What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?
Learn about how trauma-informed therapy can help treat people struggling with trauma.
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What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?
The effects of trauma can last throughout a person’s lifetime. Depending on their age at the time of trauma, this can mean years or decades of physical and mental health struggles. It is not uncommon for someone with a history of trauma to misunderstand the depth of harm trauma at any age can cause.
When seeking counseling for trauma to overcome related mental health struggles, it is essential to choose a program that follows a trauma-informed care model. Trauma-informed therapy follows proven practices and therapeutic techniques to help providers work more effectively with patients with a trauma history.1
What Is Trauma?
The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” 2 When someone experiences a traumatic event, they may develop trauma symptoms or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is essential to remember that trauma does not have to directly impact the individual for them to experience traumatic symptoms. Trauma symptoms can develop after learning of a traumatic event that affected a friend or loved one or even when watching something traumatic on television. No matter the cause of trauma, finding a treatment center specializing in trauma-informed care is essential to achieving lasting health and wellness.
Symptoms of Trauma
The symptoms of trauma often evolve over time. Usually, it is normal to experience denial, shock, and fear in the days immediately after the event. For some people, symptoms may resolve without the help of trauma-informed counseling depending on the individual and the severity of trauma.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for all. Some trauma victims will experience lasting effects of trauma for weeks or years to come.
Symptoms of Long-Term Trauma
The long-term reactions to trauma vary widely and can be challenging to predict. Often, long-term trauma symptoms include relationship challenges, flashbacks, emotional swings, and physical reactions like headaches, stomach pains, and muscle pains.
These symptoms can greatly affect people’s daily lives. Trauma-informed therapy can help people move forward from trauma by finding healthy, constructive ways to manage difficult emotions.
Principles of the Trauma-Informed Approach
Trauma-informed counseling techniques focus on six principles. These principles help therapists trained in trauma-focused care assist their patients more effectively.3
Physical and Emotional Safety
Treatment cannot be successful if patients do not feel safe in their provider’s care. Ensuring patients feel emotionally and physically safe during therapy sessions and while waiting for care is vital. Even features of the treatment center like the waiting room and parking lots must offer a sense of safety for patients.
Treatment staff who follow trauma-informed practice must include patients in treatment plan development. It is important for patients to feel as though they are a partner in the larger group of people planning their care. Inclusion as part of a trauma-informed approach enables patients to assume a role of greater responsibility in their care.
Transparency is vital to establishing a trusting relationship between patient and provider. This is especially true when caring for patients who have experienced trauma at the hands of loved ones or strangers. For example, if someone has experienced violence at the hands of a loved one, it is easy to see how they may struggle to trust a stranger. Trauma-informed practices ensure patients feel safe.
A trauma-informed therapist acts as a peer during trauma-informed psychotherapy sessions. It is essential to remember that someone who has experienced trauma may experience significant difficulty being open about their emotions. By providing peer support and actively listening, trauma-informed therapists can learn more about their patient’s needs during therapy.
Cultural, Historical, and Gender Awareness
Effective trauma-informed therapy recognizes and removes all racial, cultural, gender, and other biases. Providers must recognize cultural differences and other approaches to care comfort for treatment to succeed.
Humility and Responsiveness
Trauma-focused psychotherapy promotes healing and recovery from trauma. Clear communication by healthcare provers is vital to accomplishing these goals. Additionally, providers must be responsive to their client’s questions and needs as they progress through trauma therapy.
Benefits of Trauma-Focused Therapy
There are many benefits to trauma-informed therapy practices in mental health treatment. Some of the most notable include helping someone struggling to overcome trauma symptoms to:
Learn About Trauma
Trauma therapy allows individuals and their loved ones to learn about and better understand trauma. This process validates patients’ experiences and helps them understand they are not alone as they work towards healing.
Experiencing, witnessing, or being part of a traumatic event can shake one’s sense of safety. Therefore, a key benefit to trauma therapy practices is that it offers the opportunity to re-establish an internal (emotional, psychological, and in relationships) and physical (touch and within one’s surroundings) sense of safety.
Participation in trauma therapy can help patients identify and better understand feelings and memories related to the trauma so they can begin to heal from their experience. Understanding what situations or circumstances may trigger emotional responses to trauma is essential to achieving lasting wellness.
Develop Healthy Coping Skills
Trauma-informed therapy practices are designed to help patients develop and practice coping skills to use when faced with potential triggers. Because the trauma-focused setting feels safe, it is easier for patients to explore their needs.
Decrease in Traumatic Stress Symptoms
Trauma therapy sessions can help patients learn and reinforce the tools they can use to reduce the intensity of traumatic stress symptoms and other mental health challenges that frequently occur after trauma.
Practice Trauma Processing or Integration
A primary goal of trauma therapy is to help patients regain control of their emotions and mental health by finding ways to examine and process trauma memories. Once memories are better understood, it is possible to move beyond the challenges they cause.
Key Ingredients of Trauma-Informed Organizational Practices
There are several key ingredients to successful trauma-informed practices. Each is important to ensure patients overcome mental health challenges stemming from past or current trauma feel safe and supported at all times during treatment. These include:
- Leading and Communicating About the Transformation Process
- Engaging Patients in Organizational Planning
- Training Clinical and Non-Clinical Staff Members
- Creating a Safe Environment
- Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress in Staff
How to Know if a Therapist is Trauma-Informed
Currently, national and state regulations do not guide trauma-informed care or define a trauma-informed counselor.4 If someone is interested in learning more about trauma-informed care, there are several questions they can ask potential providers to learn more about their training and if the facility’s approach matches their needs.
Some questions to consider include asking about their educational background, specializations, experience with trauma patients, their approach to trauma counseling, and what qualities make them trauma-informed practitioners.
Treatment at Alta Centers
At Alta Centers, we understand the importance of approaching trauma care using the guiding principles that help patients feel safe and supported as they work towards lasting emotional health and wellness.
If you would like to learn more about how our providers apply a trauma-informed approach to mental health care, contact a member of our admissions team at Alta Centers today.