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Trauma Informed Therapy

Trauma informed therapy is an approach developed to assist those struggling with mental health disorders related to trauma.

What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as the emotional response to a traumatic event. Two individuals can share a traumatic experience, such as surviving a natural disaster, and both will typically react with shock and denial immediately after the event. However, everyone reacts to trauma differently, and maybe only one of those people will experience long-term symptoms of trauma and need the support of trauma-informed psychotherapy.[1]

By addressing the psychological, neurological, biological, and social effects of trauma, trauma therapy can effectively help individuals heal from past events.

How Does Trauma Occur?

Trauma can occur in many ways. The initial incident does not necessarily have to happen to the individual to cause trauma. The loss of a loved one or witnessing extreme events that are happening to others can also cause trauma. Some causes of trauma include:

  • Extreme poverty
  • Surviving a natural disaster
  • Being physically or sexually assaulted
  • The death of a loved one
  • Living in an unsafe area
  • Experiencing war
  • Childhood neglect
  • Hearing repeated stories about traumatic events
  • Living with parents or care providers who have unmanaged mental health disorders

Trauma can have a lasting impact on a person’s daily ability to function. Trauma counseling works to minimize the symptoms of trauma and help people develop functional coping strategies.

Signs You May Need Trauma-Informed Therapy

It can be difficult to recognize patterns in your own mental health. Hypervigilance is a normal response to growing up with abuse, but it is also a symptom of trauma. A person may not realize they need trauma-informed therapy until symptoms escalate and affect their quality of life.

Indications to Remain Cognizant Of

Warning signs you may need trauma therapy include:

  • Having intrusive memories and thoughts
  • Feeling unsafe for no particular reason
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Anger, aggression
  • Actively avoiding people or places related to the traumatic event(s)
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Unhealthy coping strategies, such as abusing alcohol or drugs

People seek out trauma therapy for many reasons. They may need help to recover after an accident or a violent attack, to heal from traumatic grief, or to process combat trauma and PTSD. In all cases, a trauma-informed therapist offers the best tools for recovery.

Principles of the Trauma-Informed Approach

The trauma-informed approach is useful for emergency responders and others who seek to increase awareness about the impact of trauma. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that approximately 60% of men and 50% of women have experienced trauma, and about 6% of the U.S.

population will experience post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives.[2]

Six Principles

The Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care collaborated to develop six principles to guide responders. The principles of this widely used care model are:[3]

  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender awareness

Extension and Application of Principles

The principles of trauma-informed care extend to all types of care providers, including therapists, hospital staff, social workers, foster care workers, and emergency responders.

There is no specific checklist that defines trauma-focused care. It is a combination of sensitivity and attention to the fact that any person could be suffering from trauma. Insensitive behavior, inappropriate attempts at humor, a lack of boundaries, or a general lack of respect could retraumatize an individual and create obstacles to needed care.

Benefits of Trauma-Focused Therapy

Many types of therapy can be helpful to a person who has been through trauma, but trauma counseling techniques were specifically developed to help those who are struggling to heal the emotional wounds left by traumatic events. Some of the benefits of trauma therapy will be detailed below.

Learning About Trauma

During trauma-informed therapy, patients begin to understand why symptoms occur and how to shift feelings of helplessness to feelings of empowerment.

Re-Establishing Safety

Trauma survivors often feel physically, psychologically, or emotionally violated and unsafe. Trauma counseling assists in restoring a sense of safety and control over one’s own life.

Identifying Causes

Understanding why certain things, places, or people cause a trauma response is the first step in disarming these causes and increasing the effectiveness of trauma-informed therapy.

Developing Healthy Coping Skills

Trauma can inhibit a person’s ability to develop functional coping skills and may prompt the use of drugs, alcohol, or other self-harming behaviors as a way to relieve stress. Through trauma-focused psychotherapy, patients learn how to handle the stress of trauma in healthier, more affirming ways

Decreasing Traumatic Stress Symptoms

The mental health symptoms associated with trauma can result in shame, guilt, depression, and other negative emotional states. Consistent work with a trauma-informed therapist helps decrease symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.

Practicing Trauma Processing or Integration

Processing traumatic experiences with the support of trauma counseling allows patients to reframe their view of themselves and the traumatic event. Patients are able to integrate their experiences and move forward.

The goals of trauma-informed therapy are to help patients understand what happened to them, acknowledge that their feelings are valid, process those feelings, develop new coping skills, and reduce the symptoms of PTSD. 

Key Ingredients of Trauma-Informed Organizational Practices

Trauma-informed practices are relevant to organizations that deal with people in emergency or difficult circumstances. Generally, each trauma-informed organization utilizes these key practices in their therapeutic approaches:

  • Leading and communicating about the transformation process
  • Engaging patients in organizational planning
  • Training clinical as well as non-clinical staff members
  • Creating a safe environment
  • Preventing secondary traumatic stress in staff

Training for trauma-informed practice typically takes place over several weeks.

How to Know If a Therapist Is Trauma-Informed

Finding a mental health professional who is trained in trauma-informed therapy is not always simple. When a patient is dealing with trauma, the wrong therapist can actually make symptoms worse.

 Some ways to know if a therapist has experience in trauma-informed counseling include:

  • They talk about the efforts they make to create a safe environment from the beginning, including emotional and physical safety
  • Therapy is seen as a collaborative experience
  • The therapist’s empathy and sensitivity are apparent and genuine
  • They set clear boundaries that make you feel safe and comfortable
  • They admit they don’t know everything

It’s important to work with a trauma-informed therapist who offers trauma therapy modalities, such as emotion-focused therapy (EFT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and internal family systems therapy (IFS). These trauma-informed counseling techniques are specifically developed to help people overcome trauma.[4]

Pursue Trauma-Informed Therapy at Genesis Recovery

At Genesis Recovery, we understand that each individual has their own unique subset of needs, expectations, and experiences. These are all factors that should curate a personalized treatment approach. Trauma-informed therapy provides an empathetic, clinically proven approach to healing.

We are here to guide you or your loved one every step of the way, enabling you to reach optimal wellness and fulfillment. Reach out today to begin trauma-informed therapy.


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