patterns and shifting them based on new, healthier behavioral experiences. CBT may help manage your symptoms by changing your beliefs and behaviors to something not in response to trauma.
CBT is a standard therapy for treating symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder because it teaches people to understand how their thoughts influence the way they feel and behave. Additionally, CBT gives space for the person to label the thoughts through speaking their lived truth aloud. Finally, when you can become aware of distorted or hindering views, you can change them.
*See also Trauma-Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is specially geared toward children, adolescents, and young adults.
2- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive processing therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral treatment. It involves working with a professional to discuss the challenging life event that caused the trauma and how you feel now.
During CPT sessions, the therapist asks the client to describe in-depth what happened and how they felt during the event while supported by a therapist. Then, the therapist will help them understand why they responded to the event in the ways they did and will help them see how these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect their daily lives.
You learn coping skills, such as saying less critical things when you think negative thoughts about yourself, to help control emotions related to memories of your traumatic event.
Treatment plans to treat PTSD often include Cognitive Processing.
3- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)*
Prolonged exposure therapy exposes you to the experience that caused you trauma, either by talking about it or being exposed to reminders, in the safety of the therapeutic relationship. Prolonged Exposure Therapy focuses on imaginal exposure, which occurs in the session with the therapist guiding the client as they share their traumatic experience. PE also uses in vivo exposure, which occurs outside of therapy. The client will actively choose to face something that has been a trigger in the past. The client and the therapist will identify a plan for meeting this stimulus and process it in the next session.
The therapist will ask you to scale out the trauma to talk about the event gradually. During your therapy sessions, you describe what happened and re-experience it. By exposing yourself in small increments to the traumas, you start to learn that memories, thoughts, feelings, and situations (trauma cues) are not dangerous and do not need to be avoided or have a biological fight or flight response.
Your therapist may ask you to bring photos or memorabilia that remind you of the event to discuss them in your sessions to do this type of therapy. This process can help bring subconscious memories to the conscious, allowing you to heal from the underlying traumas.
As you are re-experiencing the event, your therapist will ask you to focus on experiencing and expressing any emotions when thinking or talking about the event. You may explore painful memories from different perspectives, such as changing the order of events or giving a different ending. By doing so, the traumatic event becomes less heavy. Over time, you feel more separate from the event and more in control of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Ultimately, you gain control of your life back.
*The Better You Institute does not currently have anyone on our team that offers pure Exposure Therapy. However, we do have therapists on our team that certainly have you retell your story in a way that allows the trauma to be processed and feel less extreme.
4- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)*
EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro for people who have experienced trauma. EMDR will help people reprocess disturbing memories so that they become less distressing.
EMDR treatment follows a specific protocol, which also includes a step-by-step breakdown of your traumatic experience (much like Exposure Therapy). At the same time, your therapist directs your attention back and forth with their fingers, hand, or a special light machine to bilateral sounds. The eye movement you experience while discussing your trauma helps the distressing emotions linked to the memory become less intense. Essentially, EMDR helps “rewire” your brain where it doesn’t store your trauma as intense anymore and in need of fight or flight responses.
*The Better You Institute does not currently have anyone on our team that offers EMDR therapy. However, we are happy to speak to you and connect you with therapists we know and trust outside our office that does EMDR therapy.
5- Attachment-Based Therapy Models
Several different models stem from Attachment Theory. Attachment theory functions out of the general concept that we are significantly impacted by our caretakers while growing up. Our childhood is one of the most formative times in our lives to develop our worldview and sense of Self. While we can gain many experiences through our caretakers and childhood that help us for life, we can also receive some fairly detrimental messaging that disrupts our life causing physical, emotional, and psychological issues.
Some attachment-based theories used to treat trauma specifically are Internal Family Systems (IFS), Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), IMAGO Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Psychodynamic, and Eco-Systemic Family Therapy.
6- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Many people do not want to face the very thing that caused them such distress. They think that if they just “keep it moving,” that life will somehow get better for them. But unfortunately, if we deny our inner truths and experiences, they get more extensive and destructive. Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches you how to embrace your past experiences and accommodate them so that they become less disastrous to your life.
ACT gets you to look at your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that have developed in response to a traumatic event. The idea is not to eliminate the symptoms of your experiences but instead move forward in a more mindful and accepting way. Indeed, ACT teaches you to lean into the discomfort, work to understand and be mindful of the presence of something negative in your life. You will then learn to move toward valued behaviors and against less valuable experiences.
