Treatment of Trauma

Trauma and the suffering it can cause does not have to last forever. As if going through the traumatic event(s) was not enough already, some individuals experience residual effects that maintain the pain and suffering of what was already experienced. Just as trauma is not a one-size-fits-all concept, neither is the treatment of it. There are many different theoretical models and approaches to meet the needs and the developmental level of individuals ranging from childhood to geriatrics. In this post I will highlight three of the most well supported treatment modalities of trauma across all age ranges. These following modalities have been researched and experimented with over the years in order to further develop them and demonstrate effectiveness.

The first modality of trauma treatment is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This is a fancy way of  saying that using specific eye movements and other visual cues, an individual can clear their mental ‘block’ created by the trauma and begin to process the emotions and associated physical symptoms. Now without getting too wordy and scientific, what has been found is that when we are in REM sleep, or when our body and mind are most active while asleep, that is when our mind develops dreams and taps into our memories and naturally allows for the physical and emotional reactions to occur. By using activating specific eye movement patterns one is activated in a way that then opens the possibility for processing. This is not a traditional talk therapy, and the results or transformations come as a result of the intellectual and emotional processes. Furthermore, the client is not expected to have, or bring forth, inherent emotional coping skills; rather they are taught, discussed, and practiced within the first and second phases of EMDR treatment. As this approach requires clients to engage in the practice for upwards of four hours at a time, it is intensive and necessary that the client has the ability to maintain stability within and between sessions.

The second modality is Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE). PE is made up of two main aspects, in vivo and imaginal exposure. In vivo exposure is when a clinician and the client take a tangible trigger, such as a person, place, sound, smell, etc. and in small increments expose the individual to them. These triggers are often highly avoided by the client due to their reminder of the trauma which makes a lot of sense. What most people do not recognize though is that the avoidance of the triggers gives more power to the feared association than it does to the betterment and progress of the individual from reducing their fear or anxiety. Due to the fact that clinicians expose individuals to what they have been trying so hard to avoid, it is important that they do so in a strategic manner. This happens through the development of a hierarchy and involves repeated trials of exposure at each level within a 90-120 minute session. The other part of PE is imaginal exposure which occurs through the retelling of the trauma in the present tense. In order to work on desensitizing the client to this narrative and the retelling of these events, they are usually recorded and told to listen to it repeatedly. PE is very active and can be high-anxiety provoking which is why breathing techniques are frequently used to reduce the present anxiety.

Last but not least, we have Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). This branch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is specialized and requires specific training and credentials. It holds the same principles of traditional CBT in that the focus is on the connection and effects between the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of an individual. Relative to trauma, the clinician is looking to identify patterns of distorted thoughts and maladaptive coping behaviors that are evoking and/or maintaining the individual’s distress and suffering. Through interventions such as cognitive restructuring, the individual can develop more neutralized thoughts and engage in more positive and effective coping strategies that they develop through therapy.

These models are only three of many treatment options for treating trauma. Each of these modalities has substantial research and data behind them to support their efficacy. This information is readily available to you through a quick google search! We hope this benefits you or your loved ones as you learn more about underlying trauma, its impacts, and start your recovery.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern

If you or a loved one are seeking professional assistance and live in the Chicagoland area check out or call Olive Branch Counseling Associates at olivebranchcounselingassociates.com or 708-633-8000.

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