Roughly 70% of Americans have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. Traumatic situations are incredibly common and they can have a disastrous effect on your mental health.
But trauma doesn’t have to ruin your life. Successful treatment of trauma often includes some customized combination of psychotherapy and medication. At Renewed Light in West Deptford, New Jersey, we offer trauma-based therapy with skilled therapists who help you on the path to a happier, more satisfying life.
What is trauma?
Some people use “trauma” to refer to specific events like being mugged or becoming homeless. Medically speaking, however, trauma is not an actual event. Instead, trauma is a mental state. Psychologists define trauma as the emotional response that occurs after a “disturbing” (traumatic) event.
Trauma is characterized by negative emotions like shock, anxiety, denial, depression, and anger. Trauma is an intense response that can disrupt your daily life. It may occur for just a short time or can last for years after a negative experience.
Examples of traumatic experiences
- Being abused in any way
- Surviving a dangerous accident
- Getting caught in a natural disaster
- Experiencing the death of loved ones
- Becoming homeless
- Getting sick or undergoing surgery
- Facing bullying or harassment
- Being stalked or sexually assaulted
- Going through extreme poverty
- Witnessing a disturbing event
- Being arrested or imprisoned
- Growing up in a neglectful household
- Experiencing military combat
Types of trauma
Trauma comes in many forms. When most people think of trauma, they imagine a person struggling with a single, physically dangerous experience like an assault. The reality is, however, that trauma can be mental, physical, emotional, social, or even financial. Trauma can occur after a single event, or trauma can happen as a result of repeated stressful situations that cause emotional or psychological harm. Trauma is divided into three types known as acute, chronic, and complex trauma.
This form of trauma is generally the result of a single traumatic event like a sexual assault, a car accident, or surviving a disaster. The traumatic event occurred, and it was severe enough to damage a person’s emotional and physical sense of security. This ultimately will change their thought patterns and behavior. This form of trauma displays the following symptoms:
- Unhealthy sleeping patterns
- Neglecting grooming habits
- Aggression or angry outbursts
- Inability to trust others
- The feeling of being disconnected
- Extreme moments of panic and anxiety
- Cognitive confusion
This form of trauma is caused by an ongoing traumatic experience that consistently occurred for an extended period of time. Chronic trauma survivors result from experiences like domestic violence, bullying, ongoing military combat, or surviving a long-term illness. The symptoms start to occur long after the past traumatic experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an example of a disorder characterized by chronic trauma.
People with chronic trauma experience the same symptoms as those with acute trauma, but also experience many additional, severe physical and psychological symptoms like complex digestive issues, flashbacks, and chronic headaches.
They also have difficulty trusting which makes it very difficult for them to have a job or be involved in a romantic relationship.
This mental illness is the result of being exposed to various traumatic events or experiences. Usually, this is caused within a relationship with a loved one. This causes the person to feel trapped, which has a serious impact on the person’s mind. This is typically seen in trauma survivors of childhood abuse, long-term neglect, consistent unstable family life, domestic violence, and other repetitive, destructive situations. Complex trauma also makes it difficult to trust, build relationships, or focus on building a career.
Mental health professionals recognize that everyone experiences trauma differently. That is why trauma therapists use a variety of treatment methods in treating trauma as each person requires a unique treatment plan.
What form of trauma causes post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is considered a psychiatric disorder that can occur as a result of experiencing a traumatic event or events. PTSD develops long after the event, however, and is usually in conjunction with other mental health disorders like depression or substance abuse. Many people develop symptoms of PTSD within three months of the trauma memory, but symptoms can also develop later and then continue for months or even years..
Not every person who experiences trauma ends up developing PTSD, and not every person who develops PTSD needs professional medical advice and treatment. However, all mental health clinicians agree that any person suffering from PTSD should consider professional trauma treatment.
The psychological trauma related to PTSD can dramatically hinder a person’s life. Yet PTSD is a treatable condition and the earlier you decide to work with a trauma therapist, the quicker you can expect to recover.
How trauma-based therapy can help
The most effective way of managing trauma is typically through specialized trauma therapy.
What is trauma therapy? It’s a form of therapy that focuses on managing the trauma response. This sort of therapy goes by a few names, including trauma-based therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and trauma-informed therapy. This type of therapy’s main goal is to help reduce the negative effects of trauma.
What to expect from trauma-based therapy
When you get trauma therapy, you meet with a psychiatrist or psychologist and discuss your trauma. They may recommend exercises and prescribe medication, or they may simply talk to you. This can also be referred to as talk therapy. The various types of trauma-based treatment will emphasize the importance of dealing with trauma in your own way and improving your mental health.
Your therapist may also give you “homework” to do outside of your therapy sessions. You may be given journal exercises in which you note events and thoughts related to your traumatic memory. This can be a helpful way of processing thoughts and ensuring you remember to talk about them in therapy. Other exercises can include challenging yourself to do things like talk to others or find a new hobby.