Individual therapy can make a world of difference in people’s lives. Going through treatment with those who may have also experienced what you did or who may have caused you the trauma can be ultra-healing. Restructuring family dynamics or structure that has been developed over the years but that has had severe ramifications on you as an individual or on the family or couple as a whole can be helpful to move forward healthily. Airing grievances and feeling heard and seen by your loved ones can bring immense peace to your trauma.
Moreover, hearing how your actions or words have caused another’s pain, albeit challenging, can be rewarding. Too often, we hear from people that they did not mean to be hurtful toward someone else, unaware of how their behaviors impacted another person. With these insights, they expressed a desire to make things right. Hearing a loved one’s grievances gives you the opportunity to make it right. First, you can own your behaviors. Then you can validate how your behaviors may have led the other person to feel hurt, neglected, nervous, sad, guilty, or shameful. Next, you can explore ways to move forward that feel good to all parties involved.
8- Group therapy to address the effects of past trauma
Group therapy for trauma is a common type of evidence-based treatment. Group therapy allows you to talk about your traumatic event with others who have similar experiences, supervised by a mental health professional. As a result, you may feel less isolated, have an opportunity to change your negative beliefs about yourself, and learn how others cope with their traumatic experiences. In addition, you can benefit from being around others who understand what you are going through.
Through hearing others’ stories, you feel validated in your own experience. You feel less alone or ostracized. It can even feel empowering to hear that others went through something similar. You may blame yourself less once you realize it wasn’t you; it was your environment or the people around you. While it is powerful to hear others’ stories, it is also effective to share your own story. By speaking your truth, you can own it. By acknowledging your truth, you can heal from it. You take the driver seat of your own life.
Alternative Therapeutic Services for Trauma
There are also other trauma healing therapies, including:
How Trauma Therapy Can Help You
Trauma therapy can help you change your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Ultimately, trauma changes how we view our inner Self. Through trauma-focused therapy, you start to peel back the trauma response parts of yourself to get to the true you. Talking with a professional therapist can help you manage any distressing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors related to your traumatic event and heal.
Trauma therapy services and therapists can help you.
- Tell your trauma story.
- Understand how specific thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event affect you today.
- Showing you how to cope with memories of your traumatic experience.
- Teach you how to feel safe when reminded of the traumatic event.
- Overcome the loss and grief of life without trauma.
- Reduce symptoms of trauma such as anxiety, depression, and anger.
- Reduce substance abuse and addiction (alcohol, cigarettes, hard drugs).
- Improve your relationships (including the one with yourself) and support systems.
- Overcome the physical and emotional effects of trauma.
- Rebuild and relive your life through personal growth.
- Find meaning and purpose after a traumatic event.
- Rewrite your trauma story to elicit emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that help you reach your goals.
- confidence building
- increase self-awareness
- increase self-esteem
- anger management
- Improve your sex life
- resolving volatile past/present relationships
- Decrease fear of upcoming major life adjustments
- Overcome past family-centered issues
- mood regulation
- Overcome phobias
- Recover from addictions (substance use, pornography, gambling, etc.)
- Decrease anxiety related to coming out (gender identity/sexual orientation)
Consequences of Untreated Trauma
Untreated trauma can lead to various trauma-related mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, attachment issues, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and dissociative identity disorder.
Untreated trauma can impact many facets in your life: how you manage money, if you are an under or overachiever, a people pleaser, a withdrawer, hyper/hyposexual, over/under sleep, over/under eat, how you take care of yourself, how you manage your time, how you take care of your living space, etc.
Untreated, trauma can also lead to survivor’s guilt. Guilt leads to self-hatred, self-harm, overcompensation that is unmanageable, and shame.
If you feel the effects of a traumatic event that happened to you, consider professional help and look for the right therapist to help you through your recovery process.
Trauma Therapy is an umbrella term for various therapy methods designed to help individuals who have experienced trauma. These therapies are not limited to PTSD but can treat people experiencing depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, addiction, and trauma-related issues keeping you from getting to where you want to be in life.
Research shows that individuals who have received adequate treatment for their trauma-related disorders have improved quality of life compared to those who do not receive treatment.
Don’t wait; get help today at The Better You Institute with one of our Philadelphia-based therapists.