How Does Trauma Therapy Work? What Can I Expect?
Culturally, we’ve begun starting to think about and become more aware of trauma and how it may affect us in our own lives. You may have recently heard words like “childhood trauma”, “triggers”, or “mindfulness” online or in conversation. But do you really know what they mean? We’ve had a sort of societal awakening to the impact of trauma, which has started very important conversations on trauma and trauma therapy. However, some of these “buzzwords” haven’t quite been unpacked.
That is why in this blog we will be breaking down what trauma is, how it affects us, and the different types of trauma therapy available.
We will also discuss what you can expect from trauma therapy and how it works. Trauma is very real. It impacts many people and can have a major impact on our daily lives. However, trauma therapy is also very real AND it’s effective. You don’t have to live your life under the weight of your experiences, you can find healing and peace. I hope that this blog can be the first step of your journey.
So, what exactly is trauma?
Simply put, trauma is an emotional and physical response to a distressing experience. As you can tell, this definition is pretty broad. And that’s because trauma can be caused by a lot of different things.
A traumatic event can be a car accident, physical violence, or living through a natural disaster. However, it’s not always one big, life-altering event. Trauma can also be caused by many smaller events that build up over time. For example, experiencing emotional abuse from a parent throughout your childhood can be traumatic. Frequently experiencing sexual harassment from strangers can be traumatic too.
It’s important to remember that trauma is subjective.
What may be traumatizing for one person, may not have the same effect on someone else. This is because our experiences are unique to us and we all react differently to things that happen in our lives. Generally, we’re not a very “emotionally attuned” society. And because of that, not many of us were given the skills to process and cope with our experiences in a healthy way. So whether an experience “becomes” traumatic for you is going to depend on your previous life experiences, your ability to cope with this experience, your support system, and a variety of other factors.
Remember, trauma can affect anyone.
There isn’t a person out there that is immune to experiencing trauma. Trauma can affect anyone at any time. It doesn’t discriminate. It’s not a matter of being “strong” or “weak”. It’s actually a way that your body and mind are trying to protect you from danger. However, when trauma isn’t processed properly it can become “maladaptive” or more harmful than helpful.
But on that note, let’s get into how exactly trauma therapy works.
When we experience a distressing or potentially dangerous situation, our nervous system reacts in order to help us survive.
This is what’s known as the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s our body’s natural way of protecting us. For example, if you were in a fire your body is going to do everything it can to get you out of there. So your heart will start beating fast to get your blood rushing. Your adrenaline will kick in. You might become shaky as your mind starts racing with ideas of how to get out of the situation. This makes sense at the moment, it’s what keeps you alive!
However, your body and mind are going to remember this experience and the reaction that kept you out of harm.
As a result, this response can get “triggered” when there is no actual physical threat. For example, when you smell smoke or see a fire on the news. You might start having that same physical reaction or other trauma symptoms such as a fast beating heart, an adrenaline rush, shakiness, racing thoughts, or paranoia that there is about to be a fire.
This is exactly what a trigger is and how it works. A trigger is something (internal or external) that sets off a trauma response.
Now, this is an easier example to understand. So let’s break down a different form of trauma to help you understand how other experiences can lead to trauma. Let’s say as a child you had a parent or family member that was emotionally abusive. They would say horrible things to you when you were “too loud” or “burdensome”. Maybe they were neglectful and they didn’t show you affection or care when you needed it. Or perhaps they shamed you when you spoke up about your feelings.
Similar to the scenario we laid out above, your mind and body will react to this situation to keep you safe.
You might think that this situation didn’t put you in physical danger, but your mind/body is supposed to prevent danger. So if this feels threatening, then your mind/body is going to try to protect you from it. As a result, your mind/body may “learn” that if you don’t speak up or if you become small and stay out of people’s way, you won’t be hurt. Then as an adult, you might have trouble trusting others, creating deep relationships, or advocating for your boundaries.
This is how childhood trauma can continue to impact us, adults.
And why seemingly “small” or “normal” uncomfortable experiences can have such major effects on our lives. However, we don’t have to continue to be impacted by trauma for the rest of our lives. Realizing that we’re experiencing trauma and understanding how it works is the first step! Through trauma therapy, we can also process our traumatic memories, manage our triggers, and start to heal.
Now let’s talk about trauma therapy.
There are many different forms of trauma therapy that have different approaches to treating trauma. But they all have one thing in common: they are based on the idea (or rather the fact) that trauma can be healed.
EMDR for Trauma Therapy
EMDR Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a trauma therapy that’s gained more popularity in recent years. It’s a form of therapy that uses bilateral stimulation to help the brain process trauma. Now, you may be thinking that sounds incredibly confusing. Simply put, it means engaging your body in a way that uses both sides of your brain. This could be moving your eyes left to right or lightly tapping your knees.
By doing this while you think or talk about your traumatic memory, you are helping your brain reprocess the trauma.
The idea behind EMDR is that your brain has the ability to heal itself. With this approach to therapy, your trauma therapist is essentially guiding you to heal yourself. By reprocessing those traumatic memories, your brain can reduce your reaction to them. And, as a result, you can reduce your reaction to your triggers.
By reprocessing your trauma you can also come to understand your trauma from a different perspective.