Some therapy may include planning techniques like creating goals or rewards. Your trauma-informed therapist might encourage you to pick specific goals and then reward you for reaching those goals. This can provide a powerful form of motivation for overcoming certain types of trauma. Goals can focus on trauma-specific things like returning to the site of a former trauma, or they can be general wellness goals like eating enough food.
Explore common types of trauma-based therapy
Therapy comes in a variety of forms. Different types of trauma therapy can be more effective for different people and different situations. Trauma therapy can have a specific timeline in mind, or it can be an open-ended treatment. Here are a few of the most common trauma-based therapy options.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of trauma treatment overall. This treatment involves your therapist helping you identify unhelpful thought and behavioral patterns from trauma-related issues. Once you recognize distorted and harmful thoughts, your therapist then teaches you techniques to neutralize those thoughts and create healthier habits.
Trauma-based cognitive behavioral therapy uses these techniques to help patients unpack trauma and recognize the ways trauma is distorting their thoughts. Then they use the therapy to develop more effective coping skills.
Cognitive-processing therapy (CPT)
Cognitive processing therapy is very similar to CBT, but it’s a little more targeted to treat PTSD. Unlike CBT, trauma-informed CPT isn’t about improving general well-being. Instead, it has a narrow focus on trauma-induced behaviors. You do things like identify triggers and get tools for handling PTSD symptoms. CPT works by challenging your thoughts behind the cause of your trauma, so you can reframe it in a healthier light.
Often called exposure therapy, prolonged exposure (PE) is a type of behavioral therapy often used to treat trauma. This therapy involves exposing yourself to the things you fear to help you become better acclimated to them. If you decide to try prolonged exposure therapy, it’s very important to work with a trauma-based therapist. They have the training needed to help you process fearful experiences instead of simply worsening your trauma.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a cutting-edge trauma treatment that combines mental and physical exercises. The EMDR therapist guides patients through exercises where they move their eyes or tap the sides of their bodies while recalling traumatic events. This bilateral stimulation may help people to process memories of trauma. EMDR therapy also helps to desensitize you to traumatic events, so they’re less likely to bother you in day-to-day life.
How can trauma-based therapy help you?
Trauma-based therapy doesn’t usually have immediate results, but over time it has a positive impact. Research shows that people who take trauma-based therapy have a drastic reduction in trauma-related symptoms. Trauma therapy helps because it gives you the tools needed to begin the healing process.
Not everyone experiences the same exact benefits from therapy, but you can usually expect to see one or more of these therapy benefits after working with a trauma therapist over time.
Better interpersonal relationships
Traumatic events can make it incredibly hard to trust others. When you don’t feel safe, it’s difficult to connect with other people. Therapy for trauma can help you begin to realize that it’s okay to trust other people. This can help you start to give other people a chance again. Taking the time to get trauma therapy can lead to positive relationships, and these social bonds help you further heal from trauma.
Less obsessive, negative thoughts
Trauma tends to cause a lot of problematic beliefs. Many people struggle with intrusive feelings of shame and guilt. This can greatly diminish your self-worth and cause intense acute stress disorder. Trauma-based therapy helps to reduce these harmful thought patterns. You can challenge beliefs like “I deserve to be hurt,” so you can learn to love yourself again.
Improved coping skills
One of the big problems with trauma is that it encourages harmful coping methods like drinking alcohol or never leaving the home. This can cause you to develop another mental health disorder like persistent depression or anxiety. Trauma therapy helps people learn to substitute healthier, more effective means of coping. With their years of experience, a trauma-based therapist can suggest helpful ways of managing trauma without harming your own well-being.
Reduced fear and avoidance
Trauma tends to lead to extreme anxiety, worry, and fear. To try to avoid experiencing the traumatic event again, you may begin to avoid things. This intense avoidance can make it hard to shop at a grocery store, go for a drive, or do other useful things. By using several trauma therapies you can manage fear and get back to doing things you used to enjoy.
How to decide if you need trauma-based therapy
Of course, the first step in getting treatment of trauma is recognizing you need help. Keep in mind that all sorts of traumatic experiences can trigger mental health issues and different people will react differently to the same traumatic event. It’s important to remember trauma processing is unique to each individual and each traumatic experience.
You don’t necessarily need to be diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health conditions before you get trauma therapy. Therapy can be helpful any time you are struggling with the effects of trauma-related memories. It’s probably a good idea to speak to someone if you notice any of these issues.
- You’re dealing with severe anxiety, depression, or fear
- You find yourself unable to maintain healthy relationships with others
- You’re struggling to work or fulfill other daily responsibilities
- You get intense stress from random, seemingly harmless situations
- You no longer enjoy things you used to love
- You’re turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with a trauma
- You suffer from intense flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event
- You go to extreme measures to try to avoid future trauma
Explore trauma-based therapy options in New Jersey
If you suffer from past trauma, you’re not alone—and we can help. At Renewed Light, we offer several types of trauma-based therapy. Our trauma-informed care focuses on helping patients process trauma and discover healthy coping methods. We start by carefully assessing each person’s mental health needs. Then we create an individualized care plan that uses different types of trauma therapy. Located in West Deptford, New Jersey, we serve all of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.