Things to Know Before you Start Trauma Therapy
Starting trauma therapy can seem intimidating and overwhelming. As a matter of fact, those who have experienced trauma tend to have the most difficult time beginning therapy. Roughly half of those with PTSD will seek treatment 1. This is likely because avoidance is the typical default for someone who’s experienced trauma. Beginning trauma therapy means one is committing to the soul-scraping hard work of facing the unfaceable, thinking the unthinkable, and feeling the unfeelable. It takes courage to commit to trauma therapy. The therapeutic process can be intense, so it can be helpful to know a few things before you start trauma therapy. It may be helpful to keep these things in mind before starting the journey of overcoming trauma:
Your experience matters more than the details of the event(s)
Many people think of combat veterans and victims of violence when they think of PTSD and trauma. Trauma responses can occur following any traumatic event. Traumatic events are marked by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death 2. Therefore, anyone can experience a traumatic event, however; not everyone experiences trauma. Some individuals have an immediate response to a traumatic event but over time can integrate and cope with the traumatic event. These individuals do not experience trauma following the event. Trauma is an emotional response to a traumatic event that typically leaves one struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, fear, and anxiety that won’t go away. Trauma can shatter an individual’s sense of security, making them feel helpless in a dangerous world. It can also leave one feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust others 3. Trauma means a significant event has changed an individual. What happened is not as important as an individual’s reaction to the event. One’s experience is more important than the details of the events. Thus, your therapist will likely focus more on your reaction to the event rather than the details of what occurred, as this is more helpful in the healing process.
Your feelings are not “weird” or abnormal
There is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma. One’s trauma response is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. These reactions may be normal, but it doesn’t mean that they are not unpleasant and debilitating. Following a trauma, one can experience nightmares, intrusive memories, anxiety, headaches, irritability, anger, insomnia, or feelings of confusion 4. Trauma responses can manifest in a variety of ways, but no matter what your feelings are- they are normal, but they don’t have to be permanent. Trauma therapy will help with making these responses temporary.
PTSD symptoms can also manifest physically
Some individuals respond to trauma with physical symptoms such as feeling dizzy, struggling to sleep, having shortness of breath, experiencing digestive issues, developing auto-immune issues, and experiencing chronic muscle tension 6. Others may respond with sensitivity to some sights, sounds, or smells. It is helpful to look at what these bodily cues are telling you so that one can begin to feel at peace, physically and mentally. Therapy is a safe place to make sense of these responses.
Drinking and substance use can hinder your healing
After experiencing trauma, it can be tempting to reach for a soothing drink, relax with some marijuana, smoke those good ole’ cigarettes that give one relief from stress, take meds that put an individual to sleep or use any other substance that helps soothe. This can provide relief…but only short-term. Engaging in substance use can make one’s trauma symptoms worse in the long run. Trauma therapy focuses on working through your troubling emotions. Excessive alcohol or substance use can get in the way of that work by numbing your emotions and feelings. Substance abuse can prolong the cycle of avoidance and worsen mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms 5. To get the full effects of trauma therapy, it is more effective to utilize other coping skills to cope with the negative effects of trauma.
Therapy is the gold standard treatment for trauma
There is no medication currently available to cure PTSD or other trauma-related disorders. While some medications reduce the physical symptoms of PTSD, research shows therapy is more effective in treating the condition in both the short and long term 5. Two large meta-analyses did a head-to-head treatment outcome comparison between existing pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. It was noted that the psychotherapy alone presented a longer duration of symptom resolution with a reduction in risk of side effects from ongoing medication use amongst the studied patient populations 6. The benefits of trauma therapy include improving daily functioning, enhancing the ability to be present, turning negative emotions and outlooks into more neutral or positive emotions, reducing overall symptoms of trauma, developing new coping skills to avoid traumatic relapse, and assisting in gaining the ability to think about the reality of the event and not get stuck in it.
Don’t wait to receive the help you need. Seeking help for trauma therapy now can prevent further health issues. Here at Awakening Mental Health, we help individuals overcome traumatic events and memories so they can go back to enjoying life.
1 The National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mental Health Information. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.D. Coping after a traumatic event. Coping with mass trauma. https://www.cdc.gov/masstrauma/factsheets/public/coping.pdf
3 American Psychological Association. (2021) Trauma. Psychology Topics. https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma
4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2021). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 57.HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4801. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207201/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK207201.pdf
5 Gonzales, M. (2020). PTSD and substance abuse. The Recovery Village. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/ptsd/substance-abuse/
6 Schrader, C & Ross, A. (2021). A review of PTSD and current treatment strategies. Missouri Medicine, 118 (6), 546-551. PMC8672952.