Trauma Psychotherapy

What are the Symptoms of Trauma?

The symptoms of trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), can be diverse, and are often overwhelming. Some people may experience intrusive flashbacks and vivid nightmares, high anxiety, or panic attacks. Others may have difficulty concentrating, rapidly changing and intense emotions, strong anger or rage. It is common to experience the extremes of either vigilance, or numbness, as well as difficulties with sleeping or eating. Substance abuse, compulsive self-harming behaviours, and dissociation can also occur.

Those with a history of early or prolonged trauma, may have additional difficulties: trust and intimacy, a distorted sense of self, body image problems, intense guilt and shame, troubled relationships, and general difficulties finding meaning in life.

Who can Benefit from Trauma Therapy?

People who are experiencing PTSD symptoms following a traumatic event, or have a history of early trauma usually benefit from trauma therapy.

How Trauma Therapy Works

Trauma therapy is a three-stage process that aims to resolve the effects of trauma. These carefully paced treatment phases often follow a non-linear path; there may be overlaps as one progresses:

  1. Stabilizing and managing reactions: The client learns to manage flashbacks and intense emotions until they are confident in their ability to stay in control of their emotional state. At the same time, the client works on creating a strong support and resource network. At this point substance over-use, and self-harming behaviours begin to be addressed, as the client has developed healthier ways to manage her/his emotions
  2. Processing the traumatic memories: Once a sense of safety has been created, work can begin on processing the traumatic events, all the while maintaining a sense of and focus on the present life. At this stage one can re-establish an understanding of who was actually responsible for the trauma, of the issues related to boundaries, power, justice, and meaning. Work begins on building trust and improving relationships.
  3. Rebuilding and Reconnecting: In this stage clients work towards expanding their world, building new relationships, or re-connecting with old ones, trying out new ideas, building assertiveness skills, re-learning how to enjoy the newly found states of calm in their lives and incorporating joy, hope and optimism into their future.

Other Symptoms due to Severe, Prolonged Trauma

People with a history of abuse may also experience a range of dissociative symptoms, which may cause a lot of difficulties in their day-to-day lives. These symptoms range from relatively mild difficulties with concentration at one end of the continuum, to Dissociative Identity Disorder at the other end. Therapeutic work with dissociation is a specialized area which aims to increase one's tolerance for painful affect, and reduce or eliminate the need for dissociative barriers. Most elements of the three stages of trauma therapy can also help people who experience dissociation.

Why should I go to a Trauma Specialist Rather than a General Therapist?

Trauma therapists are trained to recognize the specific effects that trauma has on the brain and its function, the way it manifests through the trauma symptoms, and the rationale for using specific interventions to deal with those symptoms.

For people who have undergone abuse as children, trauma theory also shows how abuse and the circumstances around it interact with child development to create a particular, problematic style of handling life's challenges. Trauma therapy is a focused and a usually effective approach to reversing the many effects of trauma, (such as the intrusive symptoms of PTSD, addictive behaviours, a damaged ability to trust and to enjoy intimacy).

Other Treatments for Trauma

Many clients find EMDR (Eye movement desensitization reprocessing) a useful tool in their trauma work. Read more about EMDR.