You can find the adaptive information or the thing you can learn from it. This isn’t to say that your trauma “happened for a reason” or to “look for the positive”. What happened was horrible. It shouldn’t have happened, and it is not your fault that it happened. However, healing sometimes means finding a way to grow from your experience. Maybe originally your mind came to learn that you shouldn’t speak up to avoid emotional abuse and pain. Through healing, you can come to learn that actually you need to learn how to advocate for yourself, assert boundaries, and cut off abusive people to protect yourself.
ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a trauma therapy that focuses on acceptance and mindfulness. Many people who’ve experienced trauma hold onto the feeling that they caused it. And if they could only go back and do something different, they wouldn’t feel this way.
ACT helps people to accept what happened to them while also accepting that they aren’t at fault. That they did nothing wrong.
ACT helps you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Once you can do that, you can start to make room for them. That way they don’t have as much power over you. For example, let’s say your trauma causes you to think that your loved ones are going to leave you. ACT would teach you that instead of fighting that thought you should accept and be mindful of it. You may respond to it with, “My past experiences have led me to believe this. But it is not true. My past is not my present.”
The next part of ACT is commitment.
So that might mean following that thought with, “I won’t know what happens until I try. I am not going to push away others because I’m afraid that they will leave.” ACT helps people accept the truth of their past and how it impacts them, while intentionally moving forward.
TF-CBT stands for Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s a trauma therapy that helps people to understand the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Because once you can see that link, you can start to change it. As a quick demonstration, let’s say that your trauma has led you to think that the world is an inherently scary place. You may feel too scared to go outside often. As a result, you stay inside. Then your brain will come to believe that you only stayed safe because you stayed inside. The cycle continues.
TF-CBT helps you to understand that cycle so you can begin to break it.
With TF-CBT you’ll learn coping skills such as grounding techniques or deep breathing. These coping skills help you manage the overwhelming feelings and fears that cause that unhealthy behavior. This way you can learn to manage and overcome your response to trauma.
IFS stands for Internal Family Systems. It’s an approach to trauma that focuses on helping you understand the different parts of yourself.
IFS helps you to understand that there is not just one “you”.
There are different “parts” of you. And each part has a role to play. For example, you may have a “protector” part that is always on the lookout for danger. Or a “wounded child” part that wants to hide. Each part is trying to do what it thinks is best for you. But just like our trauma responses, oftentimes the way these parts are trying to help is actually making things worse. IFS helps you to understand and work with these different parts. So that they can start to work together instead of against each other.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is a trauma therapy that focuses on helping you be present in the here and now. Often trauma can cause people to dissociate or feel like they’re not in control. Mindfulness helps you to anchor and ground yourself in the present moment. It helps you become more aware of what you are feeling so you can start to make choices about how you want to respond. Mindfulness is a great practice that can help people in many areas of their life. It’s an especially great skill for managing and working through trauma and unhealthy responses.
What Can You Expect From Trauma Therapy at The Mindful Practice
There is plenty that I could say about the power of trauma therapy and what you can expect from it. But for now, I want to focus on two main things that you can expect from trauma therapy at our practice.
The first is a client-centered approach.
When we say that our trauma therapists take a client-centered approach, we’re referring to the fact that we are focused on our client’s unique needs and goals. Our therapists focus on building a relationship with their clients so they can feel safe and trusting. This is the foundation on that trauma therapy is built. Often people with trauma, especially childhood trauma, weren’t really seen or heard. That is why it’s so important for us to listen to what our clients need from us. This means making sure that our clients feel safe and comfortable. We will always meet our clients where they are at in their healing and go at their pace. Our trauma therapists in the Orlando area will never rush you to talk about things you aren’t ready for.
Taking an intersectional approach
Part of taking a client-centered approach is recognizing our client’s unique experiences. At The Mindful Practice, we understand that your identity and cultural background play a role in your experiences, including your experience of trauma. It may shape how you understand trauma or how you react to it. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s shaped by the world around you. Our therapists will take the time to understand what that looks like for you.
The second thing I want to note is that trauma therapy is effective, but it takes time.
Many people come to therapy at first looking for a quick fix. It’s important to understand that therapy takes time. It can be incredibly effective, but you have to put time and commitment into it. Sometimes it helps to think about it this way: When you experienced that traumatic event (or series of events) your mind continued to develop thinking that the world is like this. It changed the way you see yourself, others, and the world around you.
You may have lived this way, with this altered way of being, for years or decades.
It takes time to heal. It takes time to unweave the web that’s been woven by your trauma. But I promise you that it is worth it. You are worthy and deserving of healing. You are resilient and you have the strength and ability to heal. We can offer you support to guide and empower you along the way.
Are You Ready to Start Trauma Therapy in Orlando, FL
The Mindful Practice in Winter Park, FL is here to support you in addressing your trauma symptoms. Our trauma therapists are here for you whether you would prefer trauma therapy and PTSD treatment through online therapy or in-person. Living a meaningful life free of trauma symptoms starts by following these steps:
- Reach out to us for your free consultation.
- Start meeting with a trauma therapist in Orlando, FL.
- Start living a life free of trauma symptoms and finally feel free.
Other Mental Health Services We Offer in the Orlando Area
Our Orlando therapists offer more than trauma therapy and PTSD treatment. For individuals, we offer depression treatment and anxiety treatment. As well as post-bariatric surgery therapy, counseling for teens, life transitions therapy, and grief counseling. Some of the techniques we use include EMDR and mindfulness-based therapy. All services are offered in person at our Winter Park, FL-based office and online throughout Florida.